One result of President Trump and the first lady testing positive for COVID-19 is that he will be in quarantine when he otherwise planned to hold two rallies in Wisconsin, despite pleas from elected officials and against the advice of his own coronavirus task force that such gatherings might result in people getting infected.
Trump must now wait to see how he fares with the disease he more than once said is no worse than the flu and which would just disappear. He will get the best medical care, but even that is no guarantee of a happy outcome.
Not even his worst enemies should wish even him the fate suffered by the more than 200,000 Americans who have died. That number includes Heidi Hussli, who taught German in a Green Bay High School 9 miles from the airport where Trump was scheduled to fly in on Saturday.
After Hussli succumbed to the virus on Sept. 17, her family said she likely contracted it while attending the two-day viewing and funeral for her mother, Kim Derleth, and not at the school. She had just resumed teaching in person there at the start of last month.
“Heidi’s family indicated that based on this event, and the timing of her onset of symptoms, they believe she contracted the virus at the funeral,” the Howard-Suamico School District said on its website. “Others who attended the funeral have also tested positive for COVID-19.”
The family has chosen to speak through the district, which says face coverings were worn at the Sept. 3 to Sept. 4 funeral but social distancing was not as strictly observed as it might have been.
The district says Hussli had worn a mask and face shield, and worked behind a plexiglas barrier and observed social distancing when she taught at Bay Port High School on Sept. 1 and 2. She reported experiencing symptoms when she returned to work on Sept. 8 and immediately got tested.
Upon learning the next day that the result was positive, she went into quarantine at home, where she lived with her husband and teenage son. She vowed to resume teaching the following Monday, by Zoom.
But she took a turn for the worse on Sunday. She was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Green Bay and placed in the ICU, where she was intubated. She died on Sept. 17, nine days after she fell ill.
By all accounts, Hussli was a remarkable teacher who urged her students to consider mistakes an opportunity to learn, not to be shamed. The many students who remained in touch with her long after graduation include a young man from the class of 2015 who came upon a mural in Washington, D.C., earlier this year depicting John F. Kennedy delivering his famous speech at the Berlin Wall.
The mural included the immortal line “Ich bin ein Berliner,” and the student remembered Hussli using it to teach the class a little about the complexities of translating. She told them that some Germans wondered why JFK was saying, “I am a jelly donut.”
Ring texted her a picture of the mural.
“I knew she was smiling when I sent it to her,” he told The Daily Beast on Thursday.
She texted back, “Oh my God, I love it!”
He last texted her on Sept. 16.
“I just texted her to let her know I missed her and I was listening to podcasts in German just randomly because she always told me that to keep up with it, the best way is to listen to it,” he said.
She was intubated by then and did not reply. He learned the next day that she had died. He recalled her as a teacher who was all a teacher should be.
“She always wanted to help,” he said.
In her passing, Hussli leaves us with a final lesson on the importance of strictly observing the basic precautions against a disease so diabolical it can kill you with a well-intentioned hug at a time when you most need one.
That lesson became all the more pressing as the hospital where she died joined the other major Green Bay hospitals in reporting that they were coming precariously close to being overwhelmed by a soaring number of COVID-19 cases, with patients being left in hallways or placed on a waiting list.
Yet even though the White House coronavirus task force had declared Wisconsin a red state of another kind due to COVID-19, Trump was pressing ahead this week with plans to hold a rally at the airport in Green Bay on Saturday. There were not likely to be many more masks or much more social distancing than at previous Trump rallies. Never mind that his own task force instructed officials in such hotspots, “To the maximal degree possible, increase social distancing mitigation measures until cases decline.”
President Trump was initially going to hold a second rally at the airport in La Crosse, a red zone city that had become so besieged by contagion that it announced on Sept. 17 that its website would no longer identify the location of individual outbreaks.
“You should assume that you will come into contact with COVID-19 wherever you interact with people outside of your household because we have widespread COVID-19 activity in our community,” the La Crosse website said.
The prospect of a maskless mass of cheering people packed into a rally prompted La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat to ask Trump to cancel the rally. Kabat reported on Thursday afternoon that Trump appeared to have changed his mind.
“We have received word that Air Force One is not coming to La Crosse on Saturday, so we are assuming the Trump campaign has changed its plan and is not coming to La Crosse,” a Kabat spokesperson announced.
A short time later, the Trump campaign said that because of a “lease problem” at the La Crosse airport, the rally was being moved to the Wisconsin city of Janesville, which has not been hit as hard by the virus. Trump was now scheduled to speak at the airport there on Saturday afternoon, followed by the appearance in Green Bay.
But the Green Bay plans were apparently put on hold when presidential assistant Hope Hicks tested positive for COVID-19. Trump acknowledged that he had extensive contact with Hicks. He and the first lady went into quarantine pending the result of tests.
The Green Bay Airport where Air Force One is no longer scheduled to land is nine miles from Bay Port High School, which had been closed to in-person learning after one other staff member and 10 students tested positive. School officials say that one of them was traced back to Hussli.
Over a three-day period, from last Friday afternoon through that Sunday evening, the school held a celebration of Hussli’s life in an expansive outdoor space. Precautions were taken against a consoling hug that could turn deadly.
“Due to the covid-19 pandemic please follow all guidelines as laid out by the CDC in public spaces,” read an advisory for the participants. “Masks will be required to be worn at all times around the memorial and you will need to stay 6-ft away from people you do not live with.”
Students and family and friends left pictures and messages and flowers in a plaza with a circle in the center featuring an outsized anchor and a flagpole. The Stars and Stripes had been lowered to half staff but flew in full as a tribute to a hero of heart and soul and decency such as is too seldom honored.
One poster featured people and things that Hussli loved. This included her husband, Amir, her son, Kurosh, and sister, Heather, along with her dog, Leni, as well as Germany and the Alps, the color orange, and, of course, teaching and students.
She was the one smiling constant in class pictures displayed from over her 16 years at the school. There were also posters with messages in German and English. One quoted the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
“If you are looking for me, look in your hearts. If I have found a place to stay there, I’ll always live with you.”
Somebody had left a single worn sandal and a note.
“We miss you Heidi. Thank you for leaving footprints in my heart. People walk through our lives, but only true friends leave footprints in our heart.”
A red folding chair stood empty, with a small American flag to the side. A poster quoted what her sister had said was Hussli’s “mantra in life.” It is one we should all embrace.
"Bringt die Menschlichkeit zurück… Bring Humanity Back.”
And Trump waits to see how he will fare with the disease he more than once told us was no worse than the flu and would just disappear.