For months, the president recklessly disregarded mask-wearing, and aides and supporters followed his lead.
After six months of refusing to follow his own government’s public health advice to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic, and just two days after mocking his opponent Joe Biden for routinely doing so, President Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, contracting the illness spread by respiratory droplets.
On Friday afternoon, the White House physician disclosed that Trump had a fever and a cough and had been given an experimental Covid-19 treatment, a cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies that has not yet been approved by the F.D.A. A short time later, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said that the president would be “working from” Walter Reed Military Medical Center “for the next few days.”
Fox News, the president’s de facto campaign arm, had snapped into action by illustrating initial reports on the breaking news with one of the rare images of Trump wearing a mask — taken during a carefully staged photo-op at Walter Reed hospital in July.
Fox News illustrates breaking news that Trump has tested positive for Covid with rare image of him briefly wearing a mask - moving quickly to airbrush from the minds of viewers his reckless refusal to do so routinely and his constant mockery of Biden for being more responsible. pic.twitter.com/2JdRpgBo4e— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 2, 2020
While Trump’s aides had urged him to wear a mask in public that day to set an example for his followers, he was careful to undermine the guidance from health experts first, by suggesting that masks were appropriate only at times, like, “when you’re in a hospital.”
When he emerged from the White House on Friday for a more urgent trip to the hospital for treatment, the president was wearing the same cloth mask he had worn briefly that day in July, and waved dismissively as a debate prop on Tuesday. Given that he now has the virus, it seemed irresponsible of him not to wear an N95 mask instead, which would do more to protect those around him from getting the virus.
Before he left the White House for the hospital, the president recorded a video message thanking well-wishers, while not wearing a mask of any kind.
Before and after that July photo-op, the president has been a central figure in the politicization of mask-wearing — sowing resistance among his supporters by flouting the guidance himself and repeatedly making fun of others who follow it, particularly Biden, the Democratic nominee to replace him as president.
After Biden wore a mask to a Memorial Day service, Trump shared a childish tweet from the Fox News commentator Brit Hume suggesting that the former vice president looked silly.
At a rally in Pennsylvania last month, Trump treated Biden’s mask-wearing as a weakness to be ridiculed. “Did you ever see a man who likes a mask as much as him?” the president asked in his insult-comic mode.
He went on to suggest that his rival covered his face not to protect others or himself from the pandemic viral illness but “because, you know what, it gives him a feeling of security. If I were a psychiatrist, I’d say: ‘This guy’s got some big issues.'”
During the presidential debate on Tuesday, Trump again insinuated that there was something odd about the former vice president wearing a mask, a measure recommended by his coronavirus task force in April.
“I don’t wear a mask like him,” Trump said, gesturing toward Biden. “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.”
Biden responded by noting that the director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Robert Redfield, just told Congress that nationwide mask-wearing could bring the pandemic under control in 6-12 weeks, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives. When Trump interrupted with the false claim that health experts have “also said the opposite,” about the effectiveness of masks, Biden replied dismissively, “No serious person’s said the opposite.”
Moments later, Trump also made fun of Biden for observing social distancing at small-scale campaign events during the pandemic, and denied that the crowded rallies he has held recently to make himself feel loved have threatened public health. “So far we have had no problem whatsoever,” the president claimed, relying on voters to have forgotten, or never heard, that his supporter Herman Cain tested positive for Covid-19 nine days after sitting unmasked at Trump’s indoor rally in Tulsa in June, and died weeks later.
Biden then pointed out that Trump had said recently that his rallies were safe, for him, because he maintained social distance from his supporters. “He’s not worried about the people out there, breathing on one another, cheek by jowl,” Biden said. “We’ve had no negative effect,” Trump interjected. “No negative effect?” Biden replied. “Come on.”
Trump’s wife, Melania, and one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, also tested positive for the viral disease on Thursday. Both women have, at times, worn masks in public, but have also regularly been seen unmasked, including this week.
The first lady, like other members of Trump’s family, wore a mask as she took her seat in the debate hall at the Cleveland Clinic on Tuesday, but later removed it.
Naomi Biden, one of the candidate’s granddaughters, tweeted about that disregard for the rules from the other side of the debate hall.
Why is the Trump family allowed to not wear masks in the debate hall while everyone else follows the rules?— Naomi Biden (@NaomiBiden) September 30, 2020
At the conclusion of the debate, when she crossed the stage in front of Biden to join her husband, Melania Trump was unmasked. By contrast, Jill Biden, the former vice president’s wife, wore a mask throughout the indoor event, and continued to do so as she stood with her husband on stage after it concluded.
Although masks were supposed to be required for everyone in the debate audience, Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who was in the hall reported on Twitter that the entire Trump entourage “came in with masks, took them off as soon as they sat down, refused to put them on when asked by Cleveland Clinic personnel.”
After news of Trump’s positive test was reported on Thursday, Ornstein observed that the debate had taken place with “Trump shouting only 8-10 feet from Biden for 90 mins. Oy.”
On Friday morning, the Bidens were both tested but showed no sign of infection. “I’m happy to report that Jill and I have tested negative for COVID,” the former vice president wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands.”
Chris Wallace, the debate moderator, confirmed on Fox News on Friday that Trump, his aides and his family had also flouted the rules by not wearing masks in their pre-debate run through on stage. “There seems to have been a disregard for the risks of the virus,” Wallace said.
Chris Wallace on Fox News suggests that at least some campaign officials at Tuesday’s debate were not tested on site:— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) October 2, 2020
“[Some] didn’t arrive until Tuesday afternoon … there wouldn’t have been enough time to have the test and have the debate … there was an honor system" pic.twitter.com/EtLQPUGPcX
The Fox News anchor also explained that while he was tested by the Cleveland Clinic in advance of the debate, the president and his aides were allowed to screen themselves for the virus. “There was an honor system,” Wallace said on testing for the virus, “when it came to the people that came into the hall from the two campaigns.”
Incredibly, after Hicks was diagnosed on Thursday, Trump still went to a fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “Trump was in close contact with dozens of other people, including campaign supporters, at a roundtable event,” The Washington Post reports. “The president did not wear a mask Thursday, including at the events at his golf course and on the plane, officials said. He was tested after he returned to the White House.”
The president’s disdain for mask-wearing has been one of the few constants in his response to the pandemic that has now killed nearly 208,000 Americans. In early April, when Trump himself announced that his coronavirus task force recommended mask-wearing to slow the spread of the virus, he immediately made it clear that he had no intention of doing so. Asked why, Trump said that he was concerned about how he would look, and suggested that the pandemic would soon be over anyway. “This will pass, and hopefully it will pass very quickly,” he told reporters.
Trump’s apparent worry was that the public might be alarmed, or perhaps tipped off to the true scale of the crisis he was intentionally downplaying, by seeing him in a mask. His concern clearly influenced the behavior of his aides and senior administration officials. In April, Vice President Mike Pence refused to wear a mask during a visit to the Mayo Clinic, where it was mandatory.
Also in April, the White House reportedly stepped in to block plans by the United States Postal Service to deliver five face covering to every American household, 650 million masks in total.
A month later, when food industry executives in Iowa arrived for a roundtable discussion with Pence, a White House aide was spotted on camera asking them to remove the masks they were wearing before the vice president entered the room.
Earlier on Friday, Notre Dame revealed that the university’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, had also tested positive. Days earlier, Jenkins had apologized for not wearing a mask and shaking hands with several people at the White House ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett last weekend. Footage of the event appeared to show Jenkins shaking hands with Attorney General Bill Barr.
“When I arrived at the White House, a medical professional took me to an exam room to obtain a nasal swab for a rapid COVID-19 test,” Jenkins wrote in an email to Notre Dame’s faculty, staff and students on Monday. “I was then directed to a room with others, all fully masked, until we were notified that we had all tested negative and were told that it was safe to remove our masks. We were then escorted to the Rose Garden, where I was seated with others who also had just been tested and received negative results.”
Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, also tested positive for Covid-19, as did Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah who just met with Barrett on Tuesday, an encounter during which neither of them wore a mask.
I was remarkably impressed by Judge Barrett. My meeting with her was fantastic. She is a judge, a legal scholar, and a lawyer with outstanding credentials. We had a great conversation and I am very much looking forward to speaking with her more during her confirmation hearing. pic.twitter.com/rfGt717PlW— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) September 29, 2020
Lee was also seen shaking hands and hugging people at the Rose Garden ceremony for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee last Saturday.
The idea of hugging anyone who is not my wife right now is unthinkable. These people, either by virtue of taxpayer-funded daily testing or sheer ignorance, are afforded things those of us with families or loved ones who would die if infected have been denied for months. pic.twitter.com/2pCSBwtFZ0— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 26, 2020
On Friday evening, Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican revealed that he too had tested positive for Covid-19. Tillis, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, met with Barrett on Wednesday — indoors, unmasked — and also attended the White House event for her last Saturday.
I had a great meeting with Judge Amy Coney Barrett, which reaffirmed what a supremely qualified nominee she is and I look forward to getting her confirmed. Judge Barrett made it clear that her duty is to uphold the Constitution and interpret the law as written. #ACB #ConfirmACB pic.twitter.com/wRzbnw33m4— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) September 30, 2020
Last Updated: Friday, Oct. 2, 2:55 p.m. PDT
This article was updated to report that President Donald Trump is being treated with an experimental drug cocktail and moved to the hospital, that former Vice President Joe Biden tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday, and that recent White House visitors Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Thom Tillis, Ronna McDaniel and Rev. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, all tested positive.