With just more than 30 days to the election, the announcement from Donald Trump on social media late Thursday night comes just hours after Trump and his wife Melania Trump went into self-quarantine after Hope Hicks, one of his top aides, tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day.
Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
Facing a packed re-election schedule and lagging in the polls behind Democratic rival Joe Biden, the often pandemic-dismissing 74-year-old Trump is expected to be in quarantine for up to 14 days. Having confirmed reports of Hicks’ health tonight on Fox News’ Hannity, Trump said he had been tested and was awaiting the results.
In an age of near-instant results from the COVID-19 test, the long lag of silence that followed raised concerns over the Trumps’ true condition. News of the diagnosis soon saw international markets cratering, even with an attempt at calm from the First Lady:
As too many Americans have done this year, @potus & I are quarantining at home after testing positive for COVID-19. We are feeling good & I have postponed all upcoming engagements. Please be sure you are staying safe & we will all get through this together.
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) October 2, 2020
Almost right after Trump’s initial tweet, his White House physician Sean Conley released a memorandum via Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
The term “convalescence” struck an odd tone even as Conley said he expected “the President to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering.” No word on where Vice President Mike Pence is or what his condition might be.
At campaign events today, Trump was supposed to attend a fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC and fly to Sanford, FL for a self-described “Make America Great Again event” on Friday. The White House updated that schedule later Thursday after the news of the positive COVID-19 test broke; for now his only event is a previously planned 12:15 PM ET “phone call on COVID-19 support to vulnerable seniors.”
Clearly overweight and with a history of heart conditions, Trump may turn out to be not the only member of his family or top administration functionaries to be at risk now from the coronavirus.
Hicks was on Air Force One with Trump on September 29 to and from the first presidential debate in Cleveland. That flight included justice reform activist and former inmate Alice Johnson, Melania Trump, Jared Kushner and the adult Trump children. While sitting in the socially distanced venue Tuesday, none of the Trump party except for the First Lady wore masks — as they have refused to do at numerous raucous campaign rallies and events in recent weeks.
Of course, even with the distance Trump and Biden kept from each other during Tuesday’s debate, there is a risk that the Democratic candidate could have been exposed in the enclosed space of the debate hall. A harsh irony being that Trump spent no small amount of time during the Chris Wallace-moderated event mocking Biden for advocating mandatory mask wearing to curtail the spread of the virus.
Correspondingly, Pence was in the Oval Office just days ago, as was Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and wide swaths of Washington’s upper echelon have been in contact with officials who have been possibly exposed to the virus in the past few days. On that contact list is Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who met with Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — all of whom may now be at risk.
Pence tweeted out his support of the Trumps tonight but said noting of his own status, constitutionally or health wise:
Karen and I send our love and prayers to our dear friends President @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS Melania Trump. We join millions across America praying for their full and swift recovery. God bless you President Trump & our wonderful First Lady Melania.
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) October 2, 2020
With Pence and the Democrats’ VP nominee Sen. Kamala Harris set to meet for a debate of their own October 7, Trump and Biden are scheduled to have their second debate October 15 — exactly 14 days from today, the length of the quarantine. All of which could mean, as the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates were already considering changes to avoid a repeat of the fracas of Tuesday night, a second debate it could be virtual at best if held at all.
Where tonight’s news of Trump’s diagnosis will take the campaign and the election is unknown. What we do know, with Trump’s frequent cavalier approach to the dangers of the virus the past six months, is that there are more than 7 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States. As cases rise in a number of states, there have been more than 207,000 deaths so far as we head into the fall and flu season.