Trump contracts COVID-19

Diagnosis upends final weeks of campaign

IT’S THE DEFINITION of irony. After months of downplaying the pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, President Trump and first lady Melania Trump say they have tested positive for coronavirus and are in isolation. The death two weeks ago of Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to upend the presidential race by suddenly thrusting a battle over a Supreme Court seat into the mix. With today’s news, we’ve gone from the frying pan into the fire. 

Just before 1 a.m. Trump tweeted, “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, who is 74, has been in very close contact with aide Hope Hicks, who developed symptoms of COVID-19 on Wednesday and has tested positive for the virus. 

The stunning turn of events, in which the head of state of the nation with the most COVID-19 cases and deaths contracted the disease himself, brings an avalanche of questions. 

One. The election is only 32 days away. What will the impact be? The Trumps, if they follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocol, must isolate for at least 10 days, be without symptoms, and test negative for the virus before interacting with others again. That could put into question Trump’s ability to take part in the second presidential debate, which is 13 days away. Obviously if the president becomes seriously ill, it will raise all sorts of further questions and could impact the outcome of the election.

Two. With the Secret Service and other security personnel charged with keeping the president safe, how did Trump manage to contract a potentially deadly virus, and why didn’t they lay down the law with a president known to shirk personal protective equipment protocols in order to protect him? The same could be asked about Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force in charge of combatting the virus and its spread.

Three. The circumstances of the last few days raise other troubling questions about safety and health protocols. Despite Hicks already being ill, Trump hosted a fundraising event Thursday night in New Jersey, just hours before receiving his own positive test result. He shared the debate stage on Tuesday with former vice president Joe Biden, who hasn’t shared if he’s been tested. Trump has also been in close contact over the past week with many White House officials and Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and her family. It might be time for the White House to employ an elite team of contact tracers.

Four. Finally, will the jarring turn of events change Trump’s pandemic messaging? In January, Trump said of the virus to a CNBC reporter, “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” When the CDC made its recommendation in April that people wear face coverings, Trump said that it was going to be “a voluntary thing” and emphasized that he would not do it. He didn’t wear one in public until July at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Journalist Bob Woodward’s taped interviews with Trump reveal that he knew much more about the severity of the virus than he said publicly in the early days of the pandemic.

Trump has argued for weeks that the nation has “turned a corner” on the pandemic, despite the CDC reporting COVID-19 cases trending upward in 26 states on September 29. He even said the “end of the pandemic is in sight” yesterday, hours before testing positive. The public generally looks to the president for guidance on important national issues. In the case of the COVID pandemic, Trump has signaled to anti-maskers that it’s fine to show up without face coverings at huge rallies he holds and to ridicule the cautions urged by public health officials. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

What Trump does and says next could determine whether the American public is finally unified in approaching the virus with the seriousness that has been warranted all along.