Trump has tested positive for coronavirus, throwing the election — and the country — into uncertainty

Trump has tested positive for coronavirus, throwing the election — and the country — into uncertaintyOctober 2, 2020

President Trump — a man who has spent months steadfastly refusing to socially distance himself from others, who pointedly rejected medical advice to wear a face mask time and time again, and who hosted massive political rallies that likely served as viral super-spreader events — confirmed early Friday that both he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for coronavirus.

Trump announced the diagnosis — one which in retrospect seems like an inevitability — just hours after sharing the news that Hope Hicks, one of his chief aides and closest allies, had also contracted the virus. Hicks had spent the previous 24 hours traveling with the president on Air Force One to a series of political events in Minnesota.

Trump’s case is reportedly mild, with him experiencing “cold-like symptoms,” per The New York Times. Damningly, however, Trump appears to have traveled extensively and come in contact with crowds of people even after learning of his possible exposure. The Washington Post reported that White House officials knew Hicks was displaying coronavirus-like symptoms before Trump and a group of aides flew to a fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, where the president “was in close contact with dozens of other people.” The Times reported that Trump “seemed lethargic” at the event, and that he’d fallen asleep aboard Air Force One the night before while returning from a rally in Minnesota.

The president’s diagnosis has thrown not only his typical presidential duties, but also the remaining weeks of the upcoming election, into total chaos, with questions swirling over not only his health but his ability to continue campaigning in this crucial home stretch. The president is 74 years old and clinically obese, two factors that could make his bout with coronavirus more severe.

CNN’s Jim Acosta reported Friday morning that the White House is beginning a contact-tracing operation to determine who might’ve been exposed to Trump and Hicks in recent days. Officials are also “looking at ways for Trump to be out in front of cameras today,” per Acosta — likely so that the president can portray an image of strength.

Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence have both tested negative for the virus, per a spokesperson. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisers to the president, have also tested negative, along with the Trumps’ 14-year-old son Barron. Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court who was with the president at a ceremony on Saturday, also tested negative Friday morning, per White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to get tested Friday morning, along with his wife Jill Biden. Both were in the same room as the Trumps at Tuesday’s presidential debate.

In a letter to the media, White House doctor Sean Conley said “the president and first lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”

“Rest assured I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering,” Conley added. “I will keep you updated on any future developments.” Melania Trump said she and the president are “feeling good.”

Still, a potentially incapacitated president — even partially so — at this stage in the election has moved the country into uncharted territory. Will Trump break quarantine to debate Joe Biden on Oct. 15? Will any legislation move forward while Washington tries to figure out what happens next? Who else in the White House has been infected at this point?

There are various scenarios offered under the 25th Amendment to facilitate a transfer of authority from the president to Vice President Mike Pence, who tested negative on Friday morning, should the president become incapacitated due to illness. But Conley’s letter seemed specifically designed to tamp down any concern that Trump is seriously ill.

But given the White House’s track record for truth-telling, and particularly Trump’s comprehensive history of downplaying and doubting the virus, one has to wonder: Would they tell us if he was?

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