US President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, have contracted COVID-19, with the US leader taking to social media on Friday to confirm the development.
“We will get through this TOGETHER!” he wrote.
The extraordinary setback for Trump had immediate political consequences just 31 days before election day, forcing him to cancel campaign trips and adding new volatility to a contest already steeped in tension.
Trump’s challenger, Democrat Joe Biden, is well ahead in the polls and has made criticism of the Republican’s handling of the coronavirus — and frequent downplaying of the pandemic’s seriousness — a key issue.
Trump, in response, has been betting on an evermore aggressive schedule of campaign rallies around the country. The events, which he says prove his true political strength, bring together thousands of people, often without masks and sometimes in contravention of local rules.
That strategy is now in doubt, with the White House immediately canceling a planned campaign rally in the crucial swing state of Florida later Friday.
It looked certain that Trump would have to cancel 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.
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.”
– Close aide gets virus –
The shock 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.
– Few wearing masks –
Trump says the United States has put behind the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, and he rarely wears a mask, noting that he receives frequent testing.
However, his 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 sharply criticized for the large rallies where few supporters wear masks. He himself has given mixed signals to the public on the need for wearing masks at all.
By contrast, Biden has run a 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.”