In one televised event, Trump seemed to defy two basic practices that the rest of his government has been urging Americans to follow to prevent the spread of the virus. People who were exposed to an infected person are urged to quarantine themselves and seek testing. And everyone — exposed or not — should stop shaking hands.
But at a Friday news conference on efforts to combat the coronavirus, Trump continued to shake hands with other speakers, many of whom are members of the White House Task Force charged with trying to stem the disease. Trump and many of the speakers took part in backslapping and adjusting the shared microphone.
Trump also said he will not self-quarantine, as members of Congress and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have chosen to do after known exposures.
“No. We have no symptoms whatsoever,” Trump said.
In his case, Trump suggested the risk of exposure from a Brazilian official was low, even though the two had posed for a photo together. Trump said he had posed for so many photos, and shaken so many hands, that he did not remember the man.
“I take pictures and it lasts for literally seconds. I don’t know the gentleman that we’re talking about. I have no idea who he is,” Trump said. “I take sometimes hundreds of pictures a day and that night, I was taking hundreds of pictures. So, I just don’t know.”
Late Friday, the White House issued a memo from Trump’s White House physician, Navy Cmdr. Sean P. Conley, that said the president does not need to be either tested or quarantined.
Conley’s memo acknowledged the second positive test among people included in a dinner Trump attended at his Florida resort last weekend.
“The president’s exposure to the first individual was extremely limited (photograph, handshake), and though he spent more time in closer proximity to the second case, all interactions occurred before any symptom onset,” the memo read.
Numerous other U.S. government officials have repeatedly warned Americans that the virus can be transmitted before patients have symptoms. Even limited contact, such as standing next to an infected person as Trump and Vice President Pence did in Florida, can lead to infection.
“These interactions would be categorized as LOW risk for transmission per CDC guidelines, and as such, there is no indication for home quarantine at this time,” Conley’s memo said.
The memo went on to say that since Trump “remains without symptoms, testing for COVID-19 is not currently indicated.”
It was not clear early Saturday whether than meant that Trump had decided not to be tested after all.
Trump’s words and behavior seemed to signal that he still may be underestimating the diseases’s threat to the country — and even to his own health. As thousands of schools close, sports leagues suspend games, and American cities retreat into an eerie emptiness in the name of limiting the disease’s spread, the president’s actions seemed out of step.
Public health and medical experts have urged people to stop shaking hands, touching their faces, limit large gatherings and self-isolate if they have come into contact with a confirmed case of the coronavirus because the disease spreads easily. Trump has continued to shake hands even though he has come into close contact with a number of people and, at 73, is in a high-risk age group.
On Friday, the Brazilian Embassy in Washington said that its ambassador, Nestor Forster — who sat at Trump’s table during a dinner Saturday night at Mar-a-Lago — had tested positive for the coronavirus. Forster is the second Brazilian official who visited Mar-a-Lago that night and then was diagnosed with the fast-spreading virus: Fabio Wajngarten, the communications secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive on Wednesday. Wajngarten had posed for a photo with Trump; Forster, the newly diagnosed ambassador, seems to have been in even more prolonged close contact with the president.
On Friday, Republican officials also said a guest of a donor who attended a Sunday luncheon at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club had later tested positive for the virus.
“As you may have had contact with this individual, please contact your medical provider if you or any of your loved ones is ill” or shows symptoms like fever or shortness of breath, donors were told, according to a copy of the warning obtained by The Washington Post.
At the time, Trump did not seem to believe the coronavirus could pose much of a risk to his personal health. According to an account of the Sunday lunch, shared with The Post by one attendee, Trump even joked about getting the virus — referring to a donor in the room who Trump said had shaken hands with him twice. The man was a doctor, Trump said, and his hands were oddly clammy. Trump said that, after they shook, sweat from the man’s hand was left behind on his own.
“If you hear any bad things about the health of our president, there’s the guy,” Trump said, according to the account. “The president’s not looking good? Get that doctor. Find out who the hell that guy was.”
The audience laughed. Republican officials say the attendee who tested positive was in the audience but did not have personal contact with Trump at the lunch, which was attended by about 1,000 people.
The White House declined to comment on Trump’s remarks at the gathering.
The same weekend, Trump met with the visiting Brazilian delegation — posing for a photo with Bolsonaro’s communications secretary, Fabio Wajngarten, who later tested positive for the virus.
On Friday, Bolsonaro said he had tested negative for the virus. But another person who met with the visiting Brazilian delegation — Miami Mayor Francis Suarez — also later tested positive, according to a spokesperson for Suarez.
At Mar-a-Lago itself, one of the biggest events of the winter social season — a 700-person lunch titled “Wine, Women and Shoes” — was postponed on Friday, a day before it was supposed to occur.
The brunch’s sponsor, an animal shelter called Big Dog Ranch Rescue, said they were heeding a warning from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to avoid large gatherings.
“The well-being of our incredible supporters, vendors and staff is paramount,” the shelter’s founder, Lauree Simmons, said in a statement. She also cited reports of two people testing positive in surrounding Palm Beach County.
But Mar-a-Lago itself remained open to members. The Trump Organization — which operates hotels, golf clubs and resorts in 11 states — does not appear to have closed any of its properties.
“The safety of our members and guests are of our utmost importance,” the Trump Organization wrote in a statement. “We are monitoring all of our businesses closely and are following the guidelines provided by the CDC.”
Some of the Trump Organization’s customers, however, have begun to cancel upcoming events. A group of Texas bankers had canceled a reception planned for Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., and a conference for the auto-repair industry had been postponed at Trump’s Doral resort outside Miami.
At Mar-a-Lago, the club had already lost at least one other event — a private party scheduled for Wednesday — according to an email sent to club members.
But the club told members it was making only minor changes. In a message to members on Thursday, which was obtained by The Post, the club said its seafood buffet had been canceled — replaced with an Italian dinner served “a la carte.”
“Instead of having the buffets, they’ll be plating all dinners,” said Mar-a-Lago member Suzi Goldsmith — a founder of a group of Trump superfans called the Trumpettes USA. “That’s the only change. On Tuesdays we have a prime rib buffet, and on Wednesdays it’s the seafood buffet. But rather than doing the buffets, it will be regular plated dinners.”
Goldsmith said the club had not notified members about the Brazilian visitor’s positive test.
Still, Goldsmith said she felt well-protected and was planning to eat dinner at the club on both Saturday and Sunday.
“They certainly wouldn’t want anything to happen to any of the members or the employees,” Goldsmith said. She is also a patron of Trump International Golf Club in nearby West Palm Beach.
“I’m almost thinking that Trump International and Mar-a-Lago are the safest places to eat right now,” Goldsmith said.
But on Friday, several other people associated with the club said they felt left in the dark about the Brazilian official’s test — wondering if they should be tested themselves, with no guidance from the club.
“Until now, the atmosphere over there has been business as usual, in the same kind of ultra-optimistic front that [Trump’s] been putting out on every level,” said one person familiar with the club, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid alienating Trump’s company officials. “That’s the prevailing atmosphere there. Nobody’s going to ring any bells until he allows that.”
Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb in Washington and Lori Rozsa in Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.