It’s a simple question that the White House refuses to answer: When did the President last test negative for coronavirus?
Donald Trump has failed to confirm if he is rid of the disease after becoming infected late last week and being released from hospital on Monday.
In an interview with Fox News he said he was feeling ‘really, really strong’ and was now ‘medication free’ but when he fudged it when asked if he would be re-tested ahead of a White House rally of 2,000 people today.
The President said: ‘I’ve been re-tested, I haven’t even found out numbers or anything yet, but I’ve been re-tested and I know I’m at either the bottom of the scale or free.’
It is feared that a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden in late September may have been a ‘super spreader’ event which led to at least 22 members of Trump’s inner circle being infected.
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This time round, the POTUS will deliver a speech from a balcony and isn’t expected to mingle with groups of guests.
But his insistence on holding a large gathering while coronavirus rips through the White House has alarmed some of his aides.
Trump also plans to attend a rally on Monday evening at an airport hanger in Sanford, near Orlando, Florida.
Having only tested positive on Thursday last week, Trump’s return to the Oval Office this week went against guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The President suggested he had been ‘cured’ by experimental antibody treatment Regeneron, despite medical experts saying it is still too early in the drug’s trial period to say if it can treat Covid-19.
Speaking to reporters last weekend, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: ‘Yeah, I’m not going to give you a detailed readout with timestamps every time the president’s tested.’
Director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah added: ‘I can’t reveal that at this time. Doctors would like to keep it private.’
The answer could help fill in vital details about the course of the president’s illness as well as when he may have been contagious and whom else he may have exposed.
And the White House’s refusal to answer makes it hard not to wonder what they’re hiding, given other details they’ve shared.
Physician and professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s school of public health Michael Joseph Mina said: ‘At this point it’s just so strange that they’re unwilling to give us the information.
‘It makes people start thinking things like, “Was the president the super-spreader?” If there was no nefarious activity going on, then they should have no problem answering this question.’
The information is also key to tracking who else may have been exposed to the virus so their contacts can be traced to prevent new clusters of infection.
Medical director of the clinical virology laboratory at Stanford Health Care Benjamin Pinsky said: ‘Then you can get an idea, potentially, of when he was infected, how long his incubation period was, and also then evaluate who may have been exposed to him over that time frame.’
While there is considerable variability between cases, he said, Trump was most likely infectious several days before he tested positive – a period during which he travelled and had close contact with dozens of people.
Senior White House staff and those who are in direct contact with the president are tested for the virus daily.
The White House originally gave the impression that Trump, too, was tested every day, with McEnany claiming in July that Trump was ‘the most tested man in America’ and tested ‘multiple times a day’.
But Trump contradicted her, saying, ‘I do probably on average a test every two days, three days.’
The White House’s line now is that Trump is tested ‘regularly.’
What we know so far
On Wednesday, September 30, during a trip to Minnesota for a fundraiser and rally, one of the president’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, began feeling ill.
She isolated herself aboard Air Force Once during the trip home, but the White House appears to have taken no further action.
Hicks had travelled with the Trump several times on the Presidential aircraft over the past few weeks.
The following morning, Hicks was again tested for the virus. This time, the results came back positive, just as the president was about to leave for a fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
A frantic effort was made to swap out staff who had been in close contact with Hicks, including McEnany.
But Trump, who had also been with Hicks, nonetheless boarded Marine One, along with other White House staff still reportedly in the dark about Hicks’ diagnosis.
After returning home from Bedminster, Trump was administered a rapid test, followed by a more accurate confirming test, which takes several hours to process. Both came back positive.
But questions remain over whether Trump been tested before the trip to New Jersey, Minnesota or to the first presidential election TV debate in Cleveland on September 30.
The Cleveland Clinic, which co-hosted the event, required that all attendees be tested in advance.
Campaigns had to ‘certify’ that their candidates and traveling staff had tested negative within 72 hours. The clinic said in a statement that ‘each campaign complied with this requirement’.
However White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern refused yesterday to confirm that was the case in an appearance on MSNBC.
Referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protecting patients’ medical information, he said: ‘The president doesn’t check all of his HIPAA rights at the door just when he becomes president.’
It is not known if Trump was tested on Monday, September 28, before he held a photo op with a truck on the South Lawn and a Rose Garden press conference to trumpet coronavirus test efforts.
He was also at a debate prep session with his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who have both since tested positive.
On September 27 Trump visited his golf course in Sterling, Virginia, held a late afternoon news conference in the White House briefing room, and held an evening reception for Gold Star families on the White House state floor.
Admiral Charles W. Ray, vice commandant of the Coast Guard,was in attendance and has since tested positive, forcing the nation’s top military leaders into self-isolation.
It is not known if Trump took a test before September 26, when he held a Rose Garden ceremony announcing his next pick for the Supreme Court.
Few wore face masks at the event, complete with closed-door receptions, and numerous attendees have since tested positive.
While it is unclear if Trump was the ‘super spreader’ at the ceremony, infectious disease specialist and department chairman at the Yale School of Public Health Dr Albert Jo said: ‘Trying to identify people and when they could be infectious is important, especially when they are in contact with a lot of other people’.
Infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University Saskia Popescu added: ‘There is concern that he continued to engage in public activities after his initial positive test, which is deeply worrisome and frankly unethical.’
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