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Activist Who Lost Father to COVID Says Trump’s White House Photo Op Was Like “Sci-Fi Horror Film”

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As the highest-profile coronavirus patient in the world returns to the White House while still infectious and a danger to others, we speak with activist Kristin Urquiza, whose father died from COVID-19 earlier this year. She says President Trump’s minimizing of the disease is a slap in the face to families who have lost loved ones. “I was appalled,” says Urquiza. “Every single person out there who’s lost a loved one to COVID, who has seen up close and personal what this virus can do, felt the same way.” Urquiza, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August about her father, is co-founder of Marked by COVID, a project elevating the stories of Americans who have died in the pandemic.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

COVID-19 has infected about seven-and-a-half million people in the United States and has killed more than 210,000 people. That’s over 20% of the deaths reported worldwide, even though the U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population. But on Monday, the highest-profile coronavirus patient in the world returned to the White House while still infectious, downplaying the severity of the virus in tweets and video.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you’re going to beat it.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump’s comments outraged many emergency room doctors, public health experts, survivors of the disease, and those who have lost loved ones, especially as infections are on the rise in many cases of the country.

For more, we’re joined by someone who lost her father to COVID-19 in June. Kristin Urquiza says her dad, Mark Anthony Urquiza, was a supporter of Donald Trump who died after believing the president’s assurances that the coronavirus was under control. Kristin spoke about the loss of her father at the Democratic National Convention.

KRISTIN URQUIZA: My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump. And for that, he paid with his life.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristin Urquiza attended the first presidential debate last week in Cleveland. After Trump’s COVID diagnosis on Friday, she wrote a piece for The Washington Post headlined “I sat in the front row at the debate. Did Trump infect me with the coronavirus?” She’s joining us now from San Francisco, California.

Kristin, welcome to Democracy Now! We played your speech in full at the Democratic National Convention. Now we’d like to — and our condolences to you on the death of your beloved father. What was your response when you saw President Trump walk out of Walter Reed and then walk into the White House after taking off his mask, turning around and walking in the door?

KRISTIN URQUIZA: Hi, Amy. I was appalled. And I know that I’m not alone. Every single person out there who’s lost a loved one to COVID, who has seen up close and personal what this virus can do, felt the same way. And I honestly felt like I was watching a sci-fi horror film. And sadly, it’s real life.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kristin, I’m wondering if you could go back to a week ago, to the first presidential debate. You were invited. You were a guest of Vice President Joe Biden, sitting right up front. Could you talk about what you were told about the COVID status of the candidates, and also how the Trump family, that was not too far from you, was dealing with the issue of wearing masks? Were they offered any masks? Can you talk about what you saw?

KRISTIN URQUIZA: Sure, happy to. First and foremost, every single person in that audience was told that the people inside of that debate hall would have had a COVID-negative test that day. So, we all got there early, went through the process of getting tested on site, doing self-isolation between that and our test results, before being able to enter into the debate hall.

Once I got into the debate hall and we found our way to our seats, there were a couple of things that stood out. First and foremost, on one side of the hall was full of people wearing masks. And on the other side, I saw maybe one or two, which was fairly alarming to me, because we had all also been told that mask wearing was going to be enforced inside the debate hall itself. I didn’t have really time to raise my concerns, because the program was getting started.

And as the program was about to get started, the Trump family entered. They were wearing masks at first, and then they sat down and defiantly took their masks off. I saw somebody from — I assume it was either Cleveland Clinic or the presidential counsel offer them masks, which they refused. And they stood there — or, sat there in silence, unmasked, for the 90 minutes that we were together for that — if you can call it “debate” — debate.

I was appalled then, too. But honestly, I did kind of take — I took a deep breath and was like, “At least everyone has been tested.” And I had no idea that that wasn’t the case, which just, I think, is a microcosm of what we’ve been seeing over the course of not just this pandemic, but this entire administration, where President Trump himself and the people in his inner circle run a government where there is a total disregard for law and order, and it’s “Do as I say, not as I do.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just been looking at pictures of President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, at that debate, who was not sitting yards from you, Kristin. And we now know that not only President Trump but the first lady have tested positive for coronavirus. It’s not clear if we’ll even be told about the rest of the family. But I wanted to ask you about your dad. I wanted to ask you about Mark Anthony Urquiza, who died of coronavirus. Tell us who he was. Your Twitter bio says, “Trump lied, and my dad died.” You blame President Trump and the Arizona governor, Ducey. Tell us why.

KRISTIN URQUIZA: Sure. My dad, first and foremost, was great and did not deserve to die alone in a hospital with just a nurse holding his hand. He was also a lifelong Republican who was politically aware. He watched television news programming fairly regularly, read the newspaper, and engaged me as a young kid in politics, which is kind of where I got my interest in the world around me from. He was a Trump supporter and voted for Trump and believed him in what he had to say.

And so, as the coronavirus came to the United States, me and my dad engaged in daily conversations about the information that we were all receiving. And, you know, my dad, first and foremost, believed it was real, believed that we should take some safety precautions, such as mask wearing and social distancing. He, like so many of us, made tons of sacrifices over the course of March and April in order to help flatten the curve, which seems like such an old saying now.

But whenever the president started to ram this idea down our throats that we had to pick public health or economic health, my dad tuned in to that. When my dad heard the president say we’re on the other side of this pandemic; if we’re not — if you don’t have an underlying health condition, you’re safe; this is no worse than a flu; my dad listened to that and made decisions based upon that information. As the state of Arizona reopened and the governor in Arizona reinforced those messages, actually going on the radio as late as late May saying there’s nothing to worry about, my dad listened. And as a result, two weeks later, he woke up with a fever, and then, 19 days after that, passed away.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Kristin, when you hear, for instance, President Trump tweeting on Monday, “I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 … Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” — when you hear that, given the experience that you and your family went through with your father, what’s your reaction?

KRISTIN URQUIZA: It makes me think about the two or maybe even three Americas that we live in. There’s Donald Trump’s America and then everybody else’s America. And while I agree that the president of the United States holds a very important office and whose medical attention should get very high healthcare coverage, when I think about my own situation, my dad had similarly — eerily similar symptoms as the president, at least what we know. My dad had a low-grade fever. He had a cough. He had low energy. And he was told to — after he got his test, the day after he woke up with those symptoms, he was told to go home and quarantine, and to only return if he couldn’t breathe. My dad waited six days, on doctor’s orders, to come back — before he returned to the hospital. And that was underneath the conditions of him hardly being able to walk into the door because he was so out of breath.

The president of the United States was able to get not only the best medical attention in the world and every single drug known and unknown to treat this virus, he also got the privilege of an abundance of caution in his care. And I can tell you this: From every single family that I have spoken to over the course of the last several months, through my organization, Marked by COVID, that I’ve launched, no one has received the same cautionary care. And that is what ultimately boils my blood. We should all have that opportunity. And by the president flaunting it in our face just rams down the fact of our broken, unequitable healthcare system that is causing so much pain and suffering right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristin, before we go, I wanted to ask you about your day job. You started Marked by COVID, but you also work for Mighty Earth, which is — focuses on the Amazon rainforest. Can you talk about how you believe that forest preservation could prevent future pandemics?

KRISTIN URQUIZA: Absolutely. One of the largest drivers of potential pandemics is what’s called the zoonotic transfer of disease. It’s basically a term that means animals and human beings coming in too close of contact, and germs jumping from one species to another. We suspect that’s where HIV and AIDS comes from. We also have evidence that this particular strain of coronavirus also came from zoonotic transfer of disease in Indonesia.

So, one of the best things that we can do, according to research and science, is to actually work to protect rainforests and bulldozing of rainforests in order to prevent — or the best vaccine to future pandemics. So, before I even became an activist for public health on COVID, I was already thinking about pandemics on the side of prevention. And rainforest protection also is a wonderful way in which to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights, as well as to fight climate change. So, looking ahead, as we look at the recovery and resiliency pieces of COVID, there needs to be a strict ban on products entering into the United States, such as cattle, soy and other consumer products, that are linked to deforestation.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristin Urquiza, we want to thank you so much for being with us, co-founder of Marked by COVID. After her dad died of the virus, she wrote an obituary in The Arizona Republic that went viral. Kristin spoke at the DNC, attended the first presidential democratic debate as a guest of Joe Biden. She’s also deputy director of Mighty Earth, which works to protect tropical rainforests around the world. She is Mexican American, of course her dad, as well. And the Latinx and African American populations, the hardest hit by COVID.

When we come back, we’ll speak with a Middlebury College student in Vermont who’s doing what the White House doesn’t want the CDC to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Stay with us.

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