Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
The shocking news comes just hours after the White House confirmed presidential aide Hope Hicks, who has traveled extensively with the first couple this week, had tested positive and was experiencing symptoms.
The President's diagnosis raises serious concerns for his own safety, as well as that of his family and close advisors and anyone with whom he's had close contact recently. The news also casts great uncertainty over the presidential election just a month before Election Day. And it highlights the severity of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the United States harder than nearly every other country.
Just days before the diagnosis, the President mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing masks.
“I don’t wear a mask like him,” Trump said during Tuesday's debate. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
But before getting into the nitty gritty of the implications of the announcement, it'd be remiss to not capture how Twitter users responded.
We are just the messengers:
Looks like RBG successfully argued her first case before God
— KimRL (@iamKimRL) October 2, 2020
President Trump had announced that he and Melania Trump have entered into quarantine. It is unclear whether or not the first couple are experiencing symptoms from COVID-19 or how severe their cases will end up being. As of Friday, they have said they are feeling fine. But the president is 74 years old, putting him in one of the highest risk groups for severe COVID-19 illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even before the COVID-19 diagnosis, the President's health has often been a source of concern. Unlike past presidents and presidential candidates, Trump has refused to publicly release his full health records as Vox reports. Last November, Trump paid an unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for reasons that have never been explained, leading to speculation that he had experienced some type of health crisis.
Reactions to the news have been pouring in from around the country and the world. Well-wishes have been expressed by world leaders close to President Trump, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who survived his own bout with COVID-19 earlier this year), Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Meanwhile, stock markets in the U.S. and internationally dived at the news of President Trump's diagnosis. And the news is an amazing "October Surprise" (an unexpected event that happens close to Election Day and changes the political landscape), that is likely to alter the presidential race.
President Trump's quarantine will prevent him from carrying out the large public rallies that have become his signature. Should his health decline severely, Vice President Mike Pence could assume responsibilities as the acting president through a procedure outlined in the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution. The COVID-19 diagnosis could even call into question whether he should remain on the ballot. According to the Sun, Republican National Committee rules allow the party to replace Trump as its presidential nominee. However, with absentee voting well underway and about 1 million votes already cast, the logistics and legality of changing the Republican ticket at this late stage could create a political and legal crisis unprecedented in American history.
Trump's positive COVID-19 results also raise fears that his opponent, 77-year-old Biden, could have also contracted the virus from sharing a stage with Trump during Tuesday night's wild presidential debate. As of early Friday morning, NBC News reports that there was no word from the Biden camp concerning his own health or if he or his wife Jill planned to self-quarantine or curtail campaign activities.
The president's diagnosis also highlights the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the United States especially hard. Despite having about 4% of the world's population the U.S. has had about a quarter of the world's confirmed coronavirus cases according to The Atlantic. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 recently topped 200,000, with scientific models predicting that as many as twice that number could be dead in the U.S. by the end of the year. The disease has been especially severe for Black Americans, who have been more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections and deaths and COVID-related unemployment due to racial inequality, points highlighted by Biden during Tuesday's debate.
Trump has been heavily criticized for his policies concerning COVID-19. His administration has been accused of slow and inconsistent policies concerning mask wearing, social distancing, shutdowns and other measures that experts agree can slow the spread of the coronavirus. He has also been accused of lying about the severity of the disease and his administration's actions to combat it.
The president and his close aides, including Hicks, have generally avoided wearing masks. Hicks was seen without a mask as she accompanied the president to a number of events this week, including Tuesday's debate. Trump has also continued to host large campaign rallies where attendees rarely wear masks or practice social distancing. As Blavity previously reported, former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was also anti-mask, died of COVID-19 shortly after attending one such Trump rally, though it is uncertain whether he contracted the virus at the event.
The president has often publicly disagreed with his own experts and officials over how to handle the pandemic. He has peddled unproven or even dangerous remedies for the disease. As recently as Tuesday night's debate, the president has made statements casting doubt on whether masks are effective at preventing coronavirus transmission, despite scientific consensus that they are effective when used consistently.
The coming days and weeks will clarify how the President's diagnosis will impact his own health, his family and close aides, and the presidential race. But the President of the United States contracting a potentially lethal disease one month before the nation votes on his reelection is an unprecedented crisis for the country.