When did Donald Trump test positive for coronavirus? Did he make four trips on his official plane, hold a campaign rally and meet with campaign donors even though he knew he had the Covid-19? Have his lungs been damaged? Are he out of danger?
All of these issues were put on the table after a press conference by the President’s medical team at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, just outside of Washington, which was combined with immediately following statements by the President’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows.
First, the press conference created enormous confusion and also implied that the White House did not release Trump’s ‘positive’ until he started having symptoms, 36 hours after the Covid-19 had been detected in his body.
A few minutes later, at Walter Reed’s door, Meadows entered the fray to dynamite the not-so-great credibility left to the doctors. “The President’s vital signs in the last 24 hours have been very worrying, and what happens in the next 48 hours will be decisive from the point of view of his health. We are not yet in a clear direction towards a full recovery,” said Meadows in statements that were first off-the-record but were quickly attributed to him.
In an interview with Fox News, he even stated that the president had suffered a drop in his oxygen levels, always insisting that he had recovered. Meadows said on the air that there has never been a risk of Trump having to give up power. “His condition has improved dramatically since yesterday morning, a time when I know several of us, the doctor and I, were very concerned,” Meadows said.
Four hours later, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he had spoken to Trump on the phone and that “the president sounds good and is fine. And, to close the circle, at 7 p.m. in Washington (1 a.m. on the Peninsula), the White House posted a four-minute video of Trump looking good, commenting on the evolution of his illness, thanking the expressions of affection received from inside and outside the country, and being optimistic about the evolution of his health.
“I COULDN’T STAY LOCKED UP IN THE WHITE HOUSE”
Donald Trump himself posted a video on Twitter from a hospital office, in apparent good health, in which he stated: “This is something that has happened to millions of people around the world and I am fighting for them, not only in the United States but around the world. He also called the drug cocktails he is being treated with “miraculous”: Remdesivir, the drug signed by the American company Gilead and an experimental therapy that was given to him before he was admitted to the hospital. “People criticized me when I said that, but they are miraculous,” he said.
“I feel fine, but the next few days will be the real test,” he added, about his health. “I had no choice,” he explained about his admission, “I didn’t want to stay in the White House. There the doctors had ordered him to be isolated, “I couldn’t even go to the Oval Office”: “I can’t do that. This is America, it’s the most powerful country in the world. I can’t be locked up in a room, safe, and say: whatever happens, happens. I can’t do that.
Thus, the information policy of the White House in Donald Trump’s infection with Covid-19 is being an example of how not to carry out a crisis communication strategy, with three different messages, two of them from sources as close as possible to the president – Meadows and the doctors -, in a matter of capital importance in any country. The U.S. Executive has dynamited its own credibility. So far, all we know is that Trump is hospitalized as a patient, and that he has not transferred any of his duties to the Vice President, Mike Pence.
It all began with the appearance of the doctors, which, far from clarifying the situation regarding the health status of the head of state and the US government, created more confusion. Sean Conley, Trump’s doctor, insisted that the president “is doing very well,” has “very high morale,” and was admitted “with a moderate cough and fatigue. And he didn’t come out of it.
The problem was when the questions started. Has Donald Trump ever received oxygen? “Right now he doesn’t need it. Do you know how long he will be in the hospital? “Every day we will assess how he is doing and what needs to be done. Is there a danger that he will develop pneumonia? What fever did he have? “I will not give specific figures. Have you suffered lung damage? We are doing ultrasounds, we are following all the protocols. When was the last test given to the President that was negative? “I’m not going to get into the subject of tests. All of that only triggered speculation. Immediately after the press conference, the Associated Press claimed that Trump had received oxygen at the White House on Friday.
But what attracted all the attention was Conley’s first sentence, which presumably had been written by the White House: “It has been 72 hours since the diagnosis. It was twenty to twelve noon when Conley said that. It had been 35 hours and 44 minutes since Trump had announced on Twitter that he and his wife, Melania, had Covid-19. The question was inevitable: Had the White House hidden the fact that the president was positive for 36 hours during which Trump kept his schedule of meetings, air travel, and closed-door meetings?
The distinction is not trivial. If the president of the United States was detected with the virus on Wednesday at noon instead of late Thursday night, he violated all the safety regulations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which is the US State agency that tries to coordinate the fight against the coronavirus.
Did Trump travel knowing he was infected?
Because that same Wednesday afternoon, Trump flew in his official plane to the state of Minnesota – five hours in total, between there and back – where he held a massive rally. On Thursday afternoon he flew from Washington to his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. There, he gave another rally and participated in a round table in one of the building’s rooms.
It was only on the way back to Washington, when the Bloomberg news agency had revealed that Trump’s collaborator Hope Hicks had been ill on her return from Minnesota and was sick with Covid -something the White House had kept secret-, that it was announced that the president was going to be tested. And at six minutes to one in the morning on Friday, Washington time, Trump declared on Twitter that both he and Melania had tested positive.
Discretion in health care for heads of state and government is the norm. And the United States is no exception. Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson are some of the presidents of that country who kept their ailments a secret, even though Wilson was practically unable to exercise his functions during his last two years in office.
But there’s a difference: Trump’s disease is contagious. And very much so. It’s not a bullet, colon cancer, or cognitive impairment (Reagan), Addison’s disease (Kennedy), polio after-effects and serious coronary problems (Roosevelt), or a cerebral thrombosis (Wilson). If the White House hid the fact that the President and his wife were positive, he was endangering the health of those around him.
So far, three Republican senators – Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, and Thom Tills – Trump’s campaign manager – Bill Stepien – the chairman of the Republican National Committee – Ronna McDaniel – three of his most trusted people – Hicks, Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie – and three accredited White House journalists have all tested positive. They all participated in the event held at the president’s official residence on Saturday to introduce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. At the event, as is customary with everyone who participates in Trump, virtually no one was wearing a mask. When the event was over, there were several meetings inside the building.
The problems go beyond Trump’s advisors. The moderator of Tuesday’s presidential debate between the president and Democratic candidate Joe Biden, journalist Chris Wallace, has revealed that Donald Trump and his family violated the rules of the event by arriving too late to undergo the Covid tests. During the debate, the Trumps were the only people who also broke the requirement to wear masks. What’s more, the organizers offered them, but they refused. Biden tested negative. Wallace will be tested on Monday. For Norman Ornstein, a researcher from the Republican think tank American Enterprise Institute, who was present at the debate, the lack of security measures on the part of Trump and his entourage in the debate “is criminal behavior”.