President Donald Trump, who lied about the threat of the coronavirus pandemic and flouted social distancing guidelines while drawing thousands to tightly packed campaign events, said on Friday that he and his wife Melania had tested positive for COVID-19, shaking up the race for the White House.
“We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” the president tweeted.
Trump could have exposed scores of people to COVID-19 after appearing symptomatic at a fundraiser at his New Jersey golf club on Thursday and not wearing a mask. At the time, Trump already knew that senior advisor Hope Hicks, who traveled with him on Air Force One, tested positive on Wednesday, Sept. 30. That day, Trump held a rally in Minnesota which drew thousands, contravening social distancing guidelines and local officials who warned the state was already experiencing “uncontrolled spread” of the virus due to large outdoor gatherings. Journalists traveling with the president were also not told about Hicks’ positive test.
During Tuesday’s presidential debate, Trump ridiculed Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s frequent mask use, which health professionals say is key to reducing the spread of the virus.
“I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” Trump said during the chaotic debate. “He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
On Friday, Biden tested negative for COVID-19.
Trump is the latest world leader who has downplayed COVID-19 risks only to test positive for the disease. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was criticized for his government’s slow response to COVID-19 and who even boasted about shaking hands with COVID-19 patients, was hospitalized in an ICU and took several weeks recovering before returning to work. Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called the virus a “little flu” after being infected in July. After quarantining for several weeks, Bolsonaro has continued to hold tightly packed mass rallies, even as Brazil trails only the US and India with 4,847,092 cases and 144,680 deaths.
Trump’s positive test also means that other officials in his administration were exposed. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife have thus far tested negative, but Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has tested positive.
Trump held a large campaign rally with thousands of people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June. Public health officials say the event was “likely” the cause of cases spiking in the area afterwards, and Herman Cain, a prominent businessman and Trump supporter who attended the event, later fell ill with COVID-19 and died. Cain’s Twitter account remains active, and frequently attacks mask use and social distancing guidelines.
Trump, 74, is experiencing mild symptoms, the New York Times reports. But he’s at high risk from the disease because of his age and becuase he is clinically obese. 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths have been in adults over the age of 65, according to the CDC.
Johns Hopkins University reports that more than 208,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, which accounts for 4% of the global population but a quarter of the world’s cases and fatalities. The elderly, people of color, and those with preexisting conditions have been especially hard hit.
Trump has access to world-class healthcare and rapid testing, but he and Senate Republicans have blocked billions of dollars in funding for such programs for the general public, and have made gutting the Affordable Care Act, which expanded healthcare coverage for millions of Americans, a top priority. Up to 12 million people lost their employer-based healthcare after being laid off during the pandemic. At Tuesday’s debate, both Trump and Biden criticised Medicare for All, which would guarantee healthcare to all Americans regardless of their employment states.
Trump publicly called the coronavirus a “Democratic hoax,” but privately admitted to downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic despite having evidence to the contrary, according to interviews with noted investigative journalist Bob Woodward published last month.
“It goes through the air,” Trump said during a February interview with Woodward. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
According to one estimate, 124,061 lives and counting have been lost due to federal government inaction.