The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Donald Trump: Superspreader in chief

President Donald Trump at the presidential debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump willfully deceived the American people about the pandemic, the gravest public health catastrophe in a century. He knew the coronavirus was highly transmissible early on, but concealed it. He wrongly claimed that rising case numbers resulted from more diagnostic testing. He made a false assertion that doctors were inflating the death toll from covid-19 to “get more money.” There were so many other deceptions.

Now we learn he was hiding one more big and dangerous secret. Three days before a presidential debate, Mr. Trump knew but did not say he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Instead, he carried on his campaign and presidential schedule, endangering all those with whom he came in contact.

The disclosure is in a new book by Mr. Trump’s then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows. According to the Guardian newspaper’s summary of the book and multiple former Trump aides, as reported by The Post, Mr. Trump tested positive just before departing for a campaign event in Pennsylvania on Sept. 26, six days before he was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for covid-19. The White House decided to retest Mr. Trump’s sample using Abbott’s rapid antigen test, Binax, which produced a negative result. A spokesman for Mr. Meadows said the first test was a false positive, but what kind of test was carried out initially has not been disclosed. Mr. Trump called Mr. Meadows’s claim “Fake News.”

Mr. Meadows wrote that he “instructed everyone” in Mr. Trump’s immediate circle “to treat him as if he were positive.” If Mr. Trump even thought it possible he might be positive — and he should have — he had a clear obligation to tell those around him, not to mention the American people who have an interest in his health as chief executive. But Mr. Meadows wrote that after the second test Mr. Trump thought he had “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened.” At least six people who had close interactions with him starting Sept. 26 later tested positive, including first lady Melania Trump.

It is not known exactly when the first test was done, but on Sept. 26, Mr. Trump hosted a Rose Garden ceremony for his nominee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, including a largely maskless indoor reception. On Sept. 27, Mr. Trump attended a White House event with Gold Star families, later noting they often wanted to embrace him, and suggesting that one of them may have infected him. On Sept. 29, Mr. Trump faced off against Democratic nominee Joe Biden in a debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic, which had relied on a honor system that both candidates and their teams had tested negative. Mr. Trump appears to have abused their trust, and potentially endangered Mr. Biden, moderator Chris Wallace and others. Mr. Trump announced that he had tested positive on Twitter at 1 a.m. on Oct. 2 and was hospitalized later that day.

When recovering from covid, Mr. Trump reportedly said he wanted to emerge from the hospital wearing a Superman T-shirt. Perfect: a big “S” for superspreader.