A senior Brazilian official who dined and was photographed with President Trump and Vice President Pence last weekend in Florida is infected with the coronavirus, marking the closest known contact between Trump and someone carrying the highly communicable illness that has shuttered many aspects of daily life across the globe and cratered financial markets.
Fabio Wajngarten, communications secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, posed for a photograph with Trump and Pence at a dinner for Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club in Palm Beach, on Saturday.
Prominent members of the Trump administration and Trump family members also attended either the dinner or a party the same night in honor of former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating Donald Trump Jr.
Trump’s contact with Wajngarten is the latest example of a potential coronavirus close call for the president, who says he is following at least some of his administration’s advice about preventing the spread of the disease but also continues to play down the threat of a potentially deadly illness.
“Let’s put it this way: I’m not concerned,” Trump said Thursday as news broke that Wajngarten had fallen ill and tested positive for the virus after returning to Brazil.
Bolsonaro underwent testing and is awaiting results. Trump is not being tested and brushed off the risk Thursday.
“Yeah, I did hear something about that. We had dinner together in Florida in — at Mar-a-Lago, with the entire delegation,” Trump said. “I don’t know if the press aide was there. If he was there, he was there.”
“But we did nothing very unusual. We sat next to each other for a period of time, had a great conversation. He’s doing a terrific job in Brazil,” Trump said, referring to Bolsonaro. “And we’ll find out what happens. I guess they’re being tested right now, right?”
Trump did not seem to remember Wajngarten well, but a photo the aide posted on social media shows him standing shoulder to shoulder with Trump, with Pence on the president’s other side.
The interaction follows several instances in which Trump has spent time with members of Congress and others who had been in contact with an attendee at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February who tested positive for the coronavirus after the conference ended. But word of the infection did not come until after Reps. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) had spent time with Trump.
Both congressmen opted to self-quarantine until it was clear they were not infected. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) announced Thursday that he is doing the same “as a precautionary measure” after attending the Mar-a-Lago dinner. Like many Americans, Graham will be working from home.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), another dinner guest, announced a self-quarantine Thursday because of attendance at Mar-a-Lago, as did the mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade County.
No such announcements of quarantines or testing came on behalf of anyone at the White House — though Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell, national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien and others close to the president were at Mar-a-Lago that night. Some apparently met the Brazilian staffers, others did not.
Donors who saw Trump in small settings this past weekend in Florida were asked when they last left the country and whether they’d had any flu-like symptoms but were not asked to undergo any additional screening, said people familiar with the arrangements who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue. Trump attended at least four fundraisers over the weekend, some with dozens of attendees.
On Saturday, Trump interacted with a much larger group of people, including many who had not been asked screening questions. After dinner with the visiting Brazilian delegation, Trump went into the ballroom at Mar-a-Lago and stood amid the crowd and gave a toast to Guilfoyle.
He was seen shaking dozens of hands throughout the packed club, attendees said.
One person who was present said there is no way to know whether fellow guests were sick.
“You don’t get a health screening at Mar-a-Lago obviously,” this person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private events at the club.
White House officials have sought to limit foreign leader contact at the White House going forward, according to a senior administration official.
Sitting alongside visiting Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar at the White House on Thursday, Trump acknowledged that he has adjusted his routine a bit.
“Well, we didn’t shake hands today. And we looked at each other. We said, ‘What are we going to do?’ You know, it’s sort of a weird feeling,” Trump said to laughter.
Varadkar said that the two leaders had opted for clasping their own hands together in front of their chests. He demonstrated, with a small tilt of the head.
Trump noted that in other cultures, in places such as India and Japan, people do not routinely shake hands, virus or no virus, and he seemed to approve.
“They were ahead of the curve, okay?” Trump said.
“It’s a very strange feeling,” he said. “You know, I was never a big hand-shaker, as you probably heard. But once you become a politician, shaking hands is very normal.”
Trump has described himself as a germophobe, but since entering politics he has made peace with the rope line and the rally. Trump’s rallies often place thousands of people in close quarters for hours, something the president acknowledged Thursday he is reconsidering because of the virus risk.
But his motivation to continue with public events and to resist getting tested may be rooted in his aversion to any sign of weakness. People close to Trump described him as uninterested in being tested. He has told at least two advisers that if he gets sick, he will get tested.
A former aide said Trump never wanted to be viewed as sick, because he saw it as being weak. So even when Trump would come down with a cough or lose his voice, he would try to keep a strong public face — or staffers would come up with other reasons to move events. The former aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe Trump’s behavior.
Sounding somewhat dejected Thursday, Trump said he is unlikely to hold big rallies for a while. He has canceled events this weekend in Nevada and Colorado and said a previously unannounced event in Tampa is unlikely to go forward.
The Secret Service has not advised Trump to stay close to home, he said.
“They have not, but it’s common sense,” Trump said. “You know, a lot of it is — and what I say is: Use common sense, like washing your hands and, you know, certain things. Keep a little bit of distance away.”
But still, no test, according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
“Exposures from the case are being assessed, which will dictate next steps,” she said in a statement Thursday. “Both the President and Vice President had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time.”
She added that under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “there is currently no indication to test patients without symptoms, and only people with prolonged close exposure to confirmed positive cases should self-quarantine.”
Meanwhile, test results for Bolsonaro, who sat next to Trump at dinner, were expected Friday.
“The medical service of the presidency of the Republic has adopted and is adopting all of the necessary preventive measures to preserve the health of the President of the Republic and the entire presidential committee that accompanied him in the recent official trip to the United States,” the presidential press office said in a statement.
McCoy reported from Rio de Janeiro. Heloisa Traiano in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.