Jason Wheeler of York said that when he first heard about President Trump testing positive for COVID-19, he was skeptical that it was true. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Jason Wheeler doesn’t want to be skeptical of the news that President Trump has the coronavirus, but he can’t help it.

“That’s the unfortunate side effect of what’s been happening the last four years. You don’t know what’s true and what’s not,” said Wheeler, a father of three from York. “When something like this comes out, I want my initial reaction to be I hope everyone is OK and that people going to the rallies aren’t getting sick. … I can’t trust the information is accurate. It makes my brain spin.”

Mainers woke up Friday to news of the positive test, which Trump announced in a tweet at 1 a.m. For some, word of the president’s diagnosis came from a flurry of Facebook and other social media posts.

The Portland Press Herald asked a variety of Mainers about how the news affected them and heard a complicated mix of emotions and reactions. And Wheeler was not the only one to experience some disbelief at first.

“I was like, this is probably not true. I’m not even going to click on it,” said Maddy Selleck, a 22-year-old receptionist from South Portland who saw posts about it on Facebook Friday morning.

“A month before the election, and at his age, I really don’t know what to expect,” Selleck said. “It feels like there’s a lot going on right now.”

Wheeler, an independent who works in IT sales, says that it feels like people are looking for a reason to unite and this could be a wake-up call. But he feels powerless do anything about the “violent disagreements” between people on social media about Trump and the seriousness of the pandemic.

“It’s driving intense arguments that we shouldn’t be having. We should be focused on those who have gotten sick and recovered, and the families who have lost someone,” he said. “Instead we’re focusing on someone who has been lying about it.”

Darrell Gudroe, a small-business owner from Boothbay Harbor, said his first thought when he read about the Trumps’ test was, “I wonder if it’s true.”

“My reaction to hearing about anyone else would be one of concern. I’m let down with myself, but also recognize that if he didn’t constantly ‘lie, joke or kid around’ when it comes to very important things, I would not have thought this as my first thought,” Gudroe said.

Gudroe, who shared his thoughts with friends in a long Facebook post, said he took time Friday to think back on the posts he’s shared and comments he’s made in the past.

“There were times when I thought it would be karmic if (Trump) were to get COVID. There were times when I was really upset with him and maybe even wished that he would get it,” Gudroe said. “Now that he has been diagnosed, I feel differently about how I was thinking. When I ‘wished’ that he would get it, it was because he was being so arrogant about COVID. Even today, I want to throw his own quotes back in his face, but instead I will continue to wish for a speedy recovery as it’s really the best case scenario for all.”

Shawn Roderick of Readfield, the campaign coordinator for Maine Senate Republicans, said Friday that his thoughts and prayers are with the president and first lady.

“I hope that they can recover and this COVID situation gets under control so everybody’s lives can get back to normal,” Roderick said.

Andrew Volk, co-owner of Portland Hunt and Alpine Club bar and restaurant, said learning of the president’s diagnosis was a reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken on the U.S.

“I think it is very sad and it reminds me there are more than 205,000 people who have died and there were things that could have been done to prevent it,” Volk said. “It makes me angry and it makes me sad.”

Volk, like many other Maine business owners, takes the threat of coronavirus seriously and said putting in strict precautions at the same time he tries to keep his bar afloat.

“As a business owner, we are on the front lines of this public health crisis,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure our customers and staff stay safe. It is frustrating to see people with more knowledge and power than we do not do the same.”

Craig Pendleton of Old Orchard Beach, a former chamber of commerce director who now works in public transportation, said it seems Trump “has been out there defying the COVID virus.” While he doesn’t agree with the extent of some shutdowns, Pendleton does support the focus on intense cleaning, mask wearing and other measures to help stop the spread of the virus.

“The president could have sent a stronger message by wearing a mask and promoting safety,” Pendleton said. “It’s flat out too bad, whether it’s the president and his wife or you and me, that people continue to get sick. We need to figure out how to bring this to an end because it’s crippling us.”

Luke Josephson, a 17-year-old Waynflete School student from Auburn, is the son of a COVID-19 survivor who was hospitalized for a short period.

“It proves (Trump) never took COVID seriously enough,” he said of the news. “If he couldn’t keep himself safe, how can he protect his country?”

April Caricchio, a progressive South Portland city councilor, said she wishes the Trumps a speedy recovery “for the sake of the country,” but she also doubted their diagnoses.

“It was bound to happen,” Caricchio said. “He was really asking for it. He has decried wearing masks until recently and still often doesn’t wear one. They think they’re immune from COVID, (but) you can’t bully COVID.”

Kevin Raye, former state senate president and Republican congressional candidate from Eastport, has been critical of the president and recently endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, but said he prays that the president, first lady and others in the administration have a complete recovery.

“I hope that those who have been dismissive of the pandemic and the need to wear masks will learn that this virus doesn’t care about your politics,” he said. “It is a danger to us all and must be taken seriously.”

Staff Writers Kelley Bouchard, Peter McGuire, Glenn Jordan, Scott Thistle and Eric Russell contributed to this report. 

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