By Kenneth Tiven in Washington DC
US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania have tested positive for Covid-19 late on Thursday evening and are quarantined in the White House under medical observation. Details suggest they are not sick at this moment, but given a presidential election campaign and global concerns about any illness of a US leader this has the world on alert, while also noting that it has happened to the man who downplayed the pandemic issue for months.
The story initially developed late Thursday with the announcement that Hope Hicks had tested positive. She is an advisor to the president, who was in close contact with him this week on trips to campaign events around the nation.
The White House doctor’s word projected calm confidence: “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.” Navy Commander Dr Sean Conley, said in a statement, early on Friday: “The White House medical team and I will maintain a vigilant watch, and I appreciate the support provided by some of our country’s greatest medical professionals and institutions…Rest assured I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering.”
Trump has put a focus on the Supreme Court and issues other than the pandemic, willing to suggest the nation has turned the corner. Meanwhile, Covid-19 infections in the US are increasing and deaths total 208,000. A positive test — even if he doesn’t get sick — makes it harder to change the subject. Most Americans believe he has mishandled the government’s response. In the midst of controversy about the safety of reopening schools and businesses, the image of an infected President rattles everyone. Desiring a semblance of normal life before the election, he took credit at the debate this week for bringing football back, having coerced professional and some college leagues back onto the field.
Trump, at 74, is in the most vulnerable age category to the age category . Eight out of every 10 deaths attributed to it in the United States have been among those 65 and older.
This obviously throws the presidential campaign into disarray 33 days before the election. The irony of Trump, who has resisted wearing a mask and social distancing, testing positive at this time is not lost on American voters critical of his handling the pandemic.
Trump has resisted letting any details of his health be released dating back to the 2016 campaign when it turned out he had dictated the letter his personal physician had made public. In the past year there have been questions about his health based on problems with speech making and other physical traits he has exhibited. An unannounced trip in November
to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was never fully explained. Officially the White House said it was for routine tests, but never said what they were or what they showed.
Compared to the various flu germs which are a staple of colder weather in the USA, the coronavirus is much deadlier. The US infection rate exceeds 7,000,000 persons with more than 208,000 officially recorded deaths. However, the vast majority of people infected by it recover, especially if there is no underlying condition. Yet at his age if the president becomes symptomatic, recovering could take weeks.
Trump repeatedly displays confidence in public about his own health. His own self-perceptions are almost always optimistic.. “I’m on a stage that’s very far away, and so, I’m not at all concerned,” was his attitude a month ago when he resumed public rallies attended without much regard for masks or social distancing by his hardcore supporters. Herman Cain, once a Republican presidential candidate and supporter of Trump’s, died of the coronavirus in July after attending the president’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cain, like many in the arena, was seen without a mask for some of the events.
Positive tests and infections include Kimberly Guilfoyle, his son Donald Jr.’s girlfriend; a White House valet; Katie Miller, Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary; as well as some Secret Service agents, campaign advance workers and a Marine in the president’s helicopter unit.
His sense of optimism about the disease disappearing like a miracle was a falsehood he himself revealed in conversation with author Bob Woodward for the book Rage, about his handling of the pandemic and other issues since his election.
Recently Trump replaced or disregarded several of the professional scientists and medical people advising him on the pandemic, replacing them with folks who agreed with him. Questioned in the debate about two officials who flatly contradicted him, he said they were wrong.
In 1967 the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution took effect and provides that a medically incapacitated president has the option of temporarily transferring power to the vice president and can reclaim his authority whenever he deems himself fit for duty. Presidents have done so only three times.
Under the Presidential Succession Act, if both Trump and Pence are unable to serve, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, a Democrat and obviously a woman, would step in. The ever charming presidential press secretary assured the nation a few months ago that this was not under consideration. “We’re keeping the president healthy. We’re keeping the vice president healthy and, you know, they’re healthy at this moment and they’ll continue to be.”
Well, it is what it is, to use a quote the president likes. Time will reveal the seriousness of this positive test for both Trump and his wife Melania. The White House is both the office of the President and his senior staff, with the personal residence upstairs on the third floor. The commute from breakfast to the Oval Office is about a minute if no one stops the boss for a chat.
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels