President Donald Trump, who has frequently dismissed the significance of the Covid-19 pandemic and rarely wears masks in public, has contracted the coronavirus and is now in quarantine, he announced early Friday morning on Twitter. Melania Trump has also tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the president said.
The news came a few hours after a number of news outlets revealed that Hope Hicks, a top adviser to the president, had contracted the virus. Hicks, who regularly travels with Trump, was part of his preparatory team for Tuesday’s debate against Democratic rival Joe Biden. She began to experience symptoms on Wednesday while in Duluth, Minn., where the president held a rally. She was in isolation on Air Force 1 as the Trump team returned to Washington, the New York Times reported.
“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Trump wrote.
The first lady also took to Twitter, suggesting she and the president both felt well, but that she was cancelling all upcoming engagements. “Please be sure you are staying safe & we will all get through this together,” she wrote.
Trump, who is 74 and is considered overweight, is at higher risk of having a serious bout of the illness than his wife, who is 50. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person aged 65 to 74 is five times as likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19 as someone aged 18 to 29, and 90 times more likely to die from the illness.
A memo from Trump’s physician, issued Friday morning, said both the president and his wife “are well at this time.”
An infection this close to the November election — even if Trump has few or mild symptoms — will upend his campaign schedule at a time when he can least afford to be sidelined.
The CDC recommends that people who are infected and who have mild symptoms should be in isolation for 10 days after the onset of illness. People who test positive but who do not go on to develop symptoms should be in isolation for 10 days after first testing positive for the virus.
Within minutes of Trump’s announcement, disease experts began questioning whether there was a larger outbreak among White House staff, pointing to the fact it would be unlikely the president would test positive so quickly, if Hicks had transmitted the virus to him and his wife.
“I’m puzzled about the timing here. It’s not clear to me that both POTUS and FLOTUS would be testing positive 48 hours after exposure. Prior exposure? Others infected?” asked Carl Bergstrom, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington, on Twitter.
Trump is not the first world leader to contract the virus. Britain’s Boris Johnson — who this week proclaimed himself “fit as a butcher’s dog” — had a serious case of Covid-19 in April. And Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his wife, Michelle, contracted the virus in the summer.
The coronavirus pandemic has bedeviled Trump’s re-election efforts, with polls routinely showing the voting public disapproves of his handling of the crisis. He has regularly insisted the country is past the worst of the pandemic, even talking about the outbreak in the past tense.
He has also frequently refused to wear a mask at public events. This week, Trump mocked Biden at the debate for constantly doing so. And he has insisted on holding large, in-person rallies, despite concerns that they could fuel spread of the coronavirus. In fact, he was scheduled to hold a rally in Sandford, Fla., a state critical to his re-election bid.
As the election approaches, Trump has repeatedly promised that Covid-19 vaccines — which are still in critical Phase 3 efficacy trials — will be available in October, creating concerns he will pressure Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn to authorize use of vaccines before there are sufficient data to know they actually work. In the face of the growing fears of a Trump-FDA standoff, a coalition of major vaccine manufacturers took the extraordinary step last month of jointly promising not to seek approval for vaccines unless they have been proven safe and effective.
Meanwhile, political staff in the administration have pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tone down advice on its website, even rewriting guidance about school reopening that did not reflect the science-based views of the agency’s original recommendations.