When Jose Antonio Reyes Dupont died in early September after a three-week battle with COVID-19, his son wanted to send the $10,000 funeral bill to President Trump.
Reyes, 84, was a lifelong Republican and die-hard Trump supporter who believed the president when he said early in the pandemic that the nation had the virus “totally under control” and that it was no worse than the flu.
His son, Marco Reyes, a 38-year-old Democrat, was still deep in mourning when he turned on the television this week to see Trump boasting to supporters at a Pennsylvania campaign rally about his recent recovery from the virus.
“One great thing about being president, if you’re not feeling 100%, you have got more doctors than you thought existed in the world,” Trump said to cheers.
He went on to say that he “felt like Superman” after receiving a “miracle” experimental antibody treatment.
Alone in his living room outside Miami, Reyes could barely contain himself.
“I literally wanted to jump into the TV and tell him off,” he said.
Trump “says he got a ‘miracle’ cure,” Reyes said. “My dad didn’t.”
Reyes had hoped that Trump’s bout with the coronavirus would be a humbling experience. Instead, the president remains as cavalier as ever about the disease.
His access to state-of-the-art treatment and his nonchalance — encapsulated in a tweet advising “don’t be afraid of the virus” — have been particular sources of resentment for some of the families of the 217,000 people who have died.
In hospital rooms across the country, patients are starting to ask if they too can receive the same treatment as the president. Families of those who died have started wondering if more could have been done.
The COVID-19 outbreak at the White House has refocused attention on how Trump has dealt with the pandemic — his biggest political liability.
A Washington Post/ABC poll released last weekend found 58% of voters disapprove of how Trump has handled the pandemic.
Many of those are Democrats, but in interviews even supporters of the president said he seemed to lack empathy for those who have suffered.
Glenn Perkins, a 74-year-old retired construction worker in Phillipsburg, N.J., who was hospitalized for 32 days in the spring for COVID-19, said the president should not be “so outspoken with pride.”
“I support Trump. But as president you don’t go around pounding your chest,” Perkins said. “That I do not agree with. It’s a serious thing, the COVID.”
“I’m not jealous that he got this special treatment. I’m glad he did. But he’s all puffed up and prideful. He should look not at himself but at all the people who passed away.”
According to his doctors, Trump received three main treatments: the steroid dexamethasone, the antiviral drug remdesivir and antibodies that were developed by Regeneron and are still being tested in clinical trials.
The president also was given supplemental oxygen and took vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and aspirin, doctors said.
It is impossible to know which treatments helped him recover, or how he would have fared without them.
At recent rallies, Trump has promised that all Americans could soon have access to his level of care. On Tuesday at the Pennsylvania rally, in working-class Johnstown, he said the mortality rate from COVID-19 would soon be “perfecto.”
“That drug that they gave me, we’re going to be distributing it all over the country to hospitals and everything else, because I’ll tell you, that sucker works,” he said. “That’s my opinion. What do I know? But to me it works.”
His enthusiasm is raising questions at some hospitals.
Dr. Scott Ellner, the chief executive officer of the Billings Clinic, the largest health system in Montana, explained in an all-staff online meeting this week that its medical center in Billings would fly in about 80 nurses, lab technicians and other medical workers to help deal with infection rates that have been rising dramatically in parts of the state.
A staff member wanted to know: Would the hospital provide the same level of medications that the president received?
Ellner explained that the hospital provides dexamethasone and remdesivir but that it does not have access to the monoclonal antibodies.
“If we could have access to any of these novel treatments, we would be open to any allocation that’s available,” he said in an interview.
In Los Angeles, Dr. Otto Yang, a infectious disease specialist at the UCLA medical school, said he has heard similar questions.
But he cautioned against believing the antibody treatment was “better than what the average person can get” — despite Trump’s description of it as a “miracle.”
“The treatment is in clinical trials and is not yet proven to be effective or safe,” he said.
Some Trump supporters said that the president’s recovery is a reason to feel hopeful about fighting the pandemic.
“I expect the elite among us to receive better healthcare,” said Joey Camp, a 31-year-old grill cook at a Waffle House in Cartersville, Ga., who contracted the virus in March and needed supplemental oxygen to help get him through it.
Camp, who spent 10 days at a state-run quarantine site, noted that Trump “got better treatment and was out of the hospital after three days at his age.”
“That medical advance,” he said, “gives me hope that within three months or six months or however long it takes for the vaccine trial, that we may start treating the coronavirus like the flu.”
Charlene Hughes took a different message from the president’s experience.
A caregiver living outside Minneapolis, she contracted the virus in the spring while working at the home of an elderly couple, one of whom died.
Hughes, who is 41 and has an autoimmune disease, suffered weeks of body aches, fever and coughing. She did not have to go to the hospital, but she racked up with hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket insurance bills to cover tests such as X-rays to monitor for fluid in the lungs.
Hughes said she was surprised to see Trump’s quick recovery and his swift return to the campaign trail.
“People have been putting their lives on the line, while the president has been downplaying the seriousness of this issue,” she said. “His medical care just affirms the disparities in healthcare in this country.”
Times staff writers Richard Read and Kurtis Lee contributed to this report.