WASHINGTON — After months of publicly rejecting the advice of his own medical experts, President Donald Trump has fallen victim to his own false narrative around the risks of the coronavirus and how to avoid getting infected.
The news early Friday that the president and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for Covid-19 came as a jolt — but medical experts said it shouldn’t have. In recent weeks, Trump, 74, has put his health and the health of his staff at risk by holding mass gatherings, some indoors, and shunning mask use while claiming that the end of the virus was just around the corner.
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In turn, his staff, his family members and his supporters have followed his lead.
He may have been infected by one of his top aides, Hope Hicks, who works in a White House that has disregarded every workplace recommendation for social distancing, with few people wearing masks, no efforts made to spread out desks and staff members’ cramming into meeting rooms.
His campaign has routinely packed thousands of supporters into rallies where masks are booed by the crowd.
“This was avoidable. This did not have to happen if they were practicing the proper procedures and not going to these rallies and having these chaotic events, where, of course, airborne exposure was going to happen despite it being in an outdoor setting,” said NBC News contributor Dr. Vin Gupta, a lung specialist at the University of Washington. “No masking, no distancing — what did they expect was going to happen?”
The virus has repeatedly penetrated Trump’s inner circle, infecting his national security adviser, his son’s girlfriend and his personal valet. He has also had two friends die of the virus, one a former New York business associate and the other, political ally Herman Cain, who contracted the virus and died shortly after attending Trump’s indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As recently as Sept. 16, Trump said a staff member at the White House had tested positive, but he brushed off the risk, saying it wasn’t someone he’d come in contact with. Yet regardless of how close the virus hit to home, it did little to change Trump’s behavior in public, as well as behind the scenes.
“I’m not worried. No, I’m not worried,” Trump said about getting infected after Vice President Mike Pence ‘s spokeswoman came down with the virus in May. “But you know, look, I get things done. I don’t worry about things. I do what I have to do.”
Trump and his aides repeatedly said he was protected from the virus because everyone who came in close contact with him was tested. But the events of the last 24 hours show the flaw in that strategy, because testing doesn’t detect 100 percent of infections.
Trump appeared to be disregarding the advice of his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even throughout the course of the day Thursday. Hicks, who had been in close contact with Trump for days, tested positive Thursday morning, yet Trump still attended a fundraiser at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, that afternoon, potentially exposing staffers and supporters.
“He’s in a sense become the poster child for a mis-messaging that has not only cost so many American lives right now, but it’s also put himself in great jeopardy,” Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness, said Friday on MSNBC.
While Trump said during Tuesday’s debate that he does sometimes wear a mask, he has been seen wearing one in public on only a handful of occasions. He then went on to mock Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for wearing one, saying of Biden during the debate, “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” adding that Biden “shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
Trump has continued to hold rallies with thousands of people where there is no social distancing, with few attendees wearing masks. When the crowd at a New Hampshire event in August was told to put on their masks, as the state requires for large gatherings, they booed the announcement and continued to flout the rule.
Trump was scheduled to hold rallies Friday in Florida and Saturday in Wisconsin, a state where the number of cases is surging. When press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked why the president was having a rally in a coronavirus hot spot, she said it was the president’s First Amendment right.
When asked about them during the debate, Trump said of the rallies, “So far, we have had no problem whatsoever.”
While most of Trump’s rallies have been outdoors in partly enclosed airport hangers, just weeks ago, he held indoor events in Nevada and Arizona, states where case numbers were surging over the summer.
The president’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said in a statement early Friday: “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.
“The White House medical team and I will maintain a vigilant watch, and I appreciate the support provided by some of our country’s greatest medical professionals and institutions,” Conley said. “Rest assured I expect the President to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering, and I will keep you updated on any future developments.”