The worsening coronavirus outbreak gripping the nation has prompted some of President Trump’s closest allies and aides to self-quarantine at home — while other prominent supporters continue to minimize the risk in public.
Ivanka Trump and Attorney General William Barr worked from home Friday, the White House reported, after Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus after developing symptoms of COVID-19. Both the president’s daughter and the Attorney General met with Dutton in Washington on March 5 in Washington.
But when interviewed Friday on “Fox & Friends,” Liberty University president and Trump confidant Jerry Falwell Jr. made his case that fears about the coronavirus have been overblown and are being used against the president.
“It’s just strange to me how many are overreacting. The H1N1 virus in 2009 killed 17,000 people; it was the flu also, I think, and there was not the same hype,” Falwell said. “You just didn’t see it on the news 24/7, and it makes you wonder if there’s a political reason for that. You know, impeachment didn’t work and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work, so maybe now this is their next ... attempt to get Trump.”
H1N1 was an unusually virulent flu virus. COVID-19 is not a form of flu.
Falwell then wondered aloud whether the coronavirus was a “Christmas present” from North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the Chinese government.
“It really is something strange going on,” he said, his voice hoarse from an apparent cold.
Conservative radio host and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh has, for weeks, also been portraying the coronavirus as nothing more serious than the common cold.
“This, I’m telling you, when I tell you — when I’ve told you that this virus is the common cold, when I said that, it was based on the number of cases,” Limbaugh said on his March 11 broadcast. “It’s also based on the kind of virus this is. Why do you think this is ‘COVID-19’? This is the 19th coronavirus. They’re not uncommon.”
In fact, while there are seven different types of coronaviruses that affect humans — some of which do cause more mild cold symptoms — COVID-19 is short for “Coronavirus Disease 2019,” the year it was first identified.
A day later, Limbaugh suggested that the “hype” surrounding the coronavirus was a chance for Trump’s enemies “to destroy the U.S. economy for the benefit of the Democratic Party.”
Robert Jeffress, a Texas preacher who has been one of Trump’s most visible evangelical supporters, as of Friday was planning to hold a signing for his latest book, “Courageous,” at his 13,000-seat First Baptist megachurch in Dallas on Sunday.
But the response to the virus from Trump’s most ardent defenders on Capitol Hill has been markedly more cautious.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have gone into self-quarantine after coming into contact with persons who have tested positive for the virus.
Cruz, who first came into contact with a person infected with the virus at the Conservative Political Action Conference, extended his self-quarantine on Friday after learning he had met and shaken hands with a Spanish politician in his office who has since tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’m still not feeling any symptoms. I’m consulting with medical officials. But, for the same reasons I initially self-quarantined — out of an abundance of caution and to give everyone peace of mind — I am extending the self-quarantine to March 17,” Cruz said in a statement. “COVID-19 is a serious public health hazard. All of us should resist panic, and we should listen to the doctors and the science. Medical professionals tell us social distancing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of this virus, and we should take every step possible to protect our health and be safe.”
On Thursday, Graham announced that after spending the weekend at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, he had undergone a test for the virus and gone into self-quarantine. Graham interacted with an aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who later tested positive for the virus. Trump was also photographed standing next to the official.
In the House, Trump supporters Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., have all self-quarantined.
Gaetz’s case has drawn additional interest because he traveled with Trump on Air Force One to a fundraiser in Orlando, and seemed to mock those who had expressed concern over the virus by wearing a gas mask while at work in the Capitol building.
Reviewing the coronavirus supplemental appropriation and preparing to go vote. pic.twitter.com/wjJ4YY4VZz
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) March 4, 2020
A day after posting the gas-mask photo, Gaetz responded to the news of the first death from coronavirus in Florida, of a person who lived in his district.
“I am extremely saddened to learn of the first fatality on our district from coronavirus, a Northwest Floridian residing in Santa Rosa County. Our prayers are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time,” Gaetz said in a statement. “It is important to know that this individual was quarantined shortly after developing symptoms,” Gaetz continued, adding, “Please continue to take necessary precautions to minimize your exposure to any illness, including coronavirus.”
The president and vice president have not been tested for the coronavirus, according to the White House.
“The President has not received COVID-19 testing because he has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms, “ White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a Monday statement.
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