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As the White House clears Trump's schedule, how will his Covid-19 diagnosis affect the presidential campaign?

Confirmation of Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis was the most dramatic development yet in an already tumultuous election campaign.

Trump and his wife Melania have both tested positive for Covid-19.
Trump and his wife Melania have both tested positive for Covid-19.
Image: Pool/ABACA

Updated Oct 2nd 2020, 10:30 AM

IN HIS FIRST debate against presidential rival Joe Biden on Tuesday night, a bullish Donald Trump bragged about the size of the crowds he draws to his rallies even as Biden branded him “irresponsible” for holding such events during a pandemic. 

Trump is regularly emboldened by the rallies he holds – which have also been criticised for a lack of social distancing and mask wearing among those in attendance – but these look set to be put on hold after the US president confirmed he had tested positive for Covid-19.

A campaign event and a rally due to take place in Florida today has already been called off, after Trump had attended a fundraiser yesterday. 

It also looks certain that Trump will have to cancel a trip scheduled for this weekend in Wisconsin, another battleground. He had also been expected to travel frequently next week, including longer distances to western states.

He is due to debate Biden twice more before the election on 3 November – on 15 October and again on 22 October.

However, based on how Covid-19 affects the president and on advice from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Trump may still be able return to campaigning and also lock horns with Biden again in two weeks’ time. 

Health guidelines

Given his age and weight, Donald Trump is at a higher risk category for coronavirus patients. 

However, his official physician Sean Conley said in a statement that the president and his wife “are both well at this time.”

“They plan to remain home at the White House during their convalescence,” he said. However, “I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering.”

If Trump were to follow health guidelines from the CDC, he would avoid being around others for at least 10 days. In practice, this would mean that he couldn’t return to active campaigning at rallies – other than appearing virtually – for the next 10 days.

In cases where a person was diagnosed with Covid-19 and had symptoms, the CDC says: “You can be around others after: 10 days since symptoms first appeared and 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and other symptoms of Covid-19 are improving.”

For those who have no symptoms, the CDC says: “If you continue to have no symptoms, you can be with others after 10 days have passed since you had a positive viral test for Covid-19.”

However, people who are severely ill from Covid-19 “might need to stay home longer than 10 days and up to 20 days after symptoms first appeared”, the CDC adds. This detail still leaves the next debate with Biden planned for 15 October up in the air. 

The White House has cleared his schedule for today, and will almost certainly do so for the weekend. Whether Trump adheres to this advice to avoid contact with others for 10 days, or receives other advice from his own doctors, remains to be seen. 

Biden, similarly, was due to have a packed schedule today but it is unclear how this development will affect his campaigning. 

In a tweet this afternoon, or early morning on the eastern US coast, he sent good wishes to Donald Trump and the First Lady. 

“Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family,” he said. 

Dramatic campaign

Before this bombshell news, it had already been a tumultuous and volatile presidential campaign. 

The death of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg precipitated Trump picking a new nominee to the court with the aim of putting it through the Senate prior to November’s election. 

Biden and the Democrats expressed their fury at the attempts to install conservative nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the public goes to the polls. They say health care protections and abortion rights are on the line.

Elsewhere in a dramatic campaign so far, Trump has frequently taunted Biden as being mentally unfit for the role of president even as he trails him in the polls. 

Last weekend, he called for the former vice president to take a drug test prior to their debate on Tuesday.

He tweeted: “I will be strongly demanding a Drug Test of Sleepy Joe Biden prior to, or after, the Debate on Tuesday night… His Debate performances have been record setting UNEVEN, to put it mildly. Only drugs could have caused this discrepancy???”

The debate itself was ill-tempered and criticism often got personal over the course of the 90 minutes.

Biden called Trump a “liar” and a “clown”, while Trump again raised doubts on Biden’s mentally ability while remarking on a drug problem Biden’s son had had.

Trump also made fun of Biden for constantly wearing masks during the pandemic.

He said: “No, I think that masks are OK. You have to understand, if you look — I mean, I have a mask right here. I put a mask on, you know, when I think I need it.

I don’t have — I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.

How the campaign twists and turns from here depends on Trump’s physical health over the next few weeks. If he is symptom-free after 10 days, it is possible the second and third debates may go ahead as planned. 

Media reaction

With the news breaking late into the evening US time (at around 6am Irish time), most newspapers missed the cut off to put what will be the biggest news story of the day on their front page.

The New York Post’s late night city edition made the cut, however, and runs a front page today with the headline ‘President Has Covid’ alongside a photo of Trump’s tweet. 

The Daily News, a New York paper also made the deadline for print today, and runs with ‘Infected’ as a headline, detailing how Trump will quarantine for two weeks now in the crucial last four weeks of his campaign. 

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Broadcasters in the US will have scrambled overnight to bring reporters and news anchors into studio to gather details of the story. 

All publications are leading with the story.

The New York Times’ homepage says: “Trump and first lady test positive for coronavirus. After months of playing down outbreak’s severity, president confronts infection.”

The Washington Post takes a similar angle, saying: “Trump, 74, was diagnosed hours after it became publicly known that Hope Hicks, a top Trump aide who traveled with him on Air Force One and Marine One this week, tested positive and after months in which the president has played down a pandemic that has killed more than 205,000 Americans and sickened millions more.”

Fox News leads with: “Trump, first lady doing ‘fine’ at WH after testing positive for coronavirus: source.”

Meanwhile, stock markets also reacted to the news with the DOW, Nasdaq and S&W all declining. 

Governments around the world have wished Trump well. Among them was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who said: “My best wishes to President Trump and the First Lady. Hope they both have a speedy recovery from coronavirus.”

Going forward, close attention will be paid in the coming days to the president’s health just a month out from the election. 

About the author:

Sean Murray & Conor McCrave

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