This story has the feel of scandal but (a) there are valid reasons why Trump would want to wait for confirmation before disclosing that he was positive and (b) the timeline here is much *less* scandalous than the one floated by his doctors on Saturday. They claimed at the time that he was 72 hours removed from his first diagnosis, which would mean that he had secretly first tested positive on Wednesday — before he hit the trail for a rally in Minnesota and two fundraisers, potentially exposing hundreds to the virus. (His doctors later walked back that timeline.) The Wall Street Journal’s sources say that he didn’t know for sure that he had COVID until Thursday night, though, after all of those events had already happened.
He did, however, apparently put people at risk despite having had good reason to believe he might be exposed. A select group of White House staff, presumably including the president himself, knew on Thursday morning that Hope Hicks had tested positive. Kayleigh McEnany and other staff who were supposed to attend the fundraiser in New Jersey later that day were pulled off the trip at the last second, without explanation. But Trump went anyway, despite knowing that he’d been in close contact with an infected person. And despite the fact that staffers had sensed the day before that he was “feeling poorly” and seemed “exhausted,” which they had chalked up to campaign-trail fatigue.
He didn’t know for sure that he was positive until Thursday night, though, according to the Journal’s sources:
Mr. Trump received a positive result on Thursday evening before making an appearance on Fox News in which he didn’t reveal those results. Instead, he confirmed earlier reports that one of his top aides had tested positive for coronavirus and mentioned the second test he had taken that night for which he was awaiting results.
Under White House protocols, the more reliable test that screens a specimen from deeper in the nasal passage is administered only after a rapid test shows a positive reading. Based on people familiar with the matter, the president’s tests followed that protocol.
As the virus spread among the people closest to him, Mr. Trump also asked one adviser not to disclose results of their own positive test. “Don’t tell anyone,” Mr. Trump said, according to a person familiar with the conversation…
The White House has said the operations team deemed the trip [to New Jersey for Thursday’s fundraiser] safe. The president had tested negative on a rapid test that morning, according to a person familiar with the matter.
As long as Trump wasn’t around anyone during the hours on Thursday night between the time he tested positive on the rapid-test machine and the time that he got confirmation from a PCR test, I think it was appropriate to keep it a secret. Imagine if the rapid test had delivered a false positive, he had immediately announced that, and then he had to sheepishly update the planet a few hours later that it was a false alarm because his PCR test was clean. He’d have been lambasted for sending everyone into a panic before he knew for sure that he was infected. Silence for those few hours was the prudent move.
But silence about Hicks’s test that morning, when they had reason to believe an outbreak might be under way at the White House and that hundreds of aides and staffers were at risk? Inexcusable. As was Trump’s decision to attend the fundraiser instead of immediately isolating himself until he’d tested negative. He could have at least been tested before leaving, since he knew by then he might have been infected by Hicks. According to CBS, he wasn’t. Why not?
NEW: Despite the WH learning of Hope Hicks's positive diagnosis just before leaving for NJ, Pres Trump didn't get a rapid test until AFTER his return. It was positive, prompting the PCR test, a WH official tells @CBSNews.
He called into Hannity while awaiting the PCR results.
— Sara Cook (@saraecook) October 3, 2020
One of the more insightful stories about the White House outbreak published this weekend was this one from the Times, revealing the catastrophic flaw in Trump’s “test-only” strategy for protecting himself. He wasn’t a stickler about masks or social distancing inside the building because, he thought, the Abbott rapid tests used by the White House for people he meets with would keep him safe. If you want to see POTUS, you take the test, you wait 15 minutes, and if you’re negative then you get your meeting with him. Just one problem:
In issuing an emergency use authorization, the Food and Drug Administration said the test was only to be used by a health care provider “within the first seven days of symptoms.”
The ID Now has several qualities in its favor: It’s portable, doesn’t need skilled technicians to operate and delivers results in 15 minutes. Used to evaluate someone with symptoms, the test can quickly and easily diagnose Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
But in people who are infected but not yet showing symptoms, the test is much less accurate, missing as many as one in three cases.
You don’t use the rapid test to try to detect asymptomatic carriers, which is how the White House was using it. You use it to confirm that people who are already visibly sick do in fact have COVID, and those people almost certainly wouldn’t be allowed to meet with Trump anyway. Why none of the many doctors around Trump spied this problem and moved to address it sooner — Fauci, Birx, Atlas, Giroir, Conley, on and on — I don’t know. But in hindsight it seems miraculous that he wasn’t infected sooner given how weak the chief measure taken to protect him was.
The “test-only” strategy would have been weak even if the rapid tests were as accurate as the PCR lab tests, though. No test is perfectly accurate; if there’s only a one-percent chance of a false negative, over time that risk becomes considerable as hundreds and hundreds of tests are administered to people before meeting with Trump. Precisely because “test-only” isn’t foolproof, doctors are forever prattling on about the importance of masks and distancing in conjunction with tests. Together, all three precautions are a formidable defense to infection. Trump only ever insisted on one, though.
"Quite frankly, I don't think they took enough steps to protect the President," says @ScottGottliebMD. "They basically were depending on testing alone to keep the president safe because they weren't taking adequate measures inside the White House compound." pic.twitter.com/uXQa1l7BBT
— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) October 5, 2020
Gottlieb has an op-ed today co-written with Yuval Levin emphasizing that not only is test-only a bad way to approach the virus, it’s gone hand-in-hand with misinformation fed to the president about how America may be closer to herd immunity than anyone thinks. That’s an obvious dig at Scott Atlas. Trump’s habit of surrounding himself with people who are telling him what he wants to hear may have led him to let down his guard against the virus, possibly even in the belief that he might be immune already. He’d met many thousands of people since the pandemic began and hadn’t gotten sick yet, right? Maybe he had “cross-immunity!” He found out the truth the hard way.
In the end, we come back to the timeline. When, exactly, did the president get infected? Was it at the suspected superspreader event at the White House last Saturday to announce Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination, which included plenty of festivities indoors, with close contact? Was it at debate prep in the days before that? It would be unusual for a patient who was infected shortly before he tested positive to already need steroid treatment a few days after diagnosis:
This is also entirely inconsistent with a Thursday diagnosis, given anything near daily testing.
We're now less than 72 hours in from first positive test. Given that, I'd expect the first symptoms to be appearing now and serious respiratory distress to be 4-5 days off.
— Carl T. Bergstrom (@CT_Bergstrom) October 4, 2020
I’ll leave you with a tweet I saw yesterday which I’ve been thinking of ever since. It’s speculation, but it’s provocative. A Twitter pal noticed that last Monday’s White House press conference to discuss coronavirus testing featured a strange two-podium format. Trump stood alone at one podium while the other speakers, including Pence and Giroir, used a second one that was set up a dozen or so feet away. You can watch the video of it here. That was September 28, two days after the Barrett ceremony in the Rose Garden, one day before the debate, and three days before Trump tested positive. I have *never* seen them use two podiums for a presser before, with Trump given his own individual mic while other officials share a second one at a safe distance away from him. I can’t come up with a reason why they’d bother doing that apart from the obvious one, which is that someone had reason to believe Trump was infected as far back as a week ago. That would mean there were suspicions days before his positive test on Thursday, even before he faced off with Biden. What’s the innocent explanation for the two-podium arrangement? Why couldn’t Pence use the same mic as Trump, as he normally does?
Update: Ah, good catch by Chris Field of The Blaze. They *have* used the two-podium set-up at least once before. Here’s a photo of it from May 11 of this year. I’m curious to know why they used it on that occasion and then last Monday.
Update: Guy Benson further debunks the two-podiums speculation. The White House used this set-up twice in July, he points out. It’s rare but it’s not unheard of. I still haven’t seen an explanation for why they did it, though. Did they have reason to believe in those earlier cases that someone *might* be infected and used two podiums out of an abundance of caution? There’s no obvious reason to use two except to enable social distancing.
I'm dead serious about this. I can't think of another event in 2020 with this distancing.
4 other people speak at this:
All four avoid getting ANYWHERE near Trump and go to the well-distanced podium.
I defy anyone to find a similar event. https://t.co/AILk8QMhVj
— Grudgie the Whale (@grudging1) October 4, 2020