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The debacle over Trump’s coronavirus test

President Trump told reporters at the White House on March 14 that he had taken a coronavirus test but was unclear on when he would receive the results. (Video: The Washington Post)

Update: Trump’s test was negative, according to the White House.

President Trump announced Saturday, after days of questions about whether he should get tested for the novel coronavirus, that he took a test Friday night and is awaiting results.

If the episode says anything at all about the broader handling of the crisis, that would be very disconcerting.

Questions about whether Trump should take the test began after an attendee of the Conservative Political Action Conference last month tested positive. High-ranking Republicans who interacted with the person chose to self-quarantine. Trump interacted with a number of those who self-quarantined, including Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and American Conservative Union head Matt Schlapp.

Who are the lawmakers self-quarantining over coronavirus?

Trump also hosted an event at Mar-a-Lago recently where he was pictured with a Brazilian official who we later learned had the coronavirus. Two others who were at Mar-a-Lago have also been diagnosed, including a Brazilian who sat at Trump’s table.

Trump’s potential exposure has been established for more than a week. Yet he shrugged off questions about whether he would take a test.

The situation came to a head at Friday’s news conference, where Trump downplayed the need for him to get tested but said he would “most likely” get tested anyway. He clarified that it was not because of his potential exposure.

The White House then on Friday night released a letter in which Trump’s in-house doctor, Sean Conley, explained that the president did not need to get tested because he was not showing any symptoms. Conley said Trump’s interactions qualified as “LOW risk” and said “testing for Covid-19 is not currently indicated.” Conley issued the letter even though Anthony S. Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said previously people who come into contact with those who have coronavirus should get tested and self-quarantine.

Trump now says he was tested after all — around the same time that letter was released, no less.

One big question, assuming Trump is telling the truth, is why in the world the letter was released. It did not technically say Trump wouldn’t be tested, but it did give a rationale for such a decision. If Trump was being tested anyway, why even offer such a rationale?

Perhaps the letter was meant to downplay the risk Trump actually faced, which would be in line with Trump’s rhetoric. It would hardly be the first time one of Trump’s doctors did something strange that seemed to align with Trump’s wishes. We should really be asking — yet again — whether Trump is influencing the medical decisions of his doctor, especially given the fact that Fauci has said people who fit the description of Trump’s potential exposure should get tested.

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The second major point is that the handling of this is a debacle. The administration is trying to tell people how to handle their own potential testing and how to practice precautionary measures like social distancing, and yet the president has not abided by those recommendations. He was shaking hands and touching the microphone at Friday’s event, for example, and he put off testing for days when there were legitimate fears he might have been exposed.

Put more plainly: If the White House cannot prevail upon Trump to follow all these recommendations and take such precautions, why would people who are watching all of this play out from afar take this seriously? If the administration cannot handle this, how is it handling everything else?

There is, as with many things involving Trump, the possibility that it’s all part of a show. Trump loves to troll and offer sideshows, and this is certainly something of a sideshow in the broader fight against the coronavirus. But there has also been a nonzero chance that he has been carrying the virus, and if he has been, he has been exposing the very people who are in charge of fighting it. If they got sick, it would not be good. An earlier test would have, at the very least, calmed fears about such a situation.

If this is a deliberate sideshow, that is perhaps a bigger indictment of Trump. This is a time for calming fears and making the American people believe the administration has a steady hand. Whether this is because of incompetence or because Trump likes to needle, neither reflects well upon his handling of this pandemic.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: For people under 50, second booster doses are on hold while the Biden administration works to roll out shots specifically targeting the omicron subvariants this fall. Immunizations for children under 5 became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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