by Sebastian Smith
President Donald Trump has tested positive for Covid-19, upending the already tense US election, but was described by his doctor on Friday as feeling “well” and able to perform his duties while quarantining.
Trump, 74, first announced on Twitter that he and First Lady Melania Trump, 50, had tested positive.
“We will get through this TOGETHER!” he wrote.
The news detonated a political bombshell a month before election day.
The first immediate consequence was cancelation of a Trump campaign rally meant to take place in Florida later Friday.
Badly behind in the polls against Democratic challenger Joe Biden ahead of November 3, Trump has been using large rallies — where most people go without masks — to try to change the subject from his much criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Just Thursday he said in a speech to a New York charity event: “The end of the pandemic is in sight and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country.”
But now the leader who has repeatedly cast doubt on the seriousness of the virus — despite more than 200,000 Americans already dying — has become the world’s highest profile patient, proving that all the resources of the White House could not prevent the risk.
Biden, who has made criticism of the Republican’s coronavirus response his key issue, made no immediate statement about the president’s health after the news broke.
Technically obese and in his 70s, Trump is in a higher-risk category for coronavirus patients.
Trump’s official physician, Sean Conley, said in a statement that the president and his wife “are both well at this time.”
“They plan to remain home at the White House during their convalescence,” he said. However, “I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering.”
– Campaign upheaval –
Trump’s positive test was more than a PR disaster for a president who has staked everything on trying to persuade Americans that fears of the virus are overblown.
There were concrete, instant impacts to his campaign strategy, particularly throwing into doubt the future of his signature rallies.
The events, which Trump says prove his true political strength better than the dismal opinion polls, bring together thousands of people, often without masks and sometimes in contravention of local rules.
All that is now on hold, at least for the immediate future, and with the clock ticking rapidly down on the election.
In addition to canceling the Florida trip, it looked certain that Trump would have to abandon a trip scheduled for this weekend in Wisconsin, another battleground. He had also been expected to travel frequently next week, including longer distances to western states.
A second televised debate with Biden is scheduled for October 15.
– Close aide gets virus –
The news came right after one of Trump’s closest advisors, Hope Hicks, was reported Thursday to have come down with the virus.
Hicks, 31, traveled with Trump to Cleveland for his first debate with Biden on Tuesday. She was with him again for a campaign rally in Minnesota on Wednesday.
With Hicks sharing Trump’s Air Force One plane and the even more cramped confines of the Marine One helicopter, speculation immediately erupted that Trump and possibly many others in his close entourage were exposed.
Despite Hicks’ diagnosis, Trump took another Air Force One trip on Thursday to meet with donors in New Jersey.
It was only late Thursday that Trump confirmed media reports about Hicks while giving an interview to Fox News. He announced that he had been tested but did not say whether he had received the results.
“You know I spend a lot of time with Hope, and so does the first lady,” Trump said.
Hicks is the most senior White House aide announced to have contracted Covid-19.
In May, the spokeswoman of Vice President Mike Pence and wife of Trump’s speech writer, Katie Miller, came down with the virus. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien contracted the virus and went into quarantine in July.
– Masks controversy –
For months, Trump has courted controversy with his insistence that the coronavirus pandemic is as good as over and that lockdowns ordered in an attempt to beat the virus back were too draconian.
In what has become an overtly political gesture, Trump almost never wears a mask in public.
He argues that he doesn’t need to as he is frequently tested, but the example is followed by his supporters and many of his aides.
But Trump’s own health experts have often given less rosy assessments of the state of the pandemic in the world’s richest country.
And Trump has been especially criticized by Biden and at times also by local leaders for holding the rallies.
Biden is running a deliberately low key campaign with social distancing at most events, no large gatherings, and conspicuous use of his mask wherever he goes.
At their first debate on Tuesday, the candidates were tested and spent the angry, often chaotic 90 minutes standing close to each other. Trump’s family and supporters in the audience did not wear masks.
White House spokesman Judd Deere earlier said “the president takes the health and safety of himself and everyone who works in support of him and the American people very seriously.”
Deere said the White House takes care to follow procedures “for limiting Covid-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on complex and when the president is traveling.”
© Agence France-Presse