President Trump was back in the Oval Office on Wednesday, less than 48 hours after he staged a dramatic, at times maskless, return to the White House from Walter Reed medical center. The president’s doctor says that Trump has remained “symptom-free,” but it’s not clear what treatments he is still receiving for his case of COVID-19. Over the past few days, Trump has been using his own experience to continue to downplay the risk of the coronavirus. On Tuesday, several more people were added to the White House cluster, including senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and a senior Pentagon official.
The Trump campaign is also reportedly considering plans for the president to return to the campaign trail early next week, in accordance with his wishes, though it’s far from clear how good of an idea that would be, safety-wise. Meanwhile, Trump has returned to nonstop tweeting, at one point sending out more than 100 updates in less than 24 hours. (One tweet comparing COVID-19 to the flu was flagged for “disinformation” by Twitter on Tuesday.)
Below is everything we know about the developing situation. (Updates will appear in reverse-chronological order.)
Trump has an interesting theory on how he got the virus
In an interview with Fox Business Network on Thursday morning, the president suggested that the kin of deceased American soldiers — known as Gold Star families — may have resulted in his initial exposure to the coronavirus. “Sometimes, I’d be in groups of, for instance, Gold Star families. I met with Gold Star families. I didn’t want to cancel that,” he said. “But they all came in, and they all talk about their son and daughter and father. And, you know, they all came up to me, and they tell me a story.”
Trump is reportedly planning on returning to the campaign trail on Monday
Bloomberg reports that the president, who on Wednesday night claimed he was feeling even better than he did before catching COVID-19, is tentatively planning to campaign in Pennsylvania on Monday, then hit a few more battleground states later in the week:
Under the current planning, Trump would travel to Pennsylvania on Monday and Michigan on Tuesday. He’s scheduled to have his second debate against Democrat nominee Joe Biden in Miami on Oct. 15 in Miami. He could possibly hold a campaign event in the battleground state on Friday, the people said.
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reports that the Trump campaign “is exploring having him hold an event (not a rally) in Pittsburgh on Monday,” with later-in-the-week travel plans “seeming more solid.” NBC News reporter Monica Alba adds that “the president is eager to get back on the trail and his campaign is trying to figure out how to make that work, per a person familiar with the planning. Unclear when physicians will clear him to travel but Trump wants to be on road before/after Miami debate.”
There are now 34 people in the White House cluster: FEMA memo
ABC News reports that, according to an internal FEMA memo, the White House COVID-19 outbreak has infected “34 White House staffers and other contacts”:
Dated Wednesday and obtained by ABC News, the memo was distributed among senior leadership at FEMA, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security and the agency responsible for managing the continuing national response to the public health disaster …
The new figures underscore both the growing crisis in the White House and the lengths to which government officials have gone to block information about the outbreak’s spread. ABC News had previously reported that a total of 24 White House aides and their contacts had contracted the virus. It was not clear in the FEMA memo with the larger number what “other contacts” referred to.
Another member of the Pentagon’s top brass tests positive
The assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, General Gary Thomas, tested positive on Wednesday. PBS News Hour reports that Thomas was one of the top military leaders who attending meetings last week with USCG Admiral Charles Ray, who tested positive on Monday prompting the quarantine of most of the country’s top brass.
White House security official has had COVID-19 since before main outbreak
Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reports:
A top White House security official, Crede Bailey, is gravely ill with Covid-19 and has been hospitalized since September, according to four people familiar with his condition. The White House has not publicly disclosed Bailey’s illness. He became sick before the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event President Donald Trump held to announce his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that has been connected to more than a dozen cases of the disease.
Trump calls one of the drugs he’s been given a ‘cure’
All bronzed up and ready to go, the president posted a video outside the White House on Wednesday with an interesting introduction — “Hi, perhaps you recognize me, it’s your favorite president” — and went on to claim that an experimental drug made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a firm with close ties to the president, was a “cure,” not a “therapeutic.”
To date, there is no vaccine, let alone a cure, for COVID-19.
The COVID-19-infected president has left isolation, returns to Oval Office
The White House claims he is being briefed on the status of the stimulus talks and Hurricane Delta. It has been six days since Trump tested positive.
Bloomberg’s Josh Wingrove adds, “Trump entered the Oval through the outer door to minimize risk for staff, per an official familiar. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is the only person in with him continuously, while Dan Scavino is coming in and out of the room, per the official. Staff who see him are in ‘full PPE.’”
Meanwhile, Intelligencer’s Olivia Nuzzi reports, “Former officials in the Trump White House have expressed relief to me that they aren’t working there right now, amid the coronavirus outbreak that’s infected the president and dozens of others.”
Don’t look, can’t admit
Asked today when the date of Trump’s last negative test was, White House spokesperson Brian Morgenstern responded, “I don’t know when he last tested negative. … We’re not asking to go back through a bunch of records and look backwards.”
Don’t ask, can’t report
Intelligencer contributor Molly McCluskey spoke with a number of experts about the White House’s reluctance to contract trace its outbreak, and one noted the cover-up rationale:
“It’s clear from the White House that they’re not a fan of contact tracing. I suspect, and this is just speculation, that’s because the president doesn’t want to do anything that increases the number of cases we have,” said Dr. Joel Selanikio, another former CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, who is currently consulting with the District of Columbia’s Department of Health on COVID response. While a nondisclosure agreement prevents him from speaking directly about the work he’s doing with the D.C. government, Selanikio said, “Obviously, contact tracing does exactly that. If you have someone who thinks we can avoid the disease by not identifying cases, that goes against the scientific pursuit of the contact-tracing method.”
Masks still aren’t mandated inside Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Conley: Trump “symptom-free for over 24 hours”
The White House physician released a new statement on Wednesday afternoon claiming that the president has had not any COVID-19 symptoms for 24 hours, nor a fever for four days, and that Trump’s vital signs, including his oxygen saturation, were in a normal range. “I feel great,” the president said this morning, according to Conley.
He also reported that there were “detectable levels” of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies in the president’s labs on Monday, but several COVID-19 experts quickly noted that was to be expected — considering the fact that Trump was given an antibody treatment on Friday:
The New York Times also notes:
It was not immediately clear what the information meant in terms of Mr. Trump’s initial diagnosis, the course of his illness or his fitness to resume a regular work or campaign schedule. …
The brief note marked the second day that Mr. Trump’s medical team did not hold a question-and-answer session with reporters. The note from Dr. Conley did not provide other medical updates, such as whether he is continuing to take the steroid dexamethasone, and whether he has completed his course of remdesivir, an experimental antiviral treatment.
Mark Meadows says the president wants back in the Oval Office
As President Trump tweeted up a storm on Wednesday morning, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said his boss was eager to return to the Oval Office. (Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that Trump had already been there on Tuesday, an assertion Meadows quickly clarified was incorrect.) Meadows said that anyone interacting with Trump would wear gowns, gloves, and masks.
The White House warns staffers on how to interact with the president
According to a memo titled “Precautions and POTUS Interactions” sent to White House staff and obtained by the New York Times, staff members must grab PPE from an “isolation cart” when they must be near him:
Staff members are only to go to the Oval Office or the residence on the second floor, where the first family lives, if they’re requested to go and expected to be there. If staff members are not in close contact with the president, meaning they’re more than six feet away from him, only a “surgical mask” and hand sanitizer are required, according to the memo from the White House Management Office, which was reviewed by a Times reporter.
But within six feet, people must use sanitizer and “remove any outer garments,” the memo said. “Ensure you are wearing the following Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE is provided in the Isolation Cart” that’s located “in the foyer area of the second floor residence and the outer Oval Office,” the memo stated.
Stephen Miller joins the White House COVID-19 cluster
Stephen Miller, the senior Trump adviser, speechwriter, and architect of the administration’s war on immigrants, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, he announced in a statement. Miller claimed that he has been working remotely for five days and will now quarantine. His spouse, Vice-President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Waldman Miller, tested positive for COVID-19 in May — but her illness did not prompt the White House to take better precautions regarding the coronavirus.
You can find a list of all the people who have tested positive amid the White House outbreak here.
USCG Admiral Ray, who has tested positive for COVID-19, attended indoor White House event on September 27
One day after the announcement ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett which may have been a superspreader event that led to the White House outbreak, another indoor reception, recognizing Gold Star military families, was held at the White House. One of the guests at that event, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Charles Ray, has since tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the quarantine of the majority of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and many others at the Pentagon, as noted earlier in this liveblog. Photos of the event later released by the White House show dozens of maskless guests at the event, including President Trump and other members of his Cabinet. (Per the above photo caption, there was also apparently singing at the event, which is known to be one of the most efficient ways to spread the coronavirus, if the singer is infected.)
It is not clear how many other attendees of the event have also been tested recently, and what those results were. There is at least one preliminary indication that none of the Gold Star families have been contacted by the White House about their possible exposure to COVID-19 at the event.
Trump is trying to leave isolation at the White House
President Trump wants to leave isolation and return to the Oval Office less than 24 hours after electing to leave the hospital, Bloomberg reports:
Some of Trump’s aides don’t want the restless president to leave the White House residence yet but are unsure how long he’ll continue to isolate himself, the people said. He has not yet gone to the West Wing and it’s not clear if he will.
Trump is also considering a televised address to the nation, another person said, and his physician released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying the president reported “no symptoms” of the disease after a “restful first night at home” …
The top White House physician, Sean Conley, had said that Trump will continue to recuperate in isolation at the White House until he’s no longer infectious, but the president has made clear he’s eager to get back to his re-election campaign.
Top U.S. general in quarantine after Pentagon official tests positive
The nation’s senior military commanders are defending themselves from a new enemy: coronavirus. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is quarantining at home after possible contact with an infected member of the Pentagon, the Defense Department said. Coast Guard Admiral Charles Ray tested positive for the virus after attending “several meetings at the Pentagon in secure areas with members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” CNN reported. It’s unclear how Ray contracted the virus, but the news came after one of Trump’s closest military aides from the Coast Guard tested positive. Milley has so far tested negative, and other military brass are waiting for their results.
Dr. “Upbeat” says Trump is doing great — with his permission
White House physician Sean Conley released a statement “with the permission” of the president on Tuesday, saying Trump reports “no symptoms” as he battles COVID-19. Conley said his team examined Trump at the White House and found the president’s vital signs and blood-oxygen levels were stable. “Overall he continues to do well,” Conley said of his patient who was given an array of powerful drugs. A note of skepticism though: Over the weekend, Conley told reporters he declined to initially share harrowing details about Trump’s health because he was “trying to reflect the upbeat attitude” of the president, who is also his boss.
Trump wants to attend the next debate, but it’s unclear how that will work
Wasting no time in returning to campaign mode after being discharged from the hospital, Trump tweeted Tuesday he is “looking forward” to attending the second presidential debate on October 15 in Miami. How exactly the debate will be safeguarded from a currently infected candidate is unclear, The Wall Street Journal reports:
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh, asked whether the president’s attendance was contingent on him testing negative before then, said the campaign would rely on the president’s medical team. The Commission on Presidential Debates didn’t immediately respond to a question on whether it would require the president to test negative before participating.
Twitter warns that Trump is spreading “dangerous information” by comparing COVID to flu
Twitter put a disclaimer over a new tweet from Trump wrongly comparing the coronavirus to the seasonal flu. “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible,” it pasted over Trump’s message. The president’s missive hammers home the (unsurprising) point that he has learned nothing new about the coronavirus from his ordeal at Walter Reed medical center after all.
White House staff isn’t thrilled by the boss’s carelessness and cluelessness
Following the positive test of Kayleigh McEnany, administration staffers are having a hard time staying focused in their hazardous work setting, according to ABC News:
Multiple White House sources told ABC News there is “a full-blown freak-out” in the administration waiting to see who will be next to test positive – with aides not trusting each other and some trying to find ways to avoid coming into work at all …
The sources added that there weren’t many staffers in the West Wing Monday afternoon and there was a lot of regret for not taking the coronavirus more seriously by not wearing masks and social distancing regularly.
And according to the New York Times, the campaign is frustrated by Trump’s blown opportunity to show he had actually learned about the severity of the virus:
Mr. Trump did little to adhere to the narrative aides were hoping would emerge, one that would benefit him politically. In videos filmed by aides of Mr. Trump behind the scenes, intended to show him working, the president did not mention the hardship the virus had caused to others or that anyone had suffered greatly from it. Nor did he mention the White House staff members who had fallen sick …
“It appears the campaign hasn’t discussed their concept with their candidate,” said Brendan Buck, a former adviser to the former House speaker Paul D. Ryan. “You would hope someone who has been in serious health crisis would have a bit of an awakening, find a little religion on this, but he seems incapable of doing that.”
White House staff are now facing potential exposure
Back at 1600 Pennsylvania, the coronavirus-positive president is now exposing support and residence staff, the 100-or-so workers that keep the White House and its grounds clean and operating. As the Atlantic reports, an outbreak among the residence workers could be devastating: “Many of these staffers are people of color and, especially among the butlers, are more than 50 years old — two qualities associated with higher risk for COVID-19.”
Trump did not look well outside the White House
After returning to the White House, the COVID-positive president removed his mask for a photo op
A video with a longer wider shot can be seen here.
He did not put his mask back on before walking inside the White House, and later came back out and had another photo op — again maskless:
It all appeared to be for this important piece of propaganda:
“Do you think you might be a superspreader, Mr. President?”
Trump has made his staged likely ill-advised exit from the hospital. Upon leaving, the president seemed reluctant to use the railing to walk down the stairs, but ultimately needed to. When he got to the bottom, a reporter asked him how many of his staff were sick, and the president responded, “Thank you very much.” Then, as he kept walking to the car, the next and only other question was, “Do you think you might be a superspreader, Mr. President?”
Trump didn’t answer, walked to the car, flashed a thumbs up, and got in.
The mask he wore was a regular surgical mask, not an N95 mask which would have been much more effective at blocking transmission of COVID-19.
A well-wisher outside Walter Reed
The consequences of viewing a contagion through Rose Garden–colored glasses
Intelligencer’s Eric Levitz ponders the startling hubris and stupidity on display at Trump’s Barrett announcement extravaganza:
These people aren’t stupid. Not all of them, anyway. The white men in dark jackets and well-coiffed ladies in prim dresses you’ve seen hugging in the White House Rose Garden — or hobnobbing maskless inside the Diplomatic Room — are the American right’s best and brightest. Amy Coney Barrett graduated magna cum laude from Rhodes College. Josh Hawley is a product of Stanford and Yale Law. Few gatherings in the United States this year will boast more prestigious collective credentials than those of the Barrett nomination party. And none will be composed of people who are in a better position to know the very latest information about the novel coronavirus (multiple attendees had high-level security clearances and thus, full access to one of the greatest information-gathering apparatuses in human history). These folks are not ignorant of the germ theory of disease.
And they had no excuse to be ignorant of the fact that the very best rapid COVID-19 tests have an error rate of roughly 10 percent.
And yet: They exposed themselves, their families, and their movement’s standard-bearer to a life-threatening pandemic disease by treating their negative instant tests as absolute proof of their collective immunity.
It is too early to know with certainty that the Barrett nomination party was a superspreader event. But we do know that at least eight of the event’s attendees have now tested positive for COVID-19. And we also know that the White House might as well have hired the novel coronavirus as its party planner, the proceedings were so well-tailored to the bug’s spread (a throng of people speaking indoors, in close proximity, without masks, for an extended period of time).
Read the rest of Eric’s response, in which he explains how Trump and his guests couldn’t buy their way out of a pandemic, here.
White House has decided not to contact trace, after failing to contact trace
The New York Times confirms that the White House is now deliberately “making little effort to investigate the scope and source of its outbreak”:
The White House has decided not to trace the contacts of guests and staff members at the Sept. 26 Rose Garden celebration for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, where at least eight people, including the president, may have become infected, according to a White House official familiar with the plans.
Instead, it has limited its efforts to notifying people who came in close contact with Mr. Trump in the two days before his Covid diagnosis Thursday evening, and it has cut the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has the government’s most extensive knowledge and resources for contact tracing, out of the process. …
Even the contact tracing efforts within the two-day window have been limited, consisting mostly of emails notifying people of potential exposure, rather than the detailed phone conversations necessary to trace and warn all contacts of those who have been exposed.
Donald Trump, COVID-19 jujitsu master
Amid the clear efforts by the Trump team to spin the president’s illness as some kind of strength, Trump’s allies have continued to push the idea with some bold claims, as Intelligencer’s Sarah Jones points out:
“President Trump won’t have to recover from COVID,” tweeted Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. “COVID will have to recover from President Trump.” Ivanka Trump, ever the loyal daughter, called him a “warrior.” Fox News contributor Greg Gutfield said the president only got sick because he was brave. “He didn’t want America to hide from the virus. He was going to do the same thing, he was going to walk out there on that battlefield with you,” Gutfield insisted.
By “battlefield” Gutfield presumably means “parties in the Rose Garden” or “the Tulsa rally that killed Herman Cain.” Trump isn’t exactly a modern Charlemagne, but appearances must be kept. Enemies must be cowed. The president is a man, by God, and he’s going to punch the virus to death.
Earlier, Intelligencer’s Jonathan Chait explored the absurdity of the right celebrating Trump’s infection:
Federalist executive editor Joy Pullmann likewise extols the bravery of the super-spreader-in-chief. “President Trump knew the risks of staying in public, and he chose to face those risks along with the American people he leads, rather than hiding masked in the White House basement,” she writes. “There is something to be said for a leader getting in the trenches with his troops during a war despite the risks to his safety. It could even be called courage.”
If Trump had used face coverings and maintained social distancing, he would have been showing weakness. He needed to fight the virus by allowing it to flow into his nasal passages and infect his body.
The battlefield metaphor is intended to make risk-taking a virtue rather than a liability. If you reconceptualize the pandemic not as a matter of suppressing a virus by preventing transmission, but instead as a series of human-versus-virus battles that must be engaged in order to achieve victory, this makes some sense: If nobody was exposed to the virus, then the virus would run rampant.
Another poll shows lack of sympathy for Trump, plus skepticism about his health updates
Two-thirds of Americans say President Donald Trump handled the risk of coronavirus infection to others around him irresponsibly, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS in the days following the announcement that the President had contracted the virus that has disrupted everyday life for millions of people for more than half a year.
With Trump hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, 69% of Americans said they trusted little of what they heard from the White House about the President’s health, with only 12% saying they trusted almost all of it.
Disapproval of the President’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak stands at a new high in the survey, with 60% saying they disapprove. Additionally, 63% say his own infection is unlikely to change anything about the way that he handles the pandemic.
White House physician refuses to say what scans found in Trump’s lungs
Invoking the president’s right to privacy, White House physician Sean Conley declined to answer several important questions about Trump’s medical condition just hours before Trump plans to leave Walter Reed Medical Center.
Conley — who repeatedly cast his own credibility into doubt with his comments about the president’s condition over the weekend — spoke shortly after Trump tweeted he would return to the White House at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Trump also claimed that his three-day stay in the hospital left him feeling “better than I did 20 years ago!” Conley told reporters outside the hospital that the president has “met or exceeded all standard discharge criteria.”
“Though he may not entirely be out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations and, most importantly, his clinical status support the president’s safe return home, where he will be surrounded by world class medical care 24/7,” Conley said, flanked by several other members of the president’s medical team.
Conley was pressed over and over again to reveal what scans of Trump’s lungs showed, given COVID-19’s infamous ravaging of patients’ lungs. Conley declined to answer, though, citing HIPAA, the federal law preventing the unauthorized disclosure of private medical information. Notably, Conley did not invoke the law when he disclosed reams of positive information about the president’s condition, including the function of other organs such as the heart.
No answer was also given for when Trump last tested negative for the virus, with Conley saying, “I don’t want to go backwards.”
Trump will continue taking the therapeutic drug remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone when he returns to the White House, according to Dr. Brian Garibaldi. Asked about any cognitive impairment from the powerful drugs given to the 74-year-old president, Conley answered simply: “He’s back.”
Trump tweets: ‘Don’t be afraid of Covid’ and announces he’s leaving hospital tonight
“I need to get out of here.”
That’s what the hospitalized (and reportedly bored) Trump apparently said to someone over the phone today:
Justice Scalia’s son has apologized to his parish for going maskless at possible superspreader White House event
He and other family members were at the Barrett announcement. NPR reports:
Rev. Paul Scalia, of the St. James Catholic Church in suburban Virginia, said he attended the Rose Garden ceremony where President Trump named Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his next pick for the Supreme Court. Barrett clerked for Justice Scalia and remains a friend of the family. Scalia said when he; his brother, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia; and other family members arrived at the White House on Sept. 26, they were given a rapid test for COVID-19. After the test results came back negative, they were told they could remove their masks.
“Since the pandemic began, it has been my desire to ease people’s fears and anxieties,” Scalia wrote in a blog post to members of the Falls Church, Va., parish. “My actions at the White House seemed reasonable at the time given the presumed controls in place. Nevertheless, I apologize that they did not follow my own expectations, caused disquiet and anxiety, and have distracted from the work of the Gospel.”
Reverend Scalia said that he, his brother, and his elderly mother, Maureen Scalia, have tested negative for COVID-19. Ms. Scalia had attended an indoor event at the White House that day.
Another guest of the Barrett announcement event at the White House has tested positive
Intelligencer’s Olivia Nuzzi reports “that Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California has tested positive for COVID-19. Pastor Laurie was at the Prayer March on the Mall with Mike Pence and Franklin Graham and the [Rose Garden event for Amy Coney Barrett] later that day.”
Two White House communication aides, plus an unknown number of other staff members, have also tested positive
At least two additional White House staffers tested positive for COVID-19 at some point over the past few days, according to Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, including White House communications aides Chad Gilmartin and Karoline Leavitt:
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also has COVID-19, and has repeatedly gone maskless when speaking with reporters
McEnany announced that while she has tested negative consistently since Thursday, that changed on Monday morning. She also insisted that she “definitely had no knowledge of Hope Hicks’s diagnosis prior to holding a White House press briefing on Thursday”:
However, as Intelligencer’s Olivia Nuzzi points out, McEnany did know that she had likely been exposed to the virus, yet continued to neglect to wear a mask or isolate herself:
So far, three journalists have tested positive amid the White House outbreak.
Melania Trump says she’s doing well
There has been little information about First Lady Melania Trump’s condition since she tested positive along with her husband on Thursday. On Friday morning, she tweeted that she was dealing with “mild symptoms.” On Monday morning, she tweeted a positive update.
Meadows says Trump may go back to White House today
Though outside observers are deeply skeptical that President Trump’s condition has improved to the point that he can return to the White House — especially given the second-wave deterioration coronavirus patients can experience after appearing to improve — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was singing a different tune on Monday morning.
Trump did test negative before the debate
While the president managed to break a slew of CDC guidelines this week, he did present a negative test to the Cleveland Clinic ahead of Tuesday night’s debate, according to Politico. But it’s quite possible that he could have spread the infection as early as that night, based on when he began experiencing symptoms, as well as the apparent outbreak at Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination announcement on Saturday, September 26. “A person is at their peak infectiousness in the 48-hour period before they start showing symptoms,” Leana Wen, a former health commissioner for Baltimore, told Politico. “If that timeline is correct, then [Trump] would actually be at the peak of contagion on Tuesday night.”
A potential case of VIP syndrome
While many have suggested that the president’s unusual drug regimen is a sign of the severity of his case, it’s also possible that he is directing his care in a way that other patients would never be allowed to. Following Trump’s mini-parade on Sunday, Walter Reed attending physician Dr. James P. Phillips put the following question to the New York Times, “At what point does the physician-patient relationship end, and does the commander in chief and subordinate relationship begin, and were those doctors ordered to allow this to happen?”
The Times broached the idea in another, more extensive report on how the political ramifications of Trump’s hospital stay could be getting in the way of the care itself:
Some experts raised an additional possibility: that the president is directing his own care, and demanding intense treatment despite risks he may not fully understand. The pattern even has a name: V.I.P. syndrome, which describes prominent figures who receive poor medical care because doctors are too zealous in treating them — or defer too readily to their instructions …
Mr. Trump, who historically hates hospitals and anything related to illness, has been hankering to get released, according to two people close to him, and some aides expressed fear that he would pressure Dr. Conley into releasing him by claiming to feel better than he actually does. But advisers were also troubled by the doctors’ prediction that they might release him on Monday because if they do not, it would signal that the president is not doing as well as indicated. They also worried that a premature return could lead to a second trip to the hospital if his condition worsens.
Secret Service agents are furious about Trump’s Sunday stunt
A focus on rapid tests may have helped lead to the outbreak
As the Wall Street Journal has more reporting on how reports, the White House appears to have over-relied on rapid-response tests:
The White House says it has relied on rapid testing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 among officials and guests. Officials don’t wear masks or socially distance because they are tested daily …
Public-health experts say the White House isn’t using the test appropriately, and that such tests are not meant to be used as one-time screeners. Regardless of the type or brand of test, any strategy that relies solely on testing is insufficient for protecting the public against the virus, epidemiologists and researchers say …
“What seems to have been fundamentally misunderstood in all this was that they were using it almost like you would implement a metal detector,” said Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of public health. All tests, including those processed in a lab, can produce false negatives, he and other experts say. Some studies have shown that the Abbott Now ID test, which can produce a result in minutes, has around a 91% sensitivity—meaning 9% of tests can produce false negatives. “A metal detector that misses 10% of weapons—you’d never, ever say that’s our only layer of protection for the president,” said Dr. Jha.
Trump’s dexamethasone regimen could be troublesome in two ways
On Sunday, one of the physicians treating the president at Walter Reed stated that the president was taking dexamethasone, a kind of steroid that may cause side effects including insomnia, irritability, or feelings of grandiosity. While none of these adverse possibilities would be ideal for this president, the fact that Trump is on the drug suggests that his condition could be quite serious. Used to prevent an inflammatory response that kills many COVID-19 patients, dexamethasone is administered to patients with severe cases and has not yet been proven to benefit patients with milder cases. “The National Institutes of Health guidelines recommend “against using dexamethasone for the treatment of Covid-19 in patients who do not require supplemental oxygen.”
Whether or not Trump actually needs the steroid, having the president on dexamethasone could be a problem for the country, as several medical experts have noted:
Three days later
Read Olivia and Ben Jacobs’s Saturday report on the lack of communication and confusion at the White House here.
The White House can’t even contact-trace its own coronavirus outbreak
Intelligencer’s Matt Stieb summarizes the White House’s stunning and colossal failure to responsibly manage the aftermath of its own mess:
Chris Christie, the president’s debate coach who tested positive this weekend, said that the administration gave no formal directions on contact tracing. And another source admitted that “the scale of the potential contagion at the White House has made it difficult to mount the type of contact tracing that will be required in the coming days,” according to CNN.
The White House Medical Unit, the 30-person team responsible for the health needs of the president and close advisors, was already overworked attempting to keep Trump healthy despite his pandemic carelessness. To engage in contact tracing on top of their previous workload would be a major addition, and according to the report “a person familiar with the matter said a full CDC contact tracing team hadn’t yet been mobilized.” Another federal official told the New York Times that a Centers for Disease Control team was on standby to help, but the White House had yet to call them in. Meanwhile, the White House is doing little to aid local health agencies. The Washington Post reported Saturday that public-health officials in Minnesota, Ohio, and New Jersey had yet to hear from the administration regarding the information of those in attendance, leaving them on their own to find out who may have been exposed to the virus.
Rather than mobilize the resources of the CDC, the administration — which exposed hundreds of people between the debate on Tuesday, the rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, and the indoor buffet on Thursday — is reportedly going for a fast-and-loose that mimics their initial pandemic response. According to one source who spoke with CNN, the White House is relying on the president’s celebrity as a fallback for contact tracing. “People would know if they come into contact with Trump,” the person said.
Matt also highlights a dashboard built and updated by data visualization specialist Peter Walker, Middlebury College senior Benjy Renton, and infectious disease expert Dr. Jesse O’Shea, where they have been tracking the cluster and aggregating test results and other information. Their stand-up effort has helped fill the information void left by the White House. Read the rest of Matt’s post here.
Biden tests negative again
The Atlantic’s Ed Yong explored all the reasons Biden could have caught COVID-19 from President Trump at least week’s debate, if Trump was already infected at the time. An excerpt:
First, there are the conditions of the debate itself. The coronavirus mostly spreads through the air, traveling from the nose and mouth of an infected person in either large, wet particles (droplets) or smaller, drier ones (aerosols). Most droplets fall to the ground within six feet of their source, and Trump and Biden were clearly standing farther apart than that. But “aerosols behave like cigarette smoke and don’t stop at six feet,” says Linsey Marr, who studies airborne-disease transmission at Virginia Tech. “Imagine Trump was smoking the whole time. Would Biden have been exposed to some of that?”
When thinking about COVID-19 transmission, there are no absolutes, only probabilities. The distance between Trump and Biden lowered the odds of infection: The farther Trump’s aerosols traveled, the more dilute they would have become. But almost everything else about the debate increased the risk that those aerosols could have found their way into Biden’s nose. People release about 10 times more aerosols when talking than when breathing silently, Marr says, and even more when talking loudly. Trump certainly did that—for 90 minutes, in an enclosed space, without wearing a mask, and often in Biden’s direction. “It wasn’t a one-off cough by someone in the audience,” says Joseph Allen, an environmental-health expert at Harvard University. “It was one and a half hours of constant emissions.” These are the same conditions that make bars and restaurants such risky venues for COVID-19 transmission.
A presidential drive-by
As Trump revealed during his new video, he just had himself driven by the supporters who have assembled outside Walter Reed — undoubtedly exposing the other vehicle passengers to COVID-19, to at least some extent, in the process:
Regarding the timing, Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal had a pretty solid theory:
From Intelligencer’s post about the joyride:
“We have been very strict with keeping all patients within their room in negative-pressure isolation and limiting the number of health-care workers interacting with patients with active infection,” [explained Dr. Amita Gupta, an infectious disease expert and the deputy director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Clinical Global Health Education]. While Gupta said that wearing proper PPE and an N95 mask in the presence of a COVID-positive patient was an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, she emphasized that “showing the country and the world that it is okay to be leaving the hospital, even for a short drive, is just not a message that should be sent.”
“We would not allow any of our hospitalized patients in the first seven days of their illness to move about unless they were being transferred to another medical institution,” she added, insisting that “nothing about this is a normal situation.”
In new video, Trump claims he’s learning a lot about the coronavirus
The president offered some enthusiastic new remarks in a video message released on Sunday evening, standing this time, and speaking with much more energy than he had shown in the longer video message he released on Saturday. Trump started the video by saying he was “getting great reports from the doctors” and later emphasized that his hospitalization has been “a really interesting journey” which has taught him a lot about the coronavirus:
So, uh, it’s been a really interesting journey. I learned a lot about COVID. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn’t the let’s-read-the-book school. And I get it. I understand it. And it’s a very interesting thing. And I’m going to be letting you know about it.
The president also said that he was going to be going outside the hospital to see and surprise the Trump supporters who have been assembling there.
Trump reportedly tested positive twice on Thursday
According to Wall Street Journal, he failed a rapid test but didn’t announce the results until they were confirmed by a second PCR test — and Trump tried to get an adviser to hide their own positive result:
Mr. Trump received a positive result on Thursday evening before making an appearance on Fox News in which he didn’t reveal those results. Instead, he confirmed earlier reports that one of his top aides had tested positive for coronavirus and mentioned the second test he had taken that night for which he was awaiting results. …
Under White House protocols, the more reliable test that screens a specimen from deeper in the nasal passage is administered only after a rapid test shows a positive reading. Based on people familiar with the matter, the president’s tests followed that protocol.
As the virus spread among the people closest to him, Mr. Trump also asked one adviser not to disclose results of their own positive test. “Don’t tell anyone,” Mr. Trump said, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
It’s still not clear when Trump had or had not been tested before that point.
Seriously, when did Trump last test negative?
That remains one of the key unanswered questions since the president admitted he has tested positive for COVID-19 around 1 a.m. on Friday. When Trump last tested negative is a critical piece of information for confirming the timeline and seriousness of Trump’s illness, determining how seriously he and the White House have been taking his personal safety, and gauging whether or not — and when and where — Trump may have been one of the people spreading the virus within the White House cluster.
Dr. Conley says the president has received steroid treatment, admits he misled press to preserve Trump’s “upbeat attitude”
Embattled White House physician Dr. Sean Conley and the other leaders of Trump’s medical team at Walter Reed medical center hosted another upbeat press conference on Sunday, in which Conley said that Trump “has continued to improve” and still hasn’t had a recurrence of fever, while another doctor said the president could be released from the hospital as early as Monday.
“Our hope is that we can plan for a discharge [of Trump] as early as tomorrow to the White House,” Dr. Brian Garibaldi said Sunday.
However, Trump’s physicians also acknowledged that there are “frequent ups and downs” over the course of any illness, and announced that Trump was now receiving treatment with the steroid dexamethasone, which is used to reduce lung inflammation in COVID-19 patients. (Trump has already received treatments with the antiviral drug remdesivir, as well as an experimental Regeneron antibody therapy.)
Administering the steroid dexamethasone was deemed necessary, Conley said, because the president’s blood-oxygen saturation level has dropped twice since his diagnosis.
Conley was not forthcoming about the condition of the presidents lungs during Saturday’s now-infamous press conference, but on Sunday he vaguely explained that X-rays and CT scans of the president’s lungs showed “some expected findings” that weren’t “of any major clinical concern.” He repeatedly refused, however, to say whether or not the tests had shown any signs of pneumonia.
As the UCSF Department of Medicine’s Bob Wachter — who is not a member of Trump’s medical team — has explained, steroids are currently the only proven treatment for reducing COVID-19 mortality, particularly when a patient is on a ventilator, but can cause dangerous complications when they are administered too early, since steroids also suppress a patient’s immune system. Wachter weighed in again on the details provided in Sunday’s press conference, which he called “slightly better” than what was presented Saturday — though he seriously doubted Trump could be released on Monday:
On Saturday, Conley falsely indicated that Trump had not received supplemental oxygen on Friday but changed his tune during today’s presser. He acknowledged for the first time that Trump had indeed been given supplemental oxygen on Friday at the White House, however noting that Trump was “adamant that he didn’t need it.” The president received the oxygen for about an hour, Conley said, and the treatment restored Trump’s blood-oxygen levels to about 95 percent after a minute. He claimed the president hasn’t required supplemental oxygen since, though he also hedged:
And there remain other alarming inconsistencies, as well:
As to why Conley failed on Saturday to disclose the information about Trump’s supplemental oxygen treatment, he admitted Sunday that he was “trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness had had. I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction, and in doing so, it came off that we were trying to hide something that wasn’t necessarily true.”
Trump’s doctor, in other words, said he was trying to protect the president’s mood by not acknowledging how severe his condition had become. The medical necessity of that rationale is debatable, but whatever the reason, Conley still wasn’t fully transparent with reporters on Sunday, and it remains an open question whether he and the other physicians have disclosed everything they know or expect regarding the severity of Trump’s illness.
Majority of Americans in two new polls say Trump has himself to blame for catching COVID-19
It’s the first concrete evidence that the White House outbreak may end up being a political catastrophe for the president. Reuters reports:
Democrat Joe Biden opened his widest lead in a month in the U.S. presidential race after President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus, and a majority of Americans think Trump could have avoided infection if he had taken the virus more seriously, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday. The Oct. 2-3 national opinion poll gave little indication of an outpouring of support for the president beyond Trump’s core group of followers …
Most Americans continue to be deeply worried about the virus, and the poll found that 65%, including 9 in 10 registered Democrats and 5 in 10 registered Republicans, agreed that “if President Trump had taken coronavirus more seriously, he probably would not have been infected.”
The poll also indicated that 67 percent of Americans want in-person campaign rallies to stop, and 59 percent think there shouldn’t be any more presidential debates until Trump has recovered. The share of Americans who disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic is up three points, to 57 percent, according to the survey.
Meanwhile, respondents in a new ABC News–Ipsos poll were even more damning about Trump’s irresponsibility:
[N]early 3 out of every 4 Americans doubt that he took seriously the threat posed to his well-being nor the steps necessary to avoid contracting the virus, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday. In two separate questions, an identical 72% said that Trump did not take the “risk of contracting the virus seriously enough,” nor “the appropriate precautions when it came to his personal health.” The poll was conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News using Ipsos’ Knowledge Panel on Friday and Saturday, following Trump’s positive test early Friday morning. In each of the two questions, over 2 in 5 (43%) Republicans hold the negative sentiments about Trump’s mindset and preventative actions regarding the coronavirus, compared to 95% and 94% of Democrats, respectively.
But there is also some indication that Trump’s infection could be doing some good in raising awareness about the risk of catching the coronavirus:
In the wake of Trump’s diagnosis, the survey also found an increasing number of Americans concerned that they, or someone they know, will be infected with the virus. Eighty-one percent are either very or somewhat concerned about contracting COVID-19, compared to 72% two weeks ago. The percentage of “very concerned” respondents rose 8 percentage points, from 29% to 37%. The overall jump can be almost entirely attributed to Republicans, whose net concern increased 18 points (52% to 70%), and independents, whose concern increased 13 points (69% to 82%). Democrats held steady at 86%.
The White House released photos of Trump “working” while hospitalized
The two photos of the president at Walter Reed Medical Center, which were released by the White House on Saturday night, show Trump looking slightly disheveled:
Meanwhile, debunked conspiracy theories abound that the photos aren’t real or weren’t taken at Walter Reed. At worst, they don’t show Trump really working, but that’s hardly a new act for this very image-obsessed president.
White House aide Nick Luna, Trump’s personal attendant, has also tested positive
Bloomberg reported Saturday night that White House aide and Trump body man Nick Luna has tested positive for COVID-19. Luna, who runs operations at the Oval Office, was undoubtedly in constant close contact with the president last week, and traveled aboard Air Force One to and from Cleveland for last Tuesday’s debate, and again to and from Minnesota for last Wednesday night’s Trump campaign rally. The last was the trip during which fellow aide Hope Hicks first began showing symptoms of her own infection.
Due to his exposure to Hicks, Luna reportedly did not travel to Bedminster, New Jersey, with the president on Thursday.
Luna is the now the 15th White House-linked COVID-19 case.
The White House cluster’s collateral damage
Biden’s campaign says it will release the result of every COVID-19 test he takes
Amid the ongoing mystery of when President Trump last tested negative for COVID-19, scrutiny of how how often those tests were actually being administered, and fears that Joe Biden was exposed to the virus by President Trump at last Tuesday’s debate, the Biden campaign announced on Saturday night that it would release the result of every coronavirus test the Democratic nominee takes. It did not disclose precisely how often those tests would happen, but said they would done regularly.
Trump insists “I feel much better now” — and appears to want to inspire the country with his fight
In a video recorded at Walter Reed Medical Center and released on Saturday night, a somewhat subdued Trump said that when he was hospitalized on Friday, he “wasn’t feeling so well,” but that “I feel much better now.” Trump made his remarks seated at a desk in his suite-like-room at the hospital, and began the video by thanking Walter Reed’s staff for caring for him.
“I had no choice,” he said about going to the hospital, “because I just didn’t want to stay in the White House” — though he also claimed he was given that choice, indicating it was an act of leadership to go. In an earlier statement on Saturday that Trump dictated to Rudy Giuliani, he explained that “I had to confront [the virus] so the American people stopped being afraid of it so we could deal with it responsibly.” But Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reports, “Actually [Trump] did want to stay at the White House — he resisted going to the hospital. Had to be talked into it, per multiple sources.”
“We’re working very hard to get me all the way back,” the president also said in the new video. “I have to be back because we still have to make America great again.” Regarding him catching COVID-19, Trump offered a vague explanation:
This is something that happened, and it’s happened to millions of people all over the world — and I’m fighting for them. Not just in the U.S., I’m fighting for them all over the world. We’re gonna beat this coronavirus or whatever you want to call it. And we’re gonna beat it soundly.
Trump said he thought he would “back soon,” but also acknowledged that, regarding the progression of his illness, “You don’t know, over the next period of a few days — I guess that’s the real test — so we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days.”
Shortly afterward, the Trump campaign sent out a fundraising message offering I LOVE TRUMP T-shirts for sale, calling the president a “warrior.”
Earlier Saturday, as confusion swirled around the state of his health, President Trump apparently dictated a statement to his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who then passed it along to the New York Post. In those comments, Trump claimed he already felt like he could leave the hospital and “do a rally” if he wanted to, and he seemed to indicate that he hoped to use his own personal victory against COVID-19 to inspire the country to not be afraid it:
“You go tell people I’m watching this coverage [reporting he’s taken a turn for the worse].
“I feel I could get out of here right now. But they’re telling me there can always be a backstep with this disease. But I feel I could go out and do a rally.
“I am the president of the United States. I can’t lock myself in a room. … I had to confront [the virus] so the American people stopped being afraid of it so we could deal with it responsibly.
“We have made tremendous progress on treating this disease. Fatality rates are very low compared to [the beginning].
“I’m going to beat this.
“Then I will be able to show people we can deal with this disease responsibly, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it.
“If I had handled it any other way, I would have created more panic, more fear in the American people.
“We are making great progress on dealing with this disease and making better progress with the economy than anyone had the right to expect.”
In his video, Trump also referred to COVID-19 therapies as “miracles.”
White House staff still haven’t been told what to do
Intelligencer’s Olivia Nuzzi and Ben Jacobs report:
The White House sought to keep the story [of Hope Hicks’s COVID-19 infection] from getting out, which meant keeping much of its own staff — who, like the president, had been exposed to Hicks — in the dark …
“Ninety percent of the [White House] complex most certainly learned about it in the news, as has been the case ever since,” the senior [White House] official said. “There are reports that COVID is spreading like wildfire through the White House. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who work on-complex, some who have families with high-risk family members. Since this whole thing started, not one email has gone out to tell employees what to do or what’s going on.”
The senior official told Intelligencer that not only is there no reliable information flow internally regarding the president’s condition, but there’s also no reliable information about anything else. Even his most senior staffers find themselves in the same predicament as those on the outside looking in. An opaque system designed to protect the White House from negative press is backfiring. “I think most of it is paranoia about leaks,” the official said, “Yet … the leaks continue.”
Read the rest of Olivia and Ben’s report here, which includes more information about Saturday’s botched attempt to update the public about Trump’s condition.
On Friday, the Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas reported that it appeared as though nothing had changed at the White House, safety-wise, amid the outbreak:
When I visited the White House in August, no one checked to see if I was running a fever or suppressing a hacking cough as I passed through the security booth. The ritual was the same today: I showed up hours after we’d learned that President Donald Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus, yet no one asked about my health. Instead, I was simply searched for weapons and allowed in …
As far as I could tell, the White House’s lone concession to the catastrophe unfolding before our eyes was that a few junior aides working in the suite of offices accessible to the press corps sat at their desks in masks. During my August trip, none of the aides breathing the same air in this cramped warren of offices had seen fit to wear one.
On this day, of all days, a mask would have seemed indispensable. But a senior White House official told the Associated Press this afternoon that masks amount to a “personal choice.”
Also on Friday, the National Security Council asked its staff to avoid the West Wing whenever possible.
Chris Christie, who has asthma, says he has been admitted to the hospital
A new, less ominous tone from Mark Meadows
White House chief of staff to reporters after the midday press conference:
The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his car. We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.
Later, to Reuters:
The president is doing very well. He is up and about and asking for documents to review. The doctors are very pleased with his vital signs. I have met with him on multiple occasions today on a variety of issues.
A difficult situation, a difficult patient
Following the confusion of Saturday’s press conference, Times reporter Maggie Haberman points out in a Twitter thread that White House physician Dr. Sean Conley is in a tough spot:
Conley has now jeopardized his own ability to be believed by the public. It is in part because he is adhering to the wishes of a patient who does not want the information about yesterday disclosed, according to people briefed on what has taken place so far. For his entire life, the president has been phobic about illness and extremely wary of hospitals, according to people who know him personally or have worked with him. He would not have gone to a hospital if he was feeling relatively fine.
A key thing Conley said is that the course the virus is taking in the president will reach a critical period where it becomes clear in 7-10 days (presumably meaning from onset of symptoms). It will take some days to know the prognosis.
Confusion reigns after contradicting statements about Trump’s health from physicians, White House officials
It is not entirely clear how serious President Trump’s COVID-19 illness is, following contradictory statements from Trump’s physicians and White House officials — one of whom said that the next 48 hours “will be critical” for the president.
White House physician Sean Conley held a press conference on Saturday afternoon outside Walter Reed medical center during which he reported that Trump was “doing very well” after a night in the hospital and was walking around without difficulty breathing. Per Conley, Trump is no longer experiencing a fever and cough and has, as previously reported, received both an experimental antibody treatment and the therapeutic drug, remdesivir. Conley dodged questions about whether Trump has received supplemental oxygen at anytime while he has been sick or when the president’s last negative COVID-19 test was.
Conley’s upbeat assessment of Trump’s health was then immediately contradicted by White House officials who said the Trump was in worse shape than previously known. “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care,” Chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters after the doctors spoke, adding that “we’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
The New York Times subsequently reported that:
Two people close to the White House said in separate interviews [that] the president had trouble breathing on Friday and that his oxygen level dropped, prompting his doctors to give him supplemental oxygen while at the White House and decide to transfer him to Walter Reed where he could be monitored with better equipment and treated more rapidly in case of trouble.
If that wasn’t confusing enough, the president’s physicians also made statements that called into question the official timeline of Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Conley declined to answer when, how, and where the president might have contracted the virus, saying he was “not going to go into that.” He initially said that Trump was “just 72 hours into the diagnosis now,” which would mean he was diagnosed on Wednesday, more than a day before Trump announced he was sick.
When pressed to explain the timeline again, Conley said that Trump had been tested on Thursday afternoon, then received his confirmed positive test result on Thursday night. (Trump announced his illness on Friday around 1 a.m.) Meanwhile another physician who spoke, Dr. Brian Garibaldi of Johns Hopkins University, said that Trump had begun receiving an experimental Regeneron antibody therapy 48 hours ago, meaning Thursday, not on Friday as had been previously reported.
After that was all said and done, Conley released a statement saying he misspoke:
Trump adviser Chris Christie has tested positive as well
Christie, who attended both the White House Barrett events on September 26 and participated in Trump’s pre-debate prep sessions, announced on Saturday morning that he too has tested positive for COVID-19:
Senator Ron Johnson has tested positive; not clear if linked to White House cluster
Johnson’s office announced the test results on Saturday morning, explaining that the Wisconsin Republican was in contact with someone on September 29 in Washington, D.C., who later tested positive for COVID-19, and Johnson then subsequently tested positive himself.
It’s not yet clear who the person Johnson was exposed to this week was, or where Johnson was in contact with them in Washington. Johnson was not at the White House announcement event for Amy Coney Barrett on September 26 or, at least as yet, known to be in any contact with members of the current White House cluster when he was in D.C. on the 29th.
Johnson had just finished quarantining himself on the 29th after having previously been in contact with another person with COVID-19 on September 14. He tested negative after that exposure.
Johnson is the third GOP senator who has spent part of the last week in D.C. to test positive in 24 hours. The other two, Senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis, both attended events at the White House. It is not yet clear how Johnson’s illness will impact the Senate GOP’s rushed effort to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court before Election Day.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien has tested positive, too
Late Friday night, Politico reported that Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien has also tested positive for COVID-19:
Bill Stepien received his diagnosis Friday evening and was experiencing what one senior campaign official described as “mild flu-like symptoms.” People familiar with the situation said the 42-year-old Stepien plans to quarantine until he recovers.
Deputy Campaign Manager Justin Clark is expected to oversee the Trump team’s Arlington, Va. headquarters while Stepien works remotely, though advisers stressed that he would maintain control of the campaign. Stepien’s disclosure means the two heads of the president’s political apparatus have now contracted the coronavirus: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel announced earlier Friday that she, too, is infected. …
Stepien traveled to and from Cleveland for Tuesday’s presidential debate. He joined Trump and Hicks aboard Air Force One. The campaign manager was also with the president in the White House on Monday.
Trump is now receiving remdesivir treatments for COVID-19
The president’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, released a new statement late Friday offering an explanation for sending Trump to the hospital earlier in the day, as well as reporting that Trump has started receiving remdesivir treatments — one of therapies used to treat COVID-19.
“In consultation with specialists from Walter Reed and John Hopkins University,” he said, “I recommended movement of the President up to [Walter Reed] for further monitoring.” Conley added that the president “is doing very well” and “is not requiring any supplemental oxygen” but that “in consultation with specialists we have elected to initiate Remdesivir therapy.”
Earlier Friday, Conley said that Trump had also received an experimental Regeneron antibody treatment which is used to reduce the levels of the virus in a patient’s bloodstream.
The president himself sent out a late-night tweet, only his second in 24 hours, to say that his treatment is “Going well, I think!”
White House told guests they didn’t have to wear masks at indoor events for Amy Coney Barrett
Last Saturday’s reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is drawing intense scrutiny as a possible source of the outbreak linked to the White House. While speculation initially focused on an outdoor event for Barrett in the Rose Garden, it later surfaced that at least two indoor receptions were held that day. Top figures from across the nation, including Trump, were seen mingling inside without wearing masks. One of those guests, Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins later explained that he and others were told they didn’t have to wear masks after receiving negative results from rapid tests:
When I arrived at the White House, a medical professional took me to an exam room to obtain a nasal swab for a rapid COVID-19 test. I was then directed to a room with others, all fully masked, until we were notified that we had all tested negative and were told that it was safe to remove our masks. We were then escorted to the Rose Garden, where I was seated with others who also had just been tested and received negative results.
And as the Washington Post noted on Friday night:
The no-mask mantra applied indoors as well. Cabinet members, senators, Barrett family members and others mixed unencumbered at tightly packed, indoor receptions in the White House’s Diplomatic Room and Cabinet Room.
Earlier Friday, the New York Times reported that one of the rapid tests the White House uses to screen guests is not meant to be used for that purpose:
[Abbott’s ID Now rapid test] has several qualities in its favor: It’s portable, doesn’t need skilled technicians to operate and delivers results in 15 minutes. Used to evaluate someone with symptoms, the test can quickly and easily diagnose Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But in people who are infected but not yet showing symptoms, the test is much less accurate, missing as many as one in three cases.
In May, after many reports of problems with the test, the F.D.A. warned that those who test negative using the test should confirm that result with a lab-based test. Still, the Trump administration has routinely used the test to screen people without symptoms, allowing anyone who tested negative to go without a mask during meetings and official proceedings.
The Times does not confirm whether or not the White House used the ID Now test to screen guests last Saturday. If so, that may have provided a false sense of security which allowed an asymptomatic guest to spread COVID-19 to others.
This post has been updated throughout to include new developments, analysis, and commentary — as well as remove older entries.