MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump's diagnosis of COVID-19 comes as the pandemic itself has become a battle in America's culture war. And so NPR's Asma Khalid spoke to voters in the key state of Michigan to get a sense of how they're responding to this latest news.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: When L.J. Parker (ph) heard the president had contracted COVID, he wasn't surprised.
LJ PARKER: The things that he said and how he's been moving, by not taking it seriously, sooner or later, it was going to be bound to happen.
KHALID: To be clear, Parker, like everyone I spoke to, doesn't wish ill on the president. He says he hopes Trump gets better soon. But any assumption that the president's diagnosis might make the country less polarized seems unlikely. For one, some Democrats, like Mary Howarth (ph) initially weren't even certain whether they could believe the president.
MARY HOWARTH: Because we don't trust him. So is it a hoax, or is it real? Now, I'd like to think - the White House physician has commented, so I want to think it's real.
KHALID: To be clear, there is no doubt the president has COVID and is in the hospital for it. But for Democrats like Howarth, the president has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic. He said it would miraculously disappear, and he's been cavalier about wearing masks. All that makes Jill McKinney worried that if the president has a minor case, he and his supporters might glean the wrong lessons.
JILL MCKINNEY: He will probably - if he does get ill, he will get the best care possible. And it might not be bad for him, so he'll capitalize on that as well. Like, oh, it's not really all that bad.
KHALID: Republicans like Linda Holloway say they figure sooner or later, we're all going to get exposed. But the president's exposure will probably make people show their worst side.
LINDA HOLLOWAY: What I'm afraid of, what I worry about constantly, is the politization of everything.
KHALID: But I ask her if the president's illness makes her worried that her candidate is sidelined as people have already begun voting.
HOLLOWAY: You know, I'm a believer, so I believe ultimately, this is all out of our hands.
KHALID: She says Trump is a fighter, and she's praying for him. So is Christina Barr, a GOP activist I met at her church. While Democrats see the president's diagnosis as a sign that he was irresponsible, Barr doesn't. If anything, assuming the president comes out of this OK, she sees it as a sign of hope.
CHRISTINA BARR: Since he got it, I think - and obviously, there's been a lot of precautions to make him and people around him safe - I think people will say, let's be careful. But at the same time, we can overcome this, too.
KHALID: I asked Barr if she thinks the president ought to have been wearing a mask more often than he did. She defended his decision.
BARR: If he was tested every day, he's obviously not going to be the one who's spreading it.
KHALID: Even before the president's news, this election for some voters was already a referendum on the president's response to COVID. Earlier in the week outside a ballot drop box in Detroit, I met Ken Whittaker, a community organizer.
KEN WHITTAKER: Well, I have a cousin who has not voted in the last four elections. But in this election, he's voting. He said, dude, my brother's dead.
KHALID: That brother is one of the more than 200,000 people in the U.S. who've died of COVID.
Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.