There was good reason to wonder. Over the past several days, we’ve learned that an attendee at the Conservative Political Action Conference held near D.C. at the end of February tested positive for the virus and is being treated in a hospital in New Jersey. The conference is a popular destination for Republican elected officials — including the president and the vice president, who spoke on Feb. 29 and Feb. 27, respectively.
The attendee who later tested positive had purchased exclusive access to events, allowing him to interact with high-profile guests. While that apparently didn’t include Trump or Pence, he did engage with Matt Schlapp, the head of the organization that runs the event, and a number of House and Senate Republicans.
Four of those lawmakers are now in self-quarantine: Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Reps. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Mark Meadows (N.C.). Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.) decided against self-quarantining after speaking with health officials. On Monday evening, he led a group of about 100 students on a tour of the Capitol.
On Friday, the White House announced Meadows would fill the chief of staff position occupied on a temporary basis by Mick Mulvaney for more than a year. Meadows isn’t known to have directly interacted with Trump since being named to that new role, but three of those now in quarantine did.
Trump greeted Schlapp onstage the day of his speech at the conference. Collins greeted Trump in Georgia when the president arrived Friday to tour the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters. Gaetz joined Trump in Florida over the weekend, sharing a car with the president and then flying with him on Air Force One back to Washington on Monday.
The self-quarantines are solely a precautionary measure. None of those who interacted with the conference attendee have exhibited signs of the virus, although the window in which symptoms might appear extends to two weeks.
Late Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a statement indicating Trump had not been tested for the virus or the disease it causes, covid-19.
“The President has not received COVID-19 testing because he has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms,” the statement read. “President Trump remains in excellent health, and his physician will continue to closely monitor him.”
“Per current CDC guidelines,” it continued, “medical professionals should base testing decisions on patient symptoms and exposure history.”
It’s fair to note that Trump hasn’t shown symptoms of the illness and that he hasn’t had prolonged close contact with confirmed patients. (He did have prolonged contact with Gaetz, it seems, but Gaetz probably wasn’t infected.) It’s also the case that tests can return a false negative, which “does not exclude the possibility of COVID-19,” as an FDA advisory suggests.
What’s strange, though, is that the White House hasn’t proactively had Trump tested anyway. The CDC guidelines for testing have been criticized broadly as being too restrictive, limiting the number of tests that were performed and, therefore, the number of people who have been confirmed to have been infected. Given Trump’s demonstrated interest in limiting the number of proved cases and calming investors, it’s worth wondering whether avoiding a test is focused more on playing down the threat than ensuring Trump’s health.
That should be a concern. On Monday, Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, held a briefing in which she identified the specific risks to older Americans posed by the coronavirus. Messonnier focused on age 60 as an apparent pivot point in the risks posed by the illness, recommending Americans above that age be prepared with food and medicine in the event of infection. Trump is significantly older than that at 73, the second-oldest president in history.
At the news briefing that spurred the questions about Trump having been tested, the surgeon general stated the average age of death for those who had contracted covid-19 was 80.
Most of the deaths from the disease in the United States occurred at a nursing home near Seattle. Tim Killian, the public information liaison for the facility, told reporters the rate at which patients were overcome by the illness was alarming.
“We have seen some results that have frankly concerned us with how quickly symptoms have shown, become acute and led to, even, death in some cases within our residents,” Killian said.
Again, there’s no indication that Trump has been exposed to the virus, just that he has been in contact with people who were in contact with someone who later tested positive for the illness. But Trump, like many others in government, is also in a high-risk group for the disease.
He seems unfazed by it, which is probably the point. After landing near Orlando on Monday for a fundraiser, Trump worked the rope line, greeting supporters and shaking hands. Experts recommend against this, but Trump has never been one to pay great heed to experts.
Update: On Tuesday afternoon, Trump was asked about being tested.
Asked about getting tested, Trump said a few minutes ago that he's willing but his doctor doesn't see a reason. He said, “I don’t think it’s a big deal. I would do it, I don’t feel any reason -- I feel extremely good."— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) March 10, 2020