Keep it quiet, the president said
As Donald Trump became aware of a coronavirus outbreak inside his inner circle late last week, he implored one of those afflicted, "Don't tell anyone," according to The Wall Street Journal. The lid stayed on, keeping those in danger unaware, until Bloomberg News on Thursday night broke the news that the president's close aide Hope Hicks was infected. By then, Trump — who tested positive in a rapid test earlier Thursday evening — was awaiting results from a second, more reliable test. It came back positive.
There is shock now, but less surprise. The recklessness of the behavior Trump has long fostered was as evident as ever in the previous week. Masks were rare as 150 people crowded together at an outdoor announcement and indoor reception at the White House on Sept. 26 for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. The Trump family defiantly refused to keep masks on at last Tuesday's debate with Joe Biden. Trump campaigned in Minnesota on Wednesday and traveled to a fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday, the day after Hicks fell ill.
New Jersey health officials are scrambling to contact at least 206 people who attended the afternoon fundraiser. Those in the Barrett audience who have since tested positive include Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina; the president's former counselor Kellyanne Conway; former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who also worked with Trump on debate prep; and the Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame. The debate entourage included campaign manager Bill Stepien, who was kept in the dark about Hicks and tested positive on Friday.
Others infected include first lady Melania Trump; the president's "body man," Nick Luna, who is married to an aide to the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner; and three White House journalists. There could be more: It wasn't until late Thursday that Trump began self-quarantine; the incubation period for the disease is typically five days.
It hasn't been just Biden who Trump ridiculed for the fundamental precaution of mask-wearing. The New York Times reports that almost no one wore them in the West Wing, and Trump at times told staff in meetings to "get that thing off," suggesting it was a sign of weakness. At a news conference in May, the president mocked Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason for refusing to remove his mask while asking a question, accusing him of wanting "to be politically correct."
Kevin Hassett, a top Trump economic adviser until July, was an exception to the mask-hostile culture. After he said in a May TV interview that he found it "scary to go to work" and that "I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing," Hassett recalled to CNN on Friday, "I got a little bit of a flak."
Among those left to wonder since Trump's diagnosis whether they too could have been infected are those whose job it is to protect the president. "He’s never cared about us," a Secret Service agent told a confidant, according to The Washington Post.
Superspreader in the back seat?
Trump decided late Sunday afternoon to step out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a brief ride in an armored SUV to wave at supporters gathered outside the hospital. Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician from Walter Reed, depicted the stunt as madness.
"That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play," tweeted Phillips, also chief of disaster and operational medicine at George Washington University Hospital.
"Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential 'drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity," he continued. An agent sitting up front wore a full medical gown, respirator mask and a face shield, but casualties among front-line medical personnel during the pandemic show that no equipment offers perfect protection in a high-risk setting.
The Trump fans on Rockville Pike appreciated the president's gesture. Said one onlooker: "God bless our president. I will die for him. I will die for that man happily."
The ride came minutes after Trump tweeted a video saying that through his illness, "I learned a lot about Covid" and "I get it."
The doc prescribes fake news
On Saturday, Trump's doctors evaded crucial questions about the seriousness of Trump's coronavirus condition — refusing to answer, for example, whether he had been given oxygen. It's since been revealed that there were alarming drops in his oxygen levels at least twice, on Friday and Saturday, and he did receive oxygen.
On Sunday, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley admitted sanitizing what was told to the public, saying it was to make the patient feel better and "not necessarily" to mislead the nation about the president's condition. Conley said he was trying to project an "upbeat attitude" and "didn't want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction, and in doing so it came off that we're trying to hide something."
A White House spokeswoman, Alyssa Farah, said, "when you're treating a patient, you want to project confidence, you want to lift their spirits and that was the intent." Of course, Trump already knew that he had received oxygen treatment. Conley refused to give a number for how low Trump's oxygen saturation went, or discuss whether they have detected any lung damage.
Shortly after Conley spoke Saturday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gave reporters a more sober reading, initially on an unnamed-source basis. "The president's vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning, and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We're still not on a clear path to a full recovery," Meadows said. When Trump learned of the remarks, he was furious, demanding to know who said it, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Another member of the medical team, Dr. Brian Garibaldi, said Sunday that Trump is doing well enough that he might be sent back to the White House on Monday — even as it was disclosed the president had been given a steroid drug, dexamethasone, that’s recommended only in severe cases of the virus. A potential side effect is that the drug could tamp down important immune cells and hamper the ability of the patient’s body to fight the virus. It also can cause aggression, anxiety, irritability, mental depression, mood changes and trouble thinking, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Trump also has gotten an experimental antibody therapy cocktail made by the biotechnology company Regeneron and a five-day course of the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown promise for shortening recovery time.
Janison: Damage assessment
As much attention as Trump's health merits, his absence from his elected post could end up having little impact on the everyday life of Americans, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
As long as appointees can get his signoff on certain matters, little may be lost in the short term at the Oval Office, where Trump's work habits have long been in question anyway. It's also hard to tell how much Trump's curbed travel will hurt a campaign that has been reeling for some time. More rallies might not have solved his polling problems.
The die is cast regarding COVID-19 for what remains of Trump's term. People will accept public restrictions, or else they won't. Citizens will get the needed tests and equipment, or they won't. Private companies will keep working on a vaccine, under scientific supervision, as they would have anyway.
As for finding an appropriate level of sensitivity, it's probably best not to model after the example Trump set four years ago, when the candidate mocked then-rival Hillary Clinton's stagger after she fell ill with pneumonia following a 9/11 ceremony. The video from that performance has gotten renewed attention in the past few days.
Trump campaign flailing, ailing
The candidate, Trump, is in the hospital and key players including Stepien and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. (McDaniel was tested after a relative got it, the RNC said.) But the campaign vowed Sunday to carry on an "aggressive" schedule in the final month using surrogates such as Vice President Mike Pence (still negative) and Trump's adult children (ditto), reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Trump himself is "anxious to get back out there," campaign adviser Jason Miller told ABC’s "This Week." Some things haven't changed: Miller continued to ridicule Biden's more rigorous mask usage, taunting that the Democrat uses the protective coverings as "a prop."
Time is fast dwindling for the Trump team's hopes for a turnaround. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal found Biden's lead swelled to 14 points, from 8 points, with registered voters nationwide after last Tuesday's debate donnybrook. It's his biggest lead ever by that survey. The biggest declines for Trump in the poll came from seniors (now backing Biden, 62% to Trump's 35%) and suburban women (58% to 33%). Men 50 years and older moved from a 13-point advantage for Trump to a 1-point edge for Biden.
The poll was completed before Trump's coronavirus diagnosis. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken Friday and Saturday measured voter sentiment since that news broke. Biden's 10-point lead among likely voters — 51% to 41% — was his widest in that nationwide survey in a month. A 65% majority believed that "if President Trump had taken coronavirus more seriously, he probably would not have been infected." That included 9 in 10 registered Democrats and 5 in 10 registered Republicans.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll found 72% said that Trump did not take the "risk of contracting the virus seriously enough."
Biden still in clear
Biden’s campaign said he tested negative again for the coronavirus Sunday, five days after he spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Trump.
The Democratic presidential candidate had two negative tests on Friday, as well.
Biden is scheduled to travel Monday to Florida. His campaign said it will continue to observe public health guidelines on masks, social distancing and crowd sizes.
"Joe Biden has led by example," Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said on ABC News’ "This Week." She added: "I think that that’s what the American people are looking for."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has refused to say when Trump last tested negative before the debate.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, written by Newsday's Jesse Coburn and Vera Chinese. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
An earlier version of The 1600 provided an incorrect timeline for Trump's first positive test. It was earlier Thursday evening, according to The Wall Street Journal.
What else is happening:
- The White House put out a pair of photos Saturday night to depict a maskless Trump working during his hospitalization. Zooming in on one of them revealed Trump apparently was signing a blank piece of paper with a marker. Video experts suspect a clip of Trump from the hospital was edited to hide a cough, according to The Washington Post.
- The schedule of confirmation hearings for Barrett has been thrown into uncertainty with the coronavirus diagnoses of at least two Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee — Lee and Tillis — and the fear that other senators could test positive in the coming days, The Washington Post reported.
- Attorney General William Barr, who mingled with other guests at the Barrett announcement, has received four negative COVID-19 test results since Friday but will spend several days in self-quarantine, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.
- By overwhelming margins, voters in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Florida were repelled by Trump’s conduct in the first debate, according to New York Times/Siena College poll.
- Trump surrogate Steve Cortes, pressed on "Fox News Sunday" to explain the Trump family's rule-breaking shunning of masks at the debate, lashed out at host Chris Wallace. "The way you're starting to harangue me now actually reminds me of what you did to the president during that debate," Cortes snarled at Wallace, who moderated the first Trump-Biden face-off. Wallace pointed out that he or Biden was interrupted by Trump 145 times.
- Besides Trump, there were more than 54,000 positive cases of the coronavirus reported on Friday, the highest single-day case count since Aug. 14, USA Today reported.