President Donald Trump famously downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak at first, but now he’s been tested to see if he’s carrying the virus – and the results show he doesn’t have it.
The ups and downs of the past week illustrate how concerns about coronavirus are being taken more seriously in the White House as the outbreak’s spread has widened.
“I had my temperature taken coming into the room,” Trump told reporters today during a briefing in the White House press room. “I also took the test last night.”
Getting the president to take that test took a while.
Let’s start with the photo: Last weekend, Trump met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida – and afterward, Bolsonaro’s communications director posted an Instagram picture of himself standing next to Trump as they were showing off “Make Brazil Great Again” caps. (Vice President Mike Pence is also in the picture.)
A few days later, it turned out that the communications director – named Fabio Wajngarten – tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Bolsonaro was tested for coronavirus as well, and after some initial confusion, the Brazilian president reported on Twitter on Friday that the test came out negative.
But what about Trump? Public health officials generally say that people who know they’ve been exposed to coronavirus should be monitored.
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Trump had been asked about this more than once in the past few days, and he usually said that his doctors told him not to worry. But at a Friday news briefing, CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang seemed to have wrung a commitment out of the president. Here’s the transcript:
Jiang: “The person you were standing next to, whether you know who he is or not, tested positive for coronavirus. Dr. Fauci [director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] said this morning, if you stand next to somebody who tested positive, you should self-isolate and get a test. You say your White House doctor is telling you something different. Who should Americans listen to?”
Trump: “I think they have to listen to their doctors, and I think they shouldn’t be jumping to get the test unless it’s necessary. But I think they have to listen to their doctors. I haven’t seen the picture. Somebody said there’s a picture with somebody taking a picture with me, but I haven’t seen it.”
Jiang: “Doctors have said you might have it even if you don’t have symptoms. Are you being selfish by not getting tested?”
Trump: “Well, I didn’t say I wasn’t going to be tested.”
Jiang: “Are you going to be?”
Trump: “Most likely, yeah. Not for that reason, but because I think I will do it anyway.”
Jiang: “Will you let us know…”
Trump: “Pretty soon. We’re working on that. We’re working out a schedule.”
Then it was time for the next question, and everybody moved on. Some marveled at how Trump shook hands with most of the VIPs assembled in the Rose Garden, overlooking the advice about playing it safe and keeping one’s distance. One of the executives, LHC Group’s Bruce Greenstein, didn’t take Trump’s proffered hand at the news briefing but gave him an epidemiologically correct elbow bump instead.
“OK, I like that,” Trump said. “That’s good.”
Fast-forward to Friday night: White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham distributed a memo that she was sent by the president’s White House physician, Sean Conley, reporting that Trump not only posed for a picture with Wajngarten at last week’s Mar-a-Lago event, but also shared a table with a different Mar-a-Lago guest who just started showing symptoms of illness Friday morning.
Since then, the dinner guest has tested positive for COVID-19, Conley wrote. The Washington Post says the Brazilian Embassy identified the guest as acting Brazilian ambassador Nestor Forster, who is now in self-quarantine. A few days ago, the embassy tweeted a photo of Forster shaking hands with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has also tested positive for the virus.
Conley pointed out that in both of the Mar-a-Lago cases, the interactions with Trump occurred before the onset of symptoms. “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,” the doctor wrote.
“Additionally, given the president himself remains without symptoms, testing for COVID-19 is not currently indicated,” Conley said. “I will continue to closely monitor and care for the president, and will update you as more information becomes available.”
End of story, right? Not quite. It turned out that Trump took the test after all.
“I decided I should, based on the press conference yesterday,” he told reporters today. “People were asking, did I take the test.”
Trump also said he’s trying to break himself of the handshaking habit. “Shaking hands is not a great thing to be doing right now, I agree,” he said.
The final word came tonight in a follow-up memo from Conley, who said the test was administered to the president on Friday night after an “in-depth discussion.”
“This evening I received confirmation that the test is negative,” Conley wrote.
This is an updated version of a report originally published at 4:30 p.m. PT March 13.