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President and First Lady test positive for COVID-19

A file photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump.
Photographer: Carlos Barria/Reuters

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump announced on Twitter early Friday, Oct. 1 that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19. This startling news has left many to question when and how the president was infected, just hours after the Independent UK reported that White House adviser Hope Hicks tested positive for the virus. Hicks is the White House counselor who is frequently in contact with the president. Hicks was also with Trump as he traveled to and from the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday, Sept. 29, USA Today reports.

“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19,” Trump tweeted early Friday morning. “We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”

According to USA Today, Former White House doctor Ronny Jackson told Fox News that Trump was asymptomatic and predicted the president would “weather this storm.” 

“I will bet you that he does not develop symptoms, that he moves on and this does not become a big deal,” Jackson said. 

Despite the president’s claims that the U.S. has the pandemic under control, his own positive test result is certain to raise questions about the safety of reopening of schools and businesses when the virus could not be contained within the White House, one of the most secure facilities in the world.  

White House counselor of the president, Hope Hicks, walks to board Air Force One with U.S. President Donald Trump as they depart to Minnesota and Wisconsin at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., U.S., Aug. 17, 2020.
Photographer: Tom Brenner | Reuters

According to Bloomberg, Hicks traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One to and from the presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday Sept. 29 and to a Minnesota rally on Wednesday, Sept. 30. Hicks felt ill in Minnesota and quarantined aboard the presidential plane on the way home, according to sources close to the president.

Hicks is the latest person in Trump’s circle to contract the virus. Other senior staff have contracted COVID-19 and recovered, such as National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, who the Wall Street Journal reported tested positive for COVID-19 back in July of this year. Politico also reported that Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller had recovered from COVID-19 following a positive diagnosis in May. Katie Miller is married to top White House aide and senior adviser Stephen Miller, Trump’s speechwriter, who spends a lot of time around the president as well as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his daughter, Ivanka Trump.

Miller’s positive diagnosis of COVID-19 came as the president promoted the re-opening of the economy in more than a dozen states and resumed travel outside of the White House. Trump even visited a Honeywell factory in Arizona where he toured the plant without wearing a face mask, CNBC reports.

According to Politico, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed that a member of the vice president’s team had tested positive for COVID-19, a day after one of the president’s personal valets contracted the illness. Although, she did not specify who the person was.

“We have put in place the guidelines that our experts have put forward to keep this building safe, which means contact tracing,” McEnany told reporters during a news briefing. “All of the recommended guidelines we have for businesses that have essential workers, we are now putting them in place here in the White House. So as America reopens safely, the White House is continuing to operate safely.”

On Friday, Oct. 2, a spokesperson for the Republication National Committee (RNC) told The Hill that RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel also tested positive for the coronavirus COVID-19 and is recovering at home in Michigan.

“After a member of her family tested positive for COVID-19, the chairwoman was tested for the virus. On Wednesday afternoon, she got confirmation she was COVID-19 positive, she has been at her home in Michigan since last Saturday,” the RNC spokesperson confirmed.

Chair of the Republican National Committee Ronna McDaniel on stage addressing the Republican National Convention at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Photographer: by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

These developments have sparked criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the president’s alleged disregard for public health measures.

Trump seldom wears a mask and has mocked Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, for routinely covering his face.

Speaking to a largely mask-less crowd in Pennsylvania, CNN Politics reports that Trump asked his supporters if they know “a man that likes a mask as much” as Biden. “It gives him a feeling of security,” the president said. “If I was a psychiatrist, I’d say this guy has some big issues.”

CNBC reports that back in February Trump said, “I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine,” and “Looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Later that month he said, “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”

CNN reports that Democratic presidential nominee Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, both tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday, Oct. 2, according to Biden’s doctor, Kevin O’Connor. “Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected. I am reporting this out in my capacity as both Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden’s primary care physician,” O’Connor said.

Polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests are considered the gold standard of COVID-19 tests — taking longer than 15-minute rapid tests, but delivering more accurate results. Biden will continue with his plans to visit Grand Rapids, Michigan for a speech focused on the economy, according to an updated schedule his campaign has released following the test results obtained by CNN. However, he has scaled his trip back to just one event. The former vice president’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff, were also tested for COVID-19 and received negative results, according to CNN.

For months, Trump has downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and contradicted medical professionals on the importance of wearing masks. At the first presidential debate in Cleveland, some members of Trump’s entourage entered the debate hall without face coverings — or removed them as they sat down — and refused an offer of masks from a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, which co-hosted the event. Although Hicks was not seen in the debate hall, she was seen on Tuesday, Sept. 29 riding mask-less in a staff van with White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, campaign adviser Jason Miller and others. Upon return to Washington, D.C. that same day, Stephen Miller and Hicks were seen sharing an umbrella as they exited Air Force One in the rain as reported by Bloomberg.

It was when Hick fell ill in Minnesota on Thursday, Oct. 1 that she decided to get tested for the virus, and the results came back positive.

Trump is tested regularly, though it is not clear precisely how often. White House staff is tested daily. This includes members of the press corps and anyone scheduled to meet with the president, who are tested prior to the encounter. Trump’s staff wear masks when traveling with him aboard the presidential helicopter, Marine One; Hicks also observed that protocol this week, according to Bloomberg.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone who has been exposed to a person with COVID-19 to stay home until 14 days after last exposure and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others at all times.

White House physician Sean Conley said in a memo early Friday, Oct. 2: “The president and first Lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”

Trump plans to continue carrying out his duties but is expected to remain home for two weeks, canceling campaign events as doctors watch him at the White House, according to NPR. Only hours earlier, the president had told his friend Sean Hannity in an interview on Fox News that he and Melania Trump had begun “a quarantine process.”