President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for coronavirus, the President announced early Friday morning, an extraordinary development coming months into a global pandemic and in the final stretch of his re-election campaign.
The diagnosis amounts to the most serious known health threat to a sitting American president in decades. At 74 years old, Trump falls into the highest risk category for serious complications from the disease, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans and more than 1 million people worldwide.
His infection with the disease could prove destabilizing in an already fraught political climate, and stock market futures tumbled on news of Trump’s infection.
“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Trump tweeted shortly before 1 am Friday.
Trump was last seen in public on Thursday afternoon returning to the White House after a fundraising trip to New Jersey. He did not appear ill, though did not speak to reporters as he walked into his residence.
In a memo issued to reporters around 1 am ET, the President’s physician, Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley, wrote he received confirmation of the positive tests on Thursday evening.
“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,” Conley wrote.
“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,” Conley wrote, without elaborating what assistance was being provided to the White House.
“Rest assured I expect the President to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering, and I will keep you updated on any further developments,” he wrote.
The President had said late Thursday night that he planned to quarantine after one of his closest aides tested positive for the infection.
“Hope Hicks, who has been working so hard without even taking a small break, has just tested positive for COVID-19. Terrible! The First Lady and I are waiting for our test results. In the meantime, we will begin our quarantine process!” Trump tweeted Thursday night.
While the White House frequently touts its extensive testing regime for the President and those who come into close proximity with him, aides have deemed him the “most tested man in the country”, he has eschewed practices like social distancing and mask wearing.
At Tuesday evening’s presidential debate, the President mocked his rival for frequently wearing a mask.
After announcing the President’s diagnosis, the White House issued a new schedule to reflect several canceled events, including a fundraiser in Washington and a campaign rally in Florida.
Hicks has traveled with the President multiple times recently, including to the debate in Cleveland on Tuesday, and was seen boarding Marine One, along with several other of the President’s closest aides, Jared Kushner, Dan Scavino and Nicholas Luna, none of whom wore masks, on Wednesday as Trump was heading to a campaign rally in Minnesota.
“She did test positive, I just heard about this. She tested positive. She’s a hard worker. Lot of masks, she wears masks a lot but she tested positive. Then I just went out with a test. I’ll see you know, because we spent a lot of time and the First Lady just went out with a test also. So whether we quarantine or whether we have it, I don’t know,” Trump said during a call-in appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity.”
He added, “I just went for a test and we’ll see what happens, I mean, who knows I spent a lot of time with Hope and so does the First Lady, and she’s tremendous.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that a 14-day quarantine should take place after the last known exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This is because the incubation period for the novel coronavirus can be up to two weeks.
News of Hicks’ positive test comes amid continued efforts by the Trump administration to blatantly disregard science and best public health practices during the pandemic, with West Wing staff actively eschewing masks and the President defying recommendations from his own coronavirus task force, proceeding with a busy schedule of packed campaign ralies. Trump and his key aides have shown little interest in changing practices of his staff to meet the needs of the moment.
Trump, in his Fox News interview, speculated that Hicks could have contracted the virus from an interaction with a supporter.
“She’s a very warm person. She has a hard time, when soldiers and law enforcement comes up to her, you know, she wants to treat them great, not say, ‘Stay away, I can’t get near you.’ It’s a very, very tough disease,” he said.
The White House made no mention of Hicks by name, nor did it confirm she had tested positive.
“White House Operations collaborates with the Physician to the President and the White House Military Office to ensure all plans and procedures incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on complex and when the President is traveling,” its spokesperson added.
Some White House staffers who were in close proximity were notified of the positive test result today, one official said.
Hicks maintained a close relationship not just with the President but also with members of his family, including White House advisers Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. She previously served as the White House communications director.
Hicks’ positive test underscores the unique challenge White House staffers face as they try to keep the pandemic out of the West Wing while the President pushes to reopen the country.
In May, two White House staffers, including a member of the Navy who serves as one of Trump’s personal valets, tested positive for the virus, and in July a cafeteria employee on the White House grounds tested positive as well. The President confirmed a fourth positive case on White House grounds last month.
Trump has previously expressed concern that aides contracting coronavirus would undercut his message that the outbreak is waning and states should accelerate reopening, according to a person who had spoken with him.
The White House has since gone to great lengths to shield Trump and Vice President Mike Pence from the outbreak, even as they travel to states where cases are surging.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany previously described Trump as the “most tested man in America,” who doesn’t risk spreading the virus to others. But Trump contradicted that claim hours later, saying he doesn’t know of a time he’s taken more than one coronavirus test in a day.
“I don’t know about more than one,” Trump responded to a reporter who asked why he was tested more than once a day. “I do probably on average a test every two days, three days, and I don’t know of any time I’ve taken two in one day, but I could see that happening.”