The US presidential election has been plunged into disarray after Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, tested positive for coronavirus following weeks in which the US president sought to suggest that the worst of the pandemic was over.
Trump announced his positive test in a tweet at 1 am, prompting US television networks to go to live coverage of the 74-year old president’s health, and his election campaign cancelled a planned event in the key battleground state of Florida.
Trump and his wife were tested after one of his closest aides, the White House counsellor Hope Hicks, began showing symptoms this week as she travelled to campaign events around the country with Trump’s entourage, including several other family members.
“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19,” Trump tweeted, adding that they would begin to quarantine immediately.
Melania Trump tweeted that she and the president “are feeling good and I have postponed all upcoming engagements”.
Despite the reassuring messages, many have noted that Trump’s age and weight put him in a high-risk category for more severe forms of the disease.
Although Hicks was tested on Thursday after showing symptoms requiring isolation, Trump still travelled to New Jersey to meet supporters at his Bedminster golf club, and delivered remarks at a fundraiser despite the high risk that his aide may have been infected.
The president’s doctor, Navy Commander Dr Sean Conley, said in a statement early on Friday: “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 medical team and I will maintain a vigilant watch, and I appreciate the support provided by some of our country’s greatest medical professionals and institutions. Rest assured, I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering.”
With only a month to go until polling day on 3 November, and with Trump consistently trailing his opponent, Joe Biden, in opinion polls, the president will be forced to stay in the White House, abandoning the rallies he has employed to try to galvanise his support base.
Trump’s diagnosis and its timing are a brutally ironic coda in an election seen by some as a referendum on his chaotic handling of coronavirus, which has claimed 207,000 US lives and infected 7 million people.
Even in the hours before he tested positive for the virus, Trump, as he has often done, claimed without evidence that the pandemic would subside soon. “I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight,” he said in prerecorded remarks.
Prior to the announcement, Trump was last seen by reporters returning to the White House on Thursday evening and did not appear visibly ill.
Donald J. Trump(@realDonaldTrump)
Hicks, who accompanied Trump and members of his family to the presidential debate on Tuesday and to a Minnesota rally on Wednesday, fell ill during a flight home on Air Force One on Wednesday evening and was isolated from other passengers onboard the plane.
Trump has in recent days met a number of prominent figures, some of whom are in high-risk categories for coronavirus complications, including Biden, whom he faced, unmasked, during Tuesday’s debate, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
He said he received confirmation of the positive tests on Thursday evening. Earlier, Trump confirmed in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News that Hicks had contracted the virus.
“She tested positive,” Trump said, adding that he and Melania had taken coronavirus diagnostic tests. “I just went for a test and we’ll see what happens,” he told Hannity. “I spend a lot of time with Hope,” he added.