The White House said Friday that US President Donald Trump was suffering “mild symptoms” of Covid, as the virus that has killed more than 205,000 US citizens spread to the highest reaches of government, just a month before the US presidential election.
The revelation came in a Trump tweet at around 1am, after he had returned from an afternoon political fundraiser without telling the crowd he had been exposed to an aide with the disease that has killed more than a million people worldwide.
First Lady Melania Trump also tested positive, the president said, and several others in the White House have too, prompting concern that the White House or even Trump himself might have spread the virus further. The Trumps' son Barron, who lives at the White House, tested negative.
The businessman and former reality TV star has spent much of the year downplaying the threat of the virus, rarely wearing a protective mask and urging states and cities to “reopen” and reduce or eliminate shutdown rules.
Both Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running-mate Kamala Harris have tested negative, their campaign said. Vice-President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus Friday morning and “remains in good health,” his spokesman said.
Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was with him and many others on Saturday and has been on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers, also tested negative, the White House said.
Trump's diagnosis is sure to have a destabilising effect in Washington and around the world, raising questions about how far the virus has spread through the highest levels of the US government. Hours before Trump announced he had contracted the virus, the White House said that Hope Hicks, a top aide who had travelled with him during the week had tested positive.
“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for Covid. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately," Trump tweeted. "We will get through this TOGETHER!”
While House Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows on Friday tried to assure the public that Trump was conducting business as usual, even as he confirmed that the White House knew Hicks had tested positive before Trump attended a Thursday fundraiser in New Jersey.
“I can tell you in terms of Hope Hicks, we discovered that right as Marine One was taking off yesterday,” said Meadows. Several staffers were pulled from the trip, but Trump did not cancel and there was no direct evidence that her illness was connected to his.
Many White House and senior administration officials were undergoing tests Friday, but the full scale of the outbreak around the president may not be known for some time as it can take days for an infection to be detectable by a test. Officials with the White House Medical Unit were tracing the president's contacts.
Trump's re-election campaign said it was putting on hold all events featuring Trump and members of his family but that Pence would resume campaigning since he tested negative.
Trump was last seen by reporters returning to the White House on Thursday evening and did not appear ill. He is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has infected more than seven million people nationwide.
The president’s physician said in a memo that Trump and the first lady, who is 50, “are both well at this time” and “plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”
Trump’s diagnosis will likely force him off the campaign trail and puts his participation in the second presidential debate, scheduled for October 15 in Miami, into doubt.
Trump’s handling of the pandemic has already been a major flashpoint in his race against Biden, who spent much of the summer off the campaign trail and at his home in Delaware citing concern about the virus. Biden has since resumed a more active campaign schedule, but with small, socially distanced crowds. He also regularly wears a mask in public, something Trump mocked him for at Tuesday night’s excruciating debate.
In a tweet Friday morning, Biden said he and his wife “send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
World leaders offered the president and first family their best wishes after their diagnosis, as governments used their case as a reminder for their citizens to wear masks and practice social distancing measures.
Trump is far from the first world leader to test positive for the virus, which previously infected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent a week in the hospital, including three nights in intensive care. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was hospitalised last month while fighting what he called a “hellish” case of Covid-19.
Trump's age, health woes in spotlight
US President Donald Trump has several strikes against him — age, obesity, elevated cholesterol and being male — that could put him at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus infection he disclosed late Thursday.
Older age, being male and having any other health problems increase the chance of severe illness, and Trump has those.
At 74, “his age would be the primary risk factor,” said Dr. David Banach, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Connecticut’s health system.
People ages 65 to 74 are seven times more likely to be hospitalised for Covid-19 than those who are 18 to 29 years old, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risks rise exponentially at older ages.
Trump also is obese, with a body mass index just past 30. He also takes a statin drug to lower his cholesterol, and that condition also raises his risk for COVID-19 complications, doctors said.