COVID-19 Strikes the White House

President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis and General Reactions

Jesse Lowe, Scarlet Staff

On Friday, October 2, President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he and First Lady Melania Trump had both tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, he has spent three nights in a hospital and the majority of his time quarantined at the White House. President Trump insists that he is well, that he will win the election, and that the recovery of the nation’s health and economy is imminent. However, many Americans have doubts about their relative safety with  COVID-19 and the prospects for the nation’s future.

For many, the President’s diagnosis felt like just another piece of unsettling news in a moment—and in the year 2020—that has felt like one shock after another. Johns Hopkins Medical Center reports that to date, there have been 214,300 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States (U.S.) and over 7.7 million confirmed cases. Only 13 states have a rate of transmission below 1.0, meaning that in the remaining 37 states the number of new positive COVID-19 cases is actively climbing. In addition, like advertisements, social media sites, and friends will remind you, the presidential election is less than a month away.

The aftershocks of President Trump’s announcement have rippled across the world. Social media and major news outlets are rife with speculation about how “sick” the President really is. Many are concerned by the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases within The White House and the political elite of the U.S. The diagnosis has also raised questions about how the line of succession works. In other words, who will fulfill the President’s duties if President Trump is unable to if the worse is to come. Interestingly, voters may be swayed one way or the other by the news that President Trump is sick.

And President Trump’s Health? 

The most immediate concern centers on the President’s health. Former presidents—notably President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when he had polio, and President Ronald Reagan, when he was shot in an assassination attempt—have hidden their infirmities while in office. Based on this presidential precedent, some people are concerned that the public will be given the most reassuring spin on the situation possible rather than be given the hard facts of President Trump’s health.

Presently, what the public does know at this point is that on October 1, President Trump had a slight cough and felt fatigued. The next day he reported a high fever and flew to Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment. His doctors told the press that over the weekend his oxygen levels dropped several times, but that he got stabilized once oxygen was administered. Thus, he was able to work from inside the hospital. While at Walter Reed, President Trump was treated with commonly used steroid Dexamethasone, an emergency-approved antiviral called Remdesivir, and the experimental immunity booster Regeneron.

On October 5, President Trump tweeted that he felt “better than I did 20 years ago!” and returned to the White House. He made a public appearance from his balcony on October 10, and later that night, his doctor reported that he had “no risk of transmission” but declined to elaborate whether he had actually tested positive for COVID-19 or not.

The most recent news coming out of the White House, as of the evening of October 12, is that President Trump has tested negative for COVID-19 “on consecutive days.” Whether this means he is well or not contagious has yet to be seen. Notably, there is little public information and discourse about the First Lady’s health and condition

COVID-19 infections are known to last weeks, and in some cases, they grow significantly worse after the patient has “seemed” to be improving. It is highly unlikely that President Trump poses “no risk of transmission” so soon after having been tested positive for COVID-19 and some significant symptoms. While many are discussing the potential for the President to “die” of COVID-19, it is much more likely that he will survive the initial illness but have lingering symptoms, and quite possibly, organ damage for the rest of his life.

The White House COVID-19 Hot Spot

In an effort to maintain an image of so-called courage and freedom despite the threat of COVID-19, President Trump and those around him have frequently gone without masks and abandoned social distancing all together. The White House’s strategy has been to rely on expensive and relatively rapid testing to keep them safe from the effects of the virus.

This week, that strategy failed. On September 29, President Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee in a public event at the Rose Garden where a few masks were seen among a group of people. Approximately  30 people who were present at the event have tested positive for COVID-19 leading Dr. Anthony Fauci to call that day a “super-spreader event” in a recent interview with Steven Portney.

Like dominoes falling, positive tests have been announced almost daily. President Trump’s senior counselor Hope Hicks tested positive for COVID-19 on October 1, and ever since, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior advisor for policy Stephen Miller, and his advisor Chris Christie have all tested positive.

The outbreak is now much larger than President Trump’s inner circle. Republican National Convention Chair Ronna McDaniel, Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Thom Tillis of South Carolina, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin all developed COVID-19 in the last two weeks. So have Admiral Charles Ray of the Coast Guard and Reverend John I. Jenkins (the President of Notre Dame University). Despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 within and around the Rose Garden, the White House will not coordinate contact tracing or halt in-person tours for potential visitors.

The Presidential Line of Succession

Although it is unlikely that President Trump will die before the election, it is important to understand what would happen in this hypothetical situation. “LA Times” reporter Sewall Chan took to Twitter in the hours after Trump announced his positive test result to explain the protocol for the death of a candidate to the concerned American people. According to his tweets, “If either nominee dies or withdraws before the Nov. 3 election, his party—@DNC or @GOP—has to designate the replacement. But whether there’s enough time for that nominee to get on the ballot is… up to the states. Given that 29 states have already begun mailing ballots to voters, this could be a big legal mess, tied up in state and federal courts.” Nevertheless, the vacantSupreme Court seat adds to the nation’s uncertainty.

There is also the issue of who would retain the powers of the presidency if President Trump were to die before the election, or after the election if he is still in office? The 25th Amendment states that the Vice President becomes the acting president if the President of the U.S. is temporarily incapacitated. The Vice President becomes the President proper if the sitting President dies in office. If the Vice Presidency is vacated for whatever reason, the responsibility falls to members of the Cabinet beginning with the House of Representatives. Presently, Vice President Mike Pence is second in line followed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The Possible Implications for the 2020 Presidential Election

With voters deeply divided into two main camps that follow wildly different news narratives, it is difficult to see how President Trump’s positive test could impact the Presidential Election. By now, many have voted or had already firmly decided who they want in office.

One line of thinking suggests that President Trump will use his illness to empathize with those personally affected by COVID-19. If he can beat the virus, he can continue to downplay the threat to public health and use his own experience to anecdotally claim that COVID-19 is not a frightening or a dangerous illness—propaganda 101. He may gain sympathetic votes from the sudden spike in nationalism that often accompanies a sick leader. In the U.S., even those who opposed President Ronald Reagan rallied around him after the attempt on his life and allowed many of his failings as a politician to get swept under the rug. More recently, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw an increase in nationalism and nonpartisan support when he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

On the other hand, a SurveyUSA poll shows a swing in Joe Biden’s favor. Voters may be persuaded to vote for a candidate who they see as more healthy and capable of leading the country. After seeing the rapid spread of the virus through the highest ranks of the Republican Party, some people may finally be convinced that the mitigation of the virus rather than an emphasis on opening the economy is the best route to keeping the U.S. government and society functioning.

Reactions from the Clark Community

In an Instagram poll I created, I asked Clark University students if they were happier or stressed to learn that the President has COVID-19. Six of the seven students who answered said they were more stressed than happy. In a follow-up poll, seven out of nine students said that they believed that this news would help Biden in the presidential election while the remaining two students said that they thought it would help President Trump. Eliza Humphrey (‘24), expressed that she was stressed and believed that President Trump’s illness would help him gain re-election.

, “I’m worried about him infecting more people and also using it as a way to get sympathy,” Humphrey said. “…People naturally feel kinda bad when others are hurt.”She cited the fact that the Biden campaign strategically pulled its advertisements off the air while President Trump was in the hospital as evidence.

Humphrey concluded, “I’m not one to wish harm upon others, but being sick doesn’t mean that Trump shouldn’t be held accountable…Of course, as should be stated in all such discussions, f*** Trump.”