President Donald Trump tweeted on October 2, 2020 at 12:54 a.m. ET that both he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for covid-19, the disease that has sickened over 7.2 million Americans and killed over 207,000. Trump has infamously downplayed the severity of the pandemic, causing tens of thousands of deaths. But will President Trump now take the pandemic more seriously, or will he weaponize his illness in a way to further weaken a democracy that’s already in peril?
There’s a lot of uncertainty about what the president’s diagnosis means for the future, especially when it comes to national security, as defense journalists pointed out overnight. We’ll find out those implications in the coming days and weeks. For now, let’s look at the past 72 hours, a period when the president may have had the virus but didn’t know.
Tuesday, September 29
President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden debated in Ohio on Tuesday night, September 29, in what can only be described as a complete shitshow, with Trump showing no regard for any rules or decorum, constantly interrupting Biden and saying absolutely vile things.
When it came to discussion of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump ridiculed Biden for often wearing a mask when he’s out in public.
“I wear masks, when needed. When needed, I wear masks. I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said at the debate referring to Biden. “Every time you see him he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Biden countered with the advice from Trump’s own CDC, saying that if everyone wore masks “between now and the end of January, we’d probably save up to 100,000 lives. It matters.”
Trump replied, “And they’ve also said the opposite. They’ve also said the opposite.”
No reasonable health professional has said “the opposite.” It’s widely accepted in the public health community around the world that masks help slow the spread of coronavirus.
Many of the president’s family members were in attendance at the debate, including Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Tiffany Trump, and the First Lady, Melania Trump. The only person from Trump’s camp who wore a mask while at the event was Melania, though she took it off when she appeared onstage with the president after the debate had concluded.
Notably, President Trump and Joe Biden did not shake hands before or after the debate. The podiums for the two men were spaced relatively far apart, but there’s no magic to the “six-foot” rule of social distancing, especially when you’re indoors.
Just because they were more than six feet apart doesn’t mean they weren’t close enough to become infected by one another, as studies from as early as January showed people at a restaurant in Wuhan, China contracted the disease likely because of the air circulation in the room.
Wednesday, September 30
White House staff are regularly tested for the coronavirus, and White House counselor Hope Hicks tested negative on the morning of September 30, but developed symptoms during the day, according to CBS News. Hicks then tested positive on the evening of September 30, and yet Trump still traveled to a closed fundraiser after learning that news.
Trump attended a private fundraiser hosted by the CEO of Cambria Marty Davis in the suburb of Shorewood, Minnesota. Cambria makes granite products primarily used for things like kitchen countertops.
Trump then flew up to Duluth and held a rally at Duluth International Airport in around 8 p.m. local time (9 p.m. ET) with most people in attendance not wearing masks. The speech contained lots of overt racism about Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar and the Somali immigrant community in the Twin Cities.
Thursday, October 1
Trump didn’t wear a mask all day Thursday, according to unnamed officials who spoke with the Washington Post. And the president flew on Marine One with people like Hope Hicks, and social media guru Dan Scavino.
Trump also attended a fundraising event Thursday at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The closed-door event included a roundtable discussion, photo opportunity, and a reception, which cost $250,000 per person, according to local newspapers.
Thursday night, a pre-recorded message of Trump was played at the Catholic Archdiocese’s Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner that’s held annually in New York. Trump’s remarks were recorded at the White House and he blamed China for the coronavirus.
“The end of the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country,” Trump said while hailing Catholic Americans throughout history.
Trump appeared by telephone on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show starting at 9:38 p.m. and spent most of his time complaining about being treated unfairly by the media. Trump also said that “we really have a one-party system,” apparently referring to the Democrats in a nonsensical rant. Trump whined about his political opponents advocating that places like Guam and Puerto Rico become states, something that has not been an issue raised by people like Joe Biden during this election season.
After ten minutes of the president rambling, Hannity mentioned the breaking news about Hope Hicks testing positive. Curiously, Trump spoke very quickly and said he didn’t know whether he should self-quarantine, even going so far as to admit that he might have contracted the disease.
“So, she did test positive. I just heard about this, she tested positive,” Trump told Hannity. “She’s a hard worker. A lot of masks, she wears masks a lot, but she tested positive and I just went out with a test, I’ll see what… you know, because we spend a lot of time… and the first lady just went out with a test, so… So whether we quarantine or whether we have it, I don’t know.”
Trump went on to suggest that he may have been infected by someone from the U.S. military or a police officer.
“You know, It’s very hard. When you’re with soldiers, when you’re with airmen, when you’re with Marines, and I’m with… the police officers, I’m with them so much. And when they come over to you it’s very hard to say ‘stay back, stay back.’ You know, it’s a tough kind of a situation, it’s a terrible thing,” Trump told Hannity.
“It’s very, very hard when you are with people from the military or law enforcement because they come over to you and they want to hug you and they want to kiss you because we really have a done good job for them. And you get close, and things happen,” Trump continued.
After spending a few minutes talking about that, Hannity quickly pivoted to other topics like supposed mail-in ballot fraud. Trump made a ton of false statements, including the complete lie that you don’t even have to sign your ballot in Nevada. Trump has made that claim before and independent fact checkers have said it’s simply not true.
Friday, October 2
Trump was the first to announce that he’d been diagnosed with covid-19 and did so on Twitter at 12:54 a.m. ET, setting off a long night of live news reporting with speculation about what this would mean for the election on November 3 and for Trump personally.
Trump’s tweet was followed minutes later with a press release from the president’s doctor, Sean P. Conley. The physician said that the president and first lady are “both well at this time” and the White House medical staff are going to remain on “vigilante watch” over the couple.
Fox News, Trump’s favorite news outlet, announced the president’s diagnosis while showing a handful of photos of Trump wearing a mask. Fox also showed footage of Trump and Hope Hicks on Marine One, the helicopter that’s most commonly used to transport the president from the White House to the airport, though that appeared to be file footage from a couple of weeks ago.
But more responsible news outlets like NBC News reported on the contact tracing that’s underway at the White House, putting up a jarring graphic with the list of people who have recently traveled with Hope Hicks. The list includes people like Rep. Jim Jordan, Rudy Giuliani, Jared Kushner, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
There were several questions overnight about whether Joe Biden has been tested for covid-19 and his campaign has yet to release a statement.
Trump was supposed to travel to Florida and Wisconsin over this weekend but those plans have been canceled while the president self-quarantines, according to the Washington Post. Trump’s schedule today was supposed to include a conference call with senior citizens about the coronavirus, but it’s still unclear if that’s been canceled or will go ahead.
The next debate is actually the vice presidential debate, scheduled for October 7 at the University of Utah. The other two presidential debates are scheduled for October 15 in Miami, Florida and October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.
What happens next? Your guess is as good as ours. But if the trajectory of 2020 is any indication, it’s only going to get more weird.