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Trump Hosts First Rally Since COVID-19 Treatment
By The Associated Press
SANFORD, FL - In spite of his diagnosis less than two weeks ago, President Donald Trump on Monday turned his first campaign rally since contracting COVID-19 into a defense of his handling of the pandemic, joking that he was healthy enough to plunge into the crowd and give voters “a big fat kiss."

There was no social distancing and mask-wearing was spotty among the thousands who came to see Trump's return to Florida. He held forth for an hour, campaigning with just weeks left before Election Day.

Though he was hospitalized battling the virus only a week ago, Trump's message on COVID-19 was unaltered since his diagnosis, saying that the pandemic is almost a thing of the past. 

“Under my leadership, we're delivering a safe vaccine and a rapid recovery like no one can even believe," Trump insisted. “If you look at our upward path, no country in the world has recovered the way we have recovered."

Statistic show hundreds of people in the U.S. die from the virus every day, with a total of 215,000 dead since the pandemic began. 

His voice was perhaps a touch scratchy but otherwise, Trump was, well, Trump.

He thanked the audience for their well-wishes and declared he was no longer contagious as he embarked on a frenetic final stretch of the campaign.

Trump insisted that, after being given experimental medication and other VIP treatment, he felt great and was glad he no longer needs to be concerned about infection because he's now “immune.”

"I feel so powerful,” said Trump, displaying no obvious signs of lingering infection. “I’ll walk into that audience. I'll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women ... everybody. I’ll just give ya a big fat kiss.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said Monday on CNN that those who recover from COVID-19 are likely to be immune for a limited period of time, but there are cases emerging of people getting reinfected weeks or months later.

Despite Trump's battle with a deadly disease, it was striking how little had changed. 

Trump said Democrats were “engaged and unhinged and out for vengeance," and touted “tremendous progress” on virus therapeutics. He promised the third-quarter economy would be “record-setting” and claimed that, if he wins in November, “normal life” will resume, while Biden would delay the vaccine and destroy the economy with a “draconian” lockdown.

And when he was done, with his new exit song, The Village People's “YMCA,” blaring over the loudspeakers, the president did what has become his trademark dance, pumping his fists to the beat as the crowd roared. But he kept his distance from the audience.

With three weeks to go before the election, Trump is pushing to correct a deficit in some national and battleground state polling.

That includes in Florida, which is seen as crucial to his reelection chances. Trump narrowly beat his 2016 rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, in the state by just over 112,000 votes. Some recent polls have suggested a close race in the state, while others have put Democrat Joe Biden ahead.

Underscoring the importance of Florida, Trump will be back in the state Friday for another rally, this time in Ocala.

Trump's Sanford rally was his first stop in a busy week that will include events in Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and Wisconsin. And it comes while some question the impact so much travel so soon could have on the 74-year-old president's health. The progression of COVID-19 is often unpredictable, and there can be long-term complications.

After Air Force One lifted off from Joint Base Andrews, the president's doctor released an update on his health that said Trump had tested negative for the virus — and had done so on consecutive days. His doctor, Navy Cmdr. Scott Conley, said the tests, taking in conjunction with other data, including viral load, have led him to conclude that Trump was not contagious.

There was no evidence of any new health precautions, although more passengers than usual on Air Force One, including U.S. Secret Service agents and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, were seen wearing masks on board.

Trump's decision to so quickly return to the campaign trail drew criticism from Biden and other Democrats.

“President Trump comes to Sanford today bringing nothing but reckless behavior, divisive rhetoric, and fear mongering," Biden said in a statement. “But, equally dangerous is what he fails to bring: no plan to get this virus that has taken the lives of over 15,000 Floridians under control.”

Trump continued to mock Biden for his efforts to encourage social distancing at his campaign events, deriding as “crazy” the circles Biden's campaign uses to delineate individual space.

“He’s got a lot of bad days coming," Trump said at another point.

Published 05:00 AM, Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020
Updated 05:10 AM, Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020

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