President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, the president tweeted early Friday.
Trump’s positive test comes just hours after the White House announced that senior aide Hope Hicks came down with the virus after traveling with the president several times this week. Trump was last seen by reporters returning to the White House on Thursday evening and looked to be in good health. Trump is 74 years old, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has now killed more than 200,000 people nationwide.
“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Trump tweeted.
Trump announced late Thursday that he and first lady Melania Trump were beginning a “quarantine process” after Hicks came down with the virus, though it wasn’t clear what that entailed. It can take days for an infection to be detectable by a test.
The news throws into disarray the president’s planned trip to Wisconsin. He had intended to lead rallies in Green Bay and Janesville after canceling a visit to La Crosse.
The diagnosis marks a major blow for a president who has been trying desperately to convince the American public that the worst of the pandemic is behind them even as cases continue to rise with less than four months before Election Day. And it stands as the most serious known public health scare encountered by any sitting American president in recent history.
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Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
Hicks traveled with the president multiple times this week, including aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, and on Air Force One to a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, and aboard Air Force One to Tuesday night’s first presidential debate in Cleveland.
Trump had consistently played down concerns about being personally vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, even after White House staff and allies were exposed and sickened.
“I felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” he said told reporters back in May.
He has instead encouraged governors to reopen their states and tried to focus the nation’s attention on efforts to revive the economy — not a growing death toll — as he seeks another four-year term.
Some studies suggest COVID-19 patients who are obese may be at higher risk of being seriously sickened by the virus, although it’s unclear whether that’s because they are more likely to have other health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. In his 2019 physical, Trump met the technical threshold for obesity.
The news was sure to rattle an already shaken nation still grappling with how to safely reopen while avoiding further spikes. The White House has access to near-unlimited resources, including a constant supply of quick-result tests, and still failed to keep the president safe, raising questions about how the rest of the country will be able to protect its workers, students and the public as businesses and schools reopen.
Trump, the vice president and other senior staff have been tested for COVID-19 daily since two people who work at the White House complex tested positive in early May, prompting the White House to step up precautions. Everyone who comes into contact with the president also receives a quick-result test.
Meanwhile, Trump’s planned visit to Wisconsin was poised at a time when the state is seeing a surge in cases.
Wisconsin set another record Thursday for daily COVID-19 cases — logging 2,887 cases, according to the Department of Health Services. DHS reported 21 more coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, down from a record 27 deaths on Wednesday but higher than any other day since May. As of Thursday, 1,348 Wisconsinites have died from the disease.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers said “it makes no sense” for the president to be holding campaign events in areas with such high rates of transmission. Evers has encouraged masks at both Democratic and Republican rallies.
“I know his rallies are held outside, or partially outside in some cases,” Evers said. “If he does come, please insist that people wear a mask and don’t allow them into your rally without a mask.”
Asked again whether he may try to take further statewide action to limit the disease’s spread in light of the large jump in cases, Evers reiterated that the decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this year to strike down his stay-at-home order has severely limited his options. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, successfully sued to eliminate the “safer at home” order in May.
“As a result of that decision by the Supreme Court, we lost most if not all of our ability to mitigate against this virus so we are spending our time making sure that our partners in communities, whether its business partners or other partners, all get the word out that we need to have compliance,” Evers said.
He added he doesn’t expect any legislative action on the matter from the GOP-led Assembly or Senate.
“I don’t anticipate the Republicans rushing in to provide some assistance. It just hasn’t happened yet,” Evers said. “God bless them, they’re doing what they think is right. I think they’re wrong.”
Vos’ spokeswoman Kit Beyer said the speaker has been in regular communications with health officials and local leaders on COVID-19 response efforts.
“Of course, Speaker Vos is concerned with the rise in COVID cases and deaths,” Beyer said. “Speaker Vos hasn’t heard directly from the governor beyond wanting people to wear a mask. The speaker agrees with the governor and the White House that everyone should follow CDC guidelines and he continues to encourage mask wearing.”
Fitzgerald did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Both Fitzgerald and Vos have pushed back on Evers’ statewide mask mandate, with both GOP leaders claiming the order exceeded the governor’s authority. Last week, conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty asked the Polk County Circuit Court to halt enforcement of both the public health emergency declaration Evers made on July 30 and extended on Sept. 22, as well as the statewide mask mandate.
The GOP-led Legislature has met only once, in April, to take up COVID-19-related legislation.
‘Crisis stage’ nears
DHS Secretary Andrea Palm noted that 45 of the state’s 72 counties met the threshold to be considered “very high activity” for COVID-19, meaning a rate of 350 or more positive cases per 100,000 people. All told, 41 counties show a growing trajectory of cases — including Rock County, where Janesville is the county seat and activity is high.
“This is what we’re facing in Wisconsin,” Palm said on a call with reporters Thursday. “It is stretching out hospital capacity and it is overwhelming our public health infrastructure. We must take action.”
The Wisconsin Hospital Association said 669 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, the first decrease in days but still much higher than a prior peak in April.
“We’re in contingency mode right now” using staff from other areas to provide intensive care, said Ann Zenk, a senior vice president at the association. “In the next two to three weeks, if we don’t see further slowing down, we could be at the crisis stage” requiring overflow capacity, she said.
Most of the strain is at hospitals in northern Wisconsin, especially the Fox Valley and the northeast, where some elective procedures have been canceled and some patients have been transferred to facilities with more open beds, she said. But hospitals in the southern part of the state are also seeing surges.
In Dane County, which on Thursday exceeded 10,000 COVID-19 cases, 37 patients were hospitalized as of Wednesday, up from 17 on Sept. 18.
Overall, about 82% of the state’s hospital beds and 81% of intensive care beds are in use, high levels going into flu season.
In an effort to address the strain on hospital capacities and mitigate staff shortages, Evers and Palm on Thursday announced a new emergency order that allows health care providers licensed in other states to practice in Wisconsin.
Palm also said she and the governor encourage local officials across the state to implement policies to help reduce the spread of the disease.
“We need local leaders to commit to taking action,” Palm said.
State Journal reporters Mitchell Schmidt, David Wahlberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.