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COVID-19 concerns in a solid red state, voters divided on Trump presidency

Click to play video 'Trump and Biden supporters view pandemic differently' Trump and Biden supporters view pandemic differently
WATCH: Americans are divided over a central issue of the U.S. presidential election: the pandemic. Mike Armstrong looks at the links between how voters view COVID-19 and the candidate they support. – Oct 28, 2020

Driving around Morgantown, West Virginia, you’d be excused for not knowing there’s a presidential election underway.

There are signs for candidates in next week’s election along the roads in this hilly college town, but most of them are for senators and congressmen.

In a red state like this one, there are few signs for Donald Trump, and even fewer for his opponent, Joe Biden.

Trump supporter Gail Hartley, standing in her driveway, says the leaders don’t spend much money or time in her state. Donald Trump has it locked up.

“Oh, without a doubt, he’ll win West Virginia,” Hartley says. “I feel confident.”

Signs line the streets of Morgantown, W.Va., but Trump and Biden signs are few and far between. Barry Donnelly/Global News

According to a telephone poll conducted October 19-20 by Triton Polling and Research, Trump holds a strong lead over Biden in the state, 58 per cent to just 38 per cent.

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While the Biden campaign has hit hard on the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the president’s supporters don’t appear to be listening.

“To blame him for 200,000 people dying is a far stretch,” Hartley says. “As far as handling it, I think he’s done the best he can.”

Read more: U.S. election — Surge in coronavirus cases shapes final days of campaigning

The state of West Virginia has 10 days of early voting. It wraps up this Friday.

One polling station is at an old mall on the outskirts of the city.

Local pilot Jeff Croft voted alongside his mother. Both were wearing masks as they exited the polling station, but said the crisis is overblown.

Voter exits polling station at Mountaineer Mall in Morgantown, W.Va. Barry Donnelly/Global News

“Well, I’ve seen very few people sick,” Croft says. “But I’ve seen a lot of people broke. Economically, it’s been devastating.

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West Virginia’s COVID-19 numbers are on an upswing. The state’s seven-day average of positive tests has jumped 48 per cent over the last three weeks.

The state’s Department of Health and Human Resources confirmed 358 new cases and four new deaths as of 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Click to play video 'Trump and Biden campaign in swing states as election day nears' Trump and Biden campaign in swing states as election day nears
Trump and Biden campaign in swing states as election day nears – Oct 27, 2020

The president’s strategy has been to argue the threat of COVID-19 is overblown, a sentiment echoed by Trump supporter Chuck Woods as he left the polling station after casting his ballot.

“You try to follow the guidelines, do the best you can,” Woods says. “But you can’t live your life scared, you know? You have to just do what they’re telling you and hope for the best.”

A common refrain at Trump rallies this week has been that the country is “rounding the corner” on the COVID-19. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a press release Tuesday night outlining highlights of the Trump administration’s accomplishments over the past four years.

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Wide shot of Morgantown, W.Va. Barry Donnelly/Global News

The first highlight in the release is listed as “ending the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Morgantown resident Jeremy Edwards brought his teenage daughter to the polls with him Tuesday as he cast his ballot. He says Trump is oblivious to the problem and that COVID-19 was the number one issue for him in this campaign because of the damage it’s done to the economy.

Read more: How the presidential election could affect the Canada-U.S. border

“The economy is shot to hell. I mean there are no jobs,” Edwards says. “People keep on saying I’m voting for him because of the economy. I don’t know what economy they’re looking at.”

Teacher Kara Jaggie says she watches Trump’s speeches and each time has the same reaction when she hears the president saying the country is rounding the corner.

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“I laugh,” Jaggie says. “Every day the numbers are increasing. I’m not sure I believe him all that much.”