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Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 three days before he faced Joe Biden in their first presidential debate, the former president's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows alleges in a new book.
In The Chief's Chief, an upcoming memoir by Meadows, he writes that Trump initially received results on Sept. 26, 2020 that indicated he had contracted the virus.
In a second test, Trump tested negative, Meadows writes — using those results, rather than the positive test, "to press on as if nothing had happened," according to The Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book.
A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment regarding the Meadows book (which the former president hailed in October as "fantastic.")
In a statement, Trump responded to the latest headline from the former aide's tell-all by ignoring its substance — that he received a positive test result and carried on as usual — and instead called any claims that he had COVID prior to or during the debate "fake news."
"The story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News," Trump said in a statement, The Independent reported. "In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate."
Meadows writes that he noticed the president was "a little tired" and thought he might have a "slight cold" as he was preparing to leave Washington to attend a rally in Middletown, Penn., on the day of his initial positive test.
"Stop the president from leaving," Meadows writes White House physician Sean Conley said over the phone. "He just tested positive for COVID."
It was too late to stop the president's departure but Meadows writes that he reached his boss by phone on Air Force One to deliver the news. "Mr. President," Meadows writes in The Chief's Chief, "I've got some bad news. You've tested positive for COVID-19."
Meadows writes that Trump's reply "rhyme[d] with 'Oh spit, you've gotta be trucking lidding me,'" the Guardian reports.
He also said the White House was shocked to find out that the president had tested positive, despite a well-attended event in the Rose Garden for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that very day. Dr. Anthony Fauci called it a "superspreader event" and The New York Times reported that 11 people were diagnosed with COVID after attending, including Trump.
Immediately following the positive results, which were not disclosed to the press or the public, Trump was quickly given another, more accurate test, according to Meadows, who writes that after a "brief but tense wait" the results came back negative.
Meadows writes that he could "almost hear the collective 'Thank God' that echoed through the cabin" of the presidential plane. Still, the chief of staff told people in the president's immediate circle to "treat him as if he was positive" during the trip to Pennsylvania.
But Trump, he writes, assumed the negative results gave him "permission" to go on as usual, meeting with military families at the White House on Sept. 27, appearing at a Pennsylvania rally on Sept. 28 and traveling to Cleveland to participate in a Sept. 29 debate alongside Biden.
In his book, Meadows writes that he "didn't want to take any unnecessary risks, but I also didn't want to alarm the public if there was nothing to worry about — which according to the new, much more accurate test, there was not."
Meadows adds that supporters at the Pennsylvania rally "would never have known that anything was amiss."
Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows
The day before the debate, Trump held a press conference in the Rose Garden with business leaders to discuss the administration's pandemic efforts. "Somewhat ironically, considering his circumstances," Meadows writes, the president spoke about a new testing strategy that would "give quicker, more accurate" results.
On debate day, Meadows writes that Trump looked slightly better, "emphasis on the word slightly."
"His face, for the most part at least, had regained its usual light bronze hue, and the gravel in his voice was gone," Meadows writes in his book, according to the Guardian. "But the dark circles under his eyes had deepened. As we walked into the venue around five o'clock in the evening, I could tell that he was moving more slowly than usual. He walked like he was carrying a little extra weight on his back."
Trump's family members, including the first lady and his four adult children, wore masks to the debate venue but did not wear them during or afterwards.
A few days after that, on Oct. 2, Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump both had cases of COVID-19. The president then headed to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
After Trump's COVID diagnosis was revealed, debate moderator Chris Wallace said Trump had arrived at the debate venue too late to be tested immediately prior, but that he and Biden were both bound by an "honor system" to make sure they were healthy and not going to pose a risk to each other or anyone else in the debate hall.