A week after President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, the public is still processing the news. Though Walter Reed hospital described the president’s condition as “a mild cough” the Saturday following his diagnosis announcement, a White House official commented that same day to pool reporters that “the president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.” These conflicting statements set the scene for a week of unpredictable messaging from the president and those surrounding him.
One of the issues with the most press coverage thus far is the general mystery of President Trump’s contact with the virus. Many believe that the president contracted COVID-19 during the ceremony in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, Sept. 26 in which he announced Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. President Trump was not tested prior to the presidential debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29, as he arrived late to the event. On Thursday, Hope Hicks, one of the president’s aides, tested positive for COVID-19, and Dr. Brian Garibaldi reported that President Trump began taking “experimental antibody therapies” midday Thursday. Despite mass amounts of public speculation, there has been no official comment on the date of President Trump’s last negative COVID-19 test.
As the White House continues to decline to comment on when President Trump had his last negative test for COVID-19, uncertainty spreads through both Washington and the American public: How will President Trump’s diagnosis affect the Republican party, considering the rapid numbers of their politicians now diagnosed with the virus? Among the current confirmed cases are First Lady Melania Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). Furthermore, will the president continue on the campaign trail?
On the latter point, the president himself has been inconsistent. Following the announcement that the next presidential debate would be held virtually on Oct. 15, he told Fox Business that he would “not […] waste his time on a virtual debate.” The debate was then rescheduled to be on Oct. 22 in a town-hall style. After this, the president’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, proposed an Oct. 29 date instead, which Vice President Biden’s campaign team rejected. The debate remains on the schedule for Thursday, Oct. 22.
As of writing, the president has been officially cleared by his official physician, Dr. Sean Conley, as being well enough to make public appearances as of Saturday, Oct. 10, when President Trump plans to address hundreds of members of the public on the White House’s South Lawn. He is also scheduled for a rally in Sanford, Florida on Monday, Oct. 12. There has yet to be an official statement that claims the president has tested negative, though an Oct. 10 White House memo states that “he is no longer considered a transmission risk to others.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the current leading American expert on COVID-19, has criticized President Trump’s decision to hold rallies so soon after his hospitalization, likening these rallies to the superspreader event in late September that likely infected the president alongside many other career Republican politicians.
As far as how the Republican party will respond to the president’s diagnosis, it remains unclear. From President Trump’s focus on reassuring the public that the virus has not impacted him and his continued disapproval of masks, it seems doubtful that any major policy or position changes will occur within the president’s reelection campaign. As he enters this next crucial week out of hospitalization, however, we may see further fluctuations in his health, which may further change how his constituency views the threat of COVID-19. For now, though, it seems the White House wants to return to business as usual.