An abundance of risk, not caution, before Trump’s diagnosis

Washington – Standing well apart on the debate stage, President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden looked out at an odd sight – one section of the room dutifully in masks, the other section flagrantly without.

The mostly bare-faced contingent was made up of Trump’s VIP guests, who had flouted the rules by removing their masks once inside the hall despite the best efforts of the debate’s health advisers from the Cleveland Clinic to keep everyone safe. It was a conspicuous act of rebellion, reflecting divisions writ large across the country.

But what Trump calls the “invisible enemy” was spreading – before the debate, during it, after it, or some combination – and now it has spread to him.

President Donald Trump arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, on Marine One helicopter after he tested positive for COVID-19. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is at second from left. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

No one knows how, when or from whom Trump became infected. Nor is it established who, if anyone, has contracted the disease from him. But to retrace some of his steps over the last week is to see risk at multiple turns and an abundance of opportunity for infection.

This was the case day after day and right up until a few hours before his positive diagnosis, as he took a contingent to New Jersey for a fund-raiser with the White House knowing he’d been close to someone sick with COVID-19.

The result is that one of the most protected people on the planet has caught a disease that has killed more than 1 million people worldwide, more than 200,000 of them in the United States.

A look at the days leading up to it:


After a spirited send-off from the White House grounds, Trump and members of his team headed to Cleveland and the raucous debate. Adviser Hope Hicks was among them.

Everyone admitted to the hall had been tested in advance by his or her own team and come up negative, the Cleveland Clinic said in a statement. “We had requirements to maintain a safe environment that align with CDC guidelines – including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking.”

Such steps do not rule out the possibility that someone could have had a coronavirus infection that was not yet detectable by tests. The virus can incubate for days before a test will uncover it.

And Trump’s adult children and senior staff stripped off their masks for the duration of the debate, violating the rules.

Moderator Chris Wallace, seated on stage, noted that when Biden’s VIP guests, including his wife, Jill, walked in, they were wearing masks and kept them on throughout the debate.

“I don’t wear a mask like him,” Trump said of Biden mockingly in the debate. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Said Biden: “He’s been totally irresponsible the way in which he has handled the social distancing and people wearing masks, basically encouraged them not to. He’s a fool on this.”

Trump and his team returned late to Washington, with much more on tap for the week and the election now just a month away.


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Wednesday November 2, 2022