Shortly before 1 a.m. on Friday October 2, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. His Twitter claim has since been backed up by White House physician Sean Conley, whose official memo (dated October 1) states that both individuals are “well at this time” and plan to remain in the White House under the “vigilant watch” of their medical team.
The news comes just as the US seems poised to enter a new wave of COVID-19 cases. Since emerging in Hubei Province in China in late 2019, the novel virus has spread across the globe and killed more than a million people. The US has seen more than 7.3 million confirmed cases so far, and suffered more than 200,000 deaths. Many of the areas that initially beat back surges of the virus through efforts such as shutting down non-essential businesses and mandating mask wearing are now seeing an uptick in cases. This is in line with predictions that epidemiologists made back in the spring, when they warned it was incredibly unlikely that the virus would just disappear.
While the novel coronavirus still represents a moving target for researchers hoping to understand and fight it, we now know with certainty that it poses a serious risk to human health. Research now indicates that children, who were initially thought to be at a lower risk of infection, are capable of spreading the novel coronavirus. It’s also still unclear how long the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2, which provides some protection against reinfection, actually lasts, and there’s some indication that reinfection is possible. Otherwise healthy young adults, although less likely to have serious symptoms than those who are older or have underlying conditions, can still become deathly ill. Doctors are also realizing that even seemingly mild cases of COVID-19 can result in mysterious—and sometimes debilitating—longterm symptoms.
It seems likely President Trump contracted COVID-19 from his advisor Hope Hicks, who reportedly received a positive diagnosis on Thursday. The president carried on with his usual schedule on Thursday, which included a flight to New Jersey. At a virtual event on Thursday, he told the crowd that “the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country.” His team has now canceled in-person appearances for Friday.
The president has previously been criticized for downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, and often appearing in public without a mask. Wearing a mask is currently considered to be the best way to avoid spreading COVID-19 to other people around you, in addition to keeping a distance of at least six feet and avoid spending time together in enclosed spaces. There is also evidence to suggest that masks protect the people wearing them by limiting the dose of their potential viral exposure. Trump has also repeatedly spread misinformation about the virus. He previously touted the drug hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure, though evidence increasingly shows it has little effect on SARS-CoV-2 and comes with many risks. He has also made confusing statements about using antiseptics to fight the novel coronavirus. Recently released recordings reveal that the president thought COVID-19 was “deadly stuff” as early as March, and planned to “play it down” to avoid “panic.” Experts say that a more decisive national strategy deployed at that time could have saved countless lives.
It is not yet clear how long the Trumps will need to remain isolated. Currently, Trump is said to be experiencing mild, “coldlike” symptoms. At 74 years old, the president is considered to be at a high risk of developing serious COVID-19—but even seniors can come away with only mild symptoms.