President Donald Trump is constantly downplaying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. In impromptu comments on Tuesday, he urged Americans to “stay calm,” promising, “it will go away” and “a lot of good things are going to happen.” In a Wednesday night speech from the Oval Office, he sought to reassure the nation that his administration was on top of the crisis.
But reality keeps walking up and shaking his hand.
At least five people who have either tested positive for the virus or previously been in contact with someone who tested positive have met and come into close contact with the president.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) shook Trump’s hand after Air Force One landed in Atlanta for a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Friday. Collins would discover on Monday that he had come into contact with a major donor at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington who tested positive for coronavirus. Collins entered himself into self-quarantine.
Before the donor’s contacts were discovered, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) rode with Trump in his presidential limousine and onboard Air Force One on March 9. Gaetz was informed while on the plane that he had been in contact with the donor at CPAC, and he self-quarantined himself during the flight. He has tested negative but remains in self-quarantine.
Trump named retiring Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) last Friday to serve as his next White House chief of staff. Meadows attended a White House meeting on immigration policy with Trump before learning that he had also come into contact with the CPAC donor. He briefly self-quarantined, but tested negative for the virus and was back at the White House on Thursday.
Trump also recently hosted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Fabio Wajngarten, Bolsonaro’s top communications official, tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday. Wajngarten was with Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago and was photographed with Trump. Bolsonaro on Friday said that he tested negative.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, and Attorney General William Barr were photographed with Peter Dutton, Australia’s minister for home affairs, at an intelligence meeting related to online child exploitation on March 5. Dutton began to feel symptoms on Friday and subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. Ivanka Trump has been in contact with her father throughout the past week.
As the virus spreads rapidly across the country, the exposure experienced by politicians is no surprise. The life of a political figure involves meeting and greeting all sorts ― from average voters to heads of state and high-rolling donors.
Numerous government officials in France, the U.K. and Iran have tested positive for the coronavirus. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in self-quarantine after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for coronavirus.
But Trump and other White House officials have been shockingly cavalier and dismissive about the threat this kind of contact poses.
Public health officials warn that everyone should maintain social distance, avoid large gatherings and self-quarantine if coming into contact with someone who has tested positive. Vice President Mike Pence, though, said he and Trump would continue to shake hands, despite health officials discouraging the practice. The Trump campaign waited until Wednesday to postpone planned political rallies.
Meanwhile, no plans are in the works to test Trump or Pence for the coronavirus, according to the White House.
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