Trump has tested positive for coronavirus, throwing the election — and the country — into uncertainty

Donald Trump and Melania Trump standing together on a stage and smiling
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Originally Published: 

President Trump — a man who has spent months steadfastly refusing to socially distance himself from others, who pointedly rejected medical advice to wear a face mask time and time again, and who hosted massive political rallies that likely served as viral super-spreader events — confirmed early Friday that both he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for coronavirus.

Trump announced the diagnosis — one which in retrospect seems like an inevitability — just hours after sharing the news that Hope Hicks, one of his chief aides and closest allies, had also contracted the virus. Hicks had spent the previous 24 hours traveling with the president on Air Force One to a series of political events in Minnesota.

Trump's case was reported as mild Friday morning, with him experiencing "cold-like symptoms," per The New York Times. By the afternoon, though, the president's physician Dr. Sean Conley said in a letter that Trump had received an injection of an experimental antibody cocktail. Trump has reportedly had a low-grade fever since Friday morning, and Conley said in announcing the experimental treatment that Trump "remains fatigued but in good spirits."

Shortly after 5 p.m. ET Friday, the White House then announced that Trump would be transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, with Marine One spotted at the White House. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany released a statement saying that Trump still only had "mild symptoms" and was being taken to Walter Reed "out of an abundance of caution" — though she did acknowledge it was being done at the direction of his physician and that he'd be there for several days.

Trump emerged from the White House residence at 6:17 p.m. ET, donning a suit, tie, and mask as he walked to Marine One. He was accompanied for the walk across the South Lawn by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who was also wearing a mask despite not doing so while addressing reporters earlier Friday. Trump acknowledged gathered press but did not speak or answer any questions. Marine One touched down at Walter Reed around 6:30 p.m. ET.

The decision to take Trump to Walter Reed appears to have stemmed from his own increasing anxiety over his symptoms, which reportedly worsened overnight Friday. On Friday evening, CNN's Jim Acosta reported that Trump is having trouble breathing and is very fatigued, citing an unnamed adviser to the president. "This is serious," the adviser said, though the president's condition is reportedly not deteriorating.

Damningly, Trump appears to have traveled extensively and come in contact with crowds of people even after learning of his possible exposure. The Washington Post reported that White House officials knew Hicks was displaying coronavirus-like symptoms before Trump and a group of aides flew to a fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, where the president "was in close contact with dozens of other people." The Times reported that Trump "seemed lethargic" at the event, and that he'd fallen asleep aboard Air Force One the night before while returning from a rally in Minnesota.

The president's diagnosis has thrown not only his typical presidential duties, but also the remaining weeks of the upcoming election, into total chaos, with questions swirling over not only his health but his ability to continue campaigning in this crucial home stretch. The president is 74 years old and clinically obese, two factors that could make his bout with coronavirus more severe.

Acosta reported Friday morning that the White House is beginning a contact-tracing operation to determine who might've been exposed to Trump and Hicks in recent days. At the time, Acosta also reported that officials were "looking at ways for Trump to be out in front of cameras today," likely so that he could portray an image of strength. But Vice President Mike Pence was asked to take over Trump's single scheduled event Friday, a phone call intended to show coronavirus support to vulnerable seniors.

The first statement from the president about his diagnosis came at 6:31 p.m. ET, in a video clip filmed at the White House and tweeted after the president had already landed at Walter Reed. In the clip he thanked people for their well-wishes. "I think I'm doing very well, but we're going to make sure that things work out," he said, adding that Melania Trump was doing "very well." The first lady's symptoms are reportedly less severe than the president's.

Pence and second lady Karen Pence both tested negative for the virus Friday morning, per a spokesperson. Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisers to the president, also tested negative, along with the Trumps' 14-year-old son Barron. Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court who was with the president at a ceremony on Saturday, also tested negative Friday morning, per White House spokesman Judd Deere. It was later revealed that Barrett had contracted the virus earlier this summer and since recovered.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also tested negative Friday morning, along with his wife Jill Biden, per a statement released by their primary care physician. Both were in the same room as the Trumps at Tuesday's presidential debate, but the White House reportedly did not reach out to the Biden team to notify them of possible exposure even after receiving Hicks's diagnosis.

In a letter to the media Friday morning, Conley had said "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."

"Rest assured I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering," Conley added. "I will keep you updated on any future developments."

But over the course of the day, as information trickled out about the president's condition, it became clear that the situation was worse than initially reported. Now, a potentially incapacitated president — even partially so — at this stage in the election has moved the country into uncharted territory. Will Trump break quarantine to debate Joe Biden on Oct. 15? Will any legislation move forward while Washington tries to figure out what happens next? Who else in the White House has been infected at this point?

There are various scenarios offered under the 25th Amendment to facilitate a transfer of authority from the president to Vice President Mike Pence, who tested negative on Friday morning, should the president become incapacitated due to illness. Even after it was announced that Trump would be taken to Walter Reed, there was still no transfer of power in process, with Pence remaining at his residence at the Naval Observatory. Conley's morning letter seemed specifically designed to tamp down any concern that Trump is seriously ill, as did McEnany's later statement, which specified that Trump would be "working from the presidential offices" at the hospital.

But given the White House's track record for truth-telling, and particularly Trump's comprehensive history of downplaying and doubting the virus, one has to wonder: Would they tell us if anything was seriously wrong?