FAIRMONT — It seems nobody today is without opinion when it comes to President Donald J. Trump, his contracting of the COVID-19 virus, and the rapid and continuing spread of the virus among his administration’s officials and political colleagues.
For some time now, Trump and many of his supporters seemed to enthusiastically disregard the doctors and medical researchers who have recommended repeatedly the wearing of face masks and the importance of social distancing in order to successfully combat the virus.
Marion County political leaders, health experts, and private citizens have weighed-in on Trump’s decision to downplay the science behind the societal restrictions implemented in March and the fact that the president himself is now infected with the coronavirus 27 days away from the 2020 election.
Greg Hinton was elected Fairmont’s first — and only, to date — Black mayor in 1983. For the past 31 years, he has served as senior professor at Fairmont State University, teaching courses on, among other things, political leadership.
“Leadership is not a position. It’s a process. You can hold the greatest position in the world and not be a leader,” Hinton said. “What we’re seeing from Trump is not leadership. It’s simply not.”
Hinton said a leader is ultimately defined by the positive change he affects in those he or she leads.
“There’s a term called servant-leadership and the test of whether or not you’re a servant-leader is simply this: The people you serve are better because you served them. That’s the test,” Hinton said.
In Trump’s case, Hinton said, the evidence for positive change, especially when applied to the pandemic, is not there.
“Good leadership brings about positive change. But not all change is positive. And not all leaders are good. Hitler, for example, had a lot of people following him. He was great in that aspect, but his objectives were not good. He was not a good leader,” Hinton said.
Marion County Republican Executive Committee Kandice Nuzum chair said she believes Trump’s supporters care less about his COVID-prevention practices than they do about other policies.
“Are you asking me if people will not vote for Donald Trump because of this? Because it really doesn’t have anything to do with his policies, as far as how he’s taken care of our nation,” she said. “I don’t have an opinion on whether he wears a mask or not.”
Nuzum said her organization provides face masks and other safety measures when conducting an event, but there is no requirement for participants to engage in those practices.
“We had a public event here a while back, a grand opening, and we had masks at the door and hand sanitizer. We asked everybody if they wanted to wear masks and if they wanted, please do. The event was inside, but I don’t remember how many had masks on and who didn’t,” Nuzum said. “We fulfilled our responsibility to advise all attendees of the COVID guidelines, including providing masks. Obviously, we are not responsible for each individual’s compliance.”
Nuzum did not care to comment if she believed Trump not wearing a mask contributed to his contracting COVID-19 or the spreading of it to others.
“I’m not going to make any comment on that,” she said.
West Virginia Democratic Committee Chairman Belinda Biafore, of Fairmont, does indeed have an opinion on Trump’s months-long refusal to wear masks or engage in social distancing.
“I wish the president the best and a speedy recovery, but he’s the leader of the country and I believe sometimes you’ve got to lead by example. If you’ve got folks who are hanging on every word you say, then your actions need to be a little bit more responsible,” she said.
Biafore said she was particularly concerned to learn that Trump may have continued his maskless ways even after learning he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“Here’s somebody who has exposed his family, his friends, his staff — you know, they’re at risk. Whether you believe in masks or whether you believe this thing was a hoax, why wouldn’t you wear a mask just as a precaution, especially knowing that you could be a carrier. I just think it’s irresponsible,” she said.
As president, Biafore said, people are following Trump’s lead.
“Set an example. People are listening to you. If you wear a mask and you say the virus is for real, then others will, too,” she said. “But don’t put other people at risk. I have a real problem with his actions because of the irresponsibility and disrespect that’s being shown.”
As administrator of the Marion County Health Department, Lloyd White is responsible for making sure businesses and schools are using all of the widely-accepted COVID-19 safety protocols to prevent community spread. Since March, he has worked tirelessly spread the word about COVID-19 and testing individuals for the disease.
“There’s an old saying, ‘If you play with fire enough, you’re going to get burned.’ And I think that’s where we are with COVID. You might be lucky enough to go out a few times and not wear a mask, but I’m telling you, you’re certainly increasing your risk when you go out into the public and choose not to wear a mask,” White said. “Masks work. We know that masks are our best defense against getting it, and it’s our best defense against transmitting it.”
White noticed some citizens had taken to not wearing masks or social distancing in recent weeks, almost as if it not being cautious was some form of political statement.
“I would choose not to have a badge of honor and live, rather than have a badge of honor and possibly die. We’re seeing cases where people have gone to events where they shouldn’t have gone and chose not to have the proper precautions in place. They’ve brought COVID back and infected others and those others have died from it. It’s ridiculous,” White said.
White said society’s best hope at the moment is to continue to work toward containing the spread of the virus.
“This thing is real. I don’t know how to explain it other than that. It’s real. At some point in time, we’ve got to quit doing things we shouldn’t do and begin doing the things we know to do,” he said.
Fair Mayor Brad Merrifield said he believes Trump’s return from the hospital at Walter Reed Military Medical Center after a weekend stay is the president’s unique way of demonstrating leadership.
“I have no way of knowing, of course, what’s in his head, but my perception of what’s he doing is showing leadership in his way, to show we don’t need to panic about not having a president or that the president is failing,” Merrifield said. “I think it’s his way of just putting himself out there to where you can see him and you don’t have to speculate on any story or opinion. You can form your own.”
Merrifield said he’s more concerned with the fact Trump caught the virus to begin with, as those around him are supposedly tested and screened before interacting with the president.
“If anything, it shows us that despite all the testing and the things that go on, the virus can still find its way. It kind of makes me think, ‘Wow, if it can get to him, it can certainly get to me.’ It gives me pause,” Merrifield said.
Retired teacher Susan Matheny Davis, of Fairmont, is a lifelong Republican who continues to support President Trump and wishes him, his colleagues, and even his political opponent the best.
“My prayers are with President Trump and his wife and everyone who has contracted COVID. I hope everyone makes a quick recovery and that the president continues doing the great work he’s doing,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t wish COVID on Joe Biden. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. That stuff is deadly. It’s terrible. But I think President Trump is pretty strong. I think he’s going to come back as strong as ever.”
Alan Russell, of Bingamon, is a union bricklayer and calls himself a strong Democrat. Russell said he, too, wishes Trump and all COVID patients well, but hopes the tone of the national conversation changes soon.
“It’s gotten really boring talking all the time about pro-Trump or anti-Trump and what we should do with this whole coronavirus thing. Wasn’t it Rodney King who said all those years ago, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ That’s what I’m hoping for soon. That we can all just get along,” Russell said.