In the early hours of Friday morning, President Trump announced on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for coronavirus. “Tonight, @FLOTUS and and I tested positive for COVID-19,” the president tweeted at 12:54 a.m. “We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”
The news rocked Washington and immediately called into question the status of the 2020 presidential campaign, now entering its final 33 days, and whether the president would be able to participate in the next debate on Oct. 15, just two weeks from now. Although no specific details about the president's treatment and quarantine were announced by the White House Friday morning, quarantines are usually imposed for 14 days.
Just hours earlier, Trump appeared on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News to confirm that Hope Hicks, one of the president's closest aides, had tested positive for the virus and that he had just been tested himself. "I just went out for a test. It will come back later I guess, and the first lady also, because we spend a lot of time with Hope," Trump said. Shortly afterward, he shared the news with his 86.5 million Twitter followers. “Hope Hicks, who has been working so hard without even taking a small break, has just tested positive for Covid 19.” he tweeted at roughly 10: 30 p.m. “Terrible! The First Lady and I are waiting for our test results. In the meantime, we will begin our quarantine process!”
The initial news was broken Thursday evening by Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News, who tweeted shortly after 8 p.m. that Hicks, who had traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One to and from Tuesday's presidential debate in Cleveland and to a Minnesota rally on Wednesday, had began to feel ill in Minnesota and was quarantined aboard the presidential plane on the way home. She tested positive for coronavirus upon her return to Washington. “No indication Trump has contracted coronavirus,” Jacobs tweeted, “but inner circle aide Hope Hicks has it, and is experiencing symptoms of the disease. She was in close proximity to him, maskless, in recent days.”
Trump confirmed the news to Hannity, telling the Fox News host that it was difficult for him and those close to him, like Hicks, to avoid potential contact with the virus since so many people, including members of the military, try to interact with them when they were at one of his campaign rallies. (In fact, the president was scheduled to fly to another rally in Wisconsin and then a campaign fundraiser in Florida on Friday; both have been cancelled.) "It's very hard when you're with soldiers, when you are with airmen, when you're with the Marines, and the police officers, I'm with them so much. And when they come over to you, it's hard to say, 'stay back, stay back.' You know, it's a tough kind of a situation, it's a terrible thing," he said.
“I just went for a test, and we'll see what happens. I mean, who knows,” the president added.
After the news became public, the White House issued a brief statement. “The president and first lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence,” the White House physician, Sean P. Conley, said in a statement issued early Friday morning. “Rest assured I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering, and I will keep you updated on any future developments.” The statement didn't disclose how long the president's convalescence period would be or whether he was showing any symptoms.
As has been widely reported, the president has long downplayed the severity of the virus. Even as the death tally in the U.S. reached 200,000 Americans, Trump was telling a crowded campaign rally that COVID-19 “affects almost nobody.” He has also dismissed calls to impose a national mandate on mask-wearing, which even some of his top medical advisers have said is the single most-effective guard against transmission of the virus, and he has mocked his opponent, Joe Biden, for consistently wearing one. ”Every time you see him, he has a mask," Trump said dismissively at Tuesday's presidential debate. At that debate, members of the Trump family, including the first lady, entered the hall wearing masks, but then took them off immediately after settling into their seats.
President Trump is the second major world leader to test positive for coronavirus. Boris Johnson, prime minister of Great Britain, fell ill and was hospitalized in April, spending three days in intensive care. Upon release, Johnson said that his condition was more serious than had been initially reported and that “it could have gone either way.”
Global markets plunged in the early hours of Friday morning, soon after the Trump news became public, and the Dow Jones futures were trending sharply lower in advance of the market's opening at 9:30 a.m.
All of the cable networks went to wall-to-wall coverage overnight, with CNN's Anderson Copper, in jacket and tie, anchoring his network's report starting at 3 a.m. He was joined by chief political reporter Dana Bash, chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta and chief media correspondent Brian Stelter. “For people waking up now, this is a scary story,” Stelter said. “It is frightening thing to hear.” (On Fox News, however, the mood was much more upbeat. ""I bet you he does not develop symptoms," the former presidential physician Ronny Jackson told anchor Ashley Strohmier. "This does not become a big deal.")
Information from the White House, beyond that initial statement, was limited at best, and the cable networks were careful not to jump to too many conclusions. "It's as important to say what we don't know as it is to say what we do," said Cooper.
But, in its report early Friday morning, The New York Times did raise serious questions about the rest of this year's campaign and even the very candidacy of the president himself. Trump’s “positive test result could pose immediate difficulties for the future of his campaign against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic challenger, with just 33 days before the election on Nov. 3,” the White House reporters Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman wrote. “Even if Mr. Trump, 74, remains asymptomatic, he will have to withdraw from the campaign trail and stay isolated in the White House for an unknown period of time. If he becomes sick, it could raise questions about whether he should remain on the ballot at all.”
The soberness of the moment was not lost on the reporters and commentators roused out of their bed in the early morning hours by this breaking news story. "Every aspect of our nation is different today than it was yesterday," the longtime political reporter Carl Bernstein told CNN's Cooper, Zooming in from his home in Sag Harbor as a phone rang repeatedly in the background. “This is a destabilizing event.” ("Someone must really want tp talk to you right now," Cooper said as their exchange ended.)