Mark Meadows reveals Trump is experiencing 'mild symptoms' of coronavirus

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for the first presidential debate.
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White House chief of staff Mark Meadows revealed Friday that President Donald Trump was experiencing "mild symptoms" after contracting the coronavirus, and refused to say whether he intentionally withheld information about a top aide to the president also testing positive in recent days.

The remarks from the president's most senior staffer came after Trump announced on Twitter early Friday that he and first lady Melania Trump had become infected 32 days ahead of the November election. Just hours before Trump's tweet, news broke that Hope Hicks, a counselor to the president, had come down with the disease, as well.

"The president does have mild symptoms. And as we look to try to make sure that not only his health and safety and welfare is good, we continue to look at that for all of the American people," Meadows told reporters Friday morning outside the White House.

The president and the first lady "remain in good spirits," Meadows said, and Trump is "very energetic." Physicians with the White House medical unit "continue to monitor both his health and the health of the first lady," Meadows said.

Trump had tweeted early Friday that he and the first lady "will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately." Physician to the president Sean Conley wrote in a memo that the president and the first lady were "both well," and that Trump would "continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering."

Conley did not mention whether Trump was exhibiting any symptoms, but a person familiar with the situation said the president was not showing symptoms yet on Thursday.

Still, Vice President Mike Pence may need to step in for some tasks if Trump is confined to the White House grounds, the person said. Pence's office said Friday that he and second lady Karen Pence had tested negative for Covid-19.

The president's positive test threatens to transform the final month of a volatile campaign that Trump had long intended to frame around a message of success in defeating the virus — despite surging case counts in parts of the country, shuttered schools and businesses and widespread division about the seriousness of the threat.

“I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country,” Trump said Thursday evening in a videotaped message to the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.

Compounding the uncertainty surrounding the final stretch of the campaign, the Republican National Committee announced Friday that its chair, Ronna McDaniel, also had tested positive for Covid-19.

McDaniel's diagnosis means that not only Republicans’ presidential nominee, but also their top party official could be constrained to a limited schedule in the coming weeks.

Trump's announcement raised a slew of questions about whether the 74-year-old's existing health conditions — his latest physician's report recorded him as just over the line between overweight and obese — will put him at an increased risk of developing serious complications from the coronavirus.

During his last physical, Conley said the president "remains in very good health overall," with a cholesterol level and blood pressure within normal ranges. Trump does, however, take medication for prior issues with high cholesterol.

Earlier this year Trump was closely monitored in case he developed an irregular heartbeat while he took a two-week course of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug he touted early on, despite no conclusive evidence, as a possible treatment for the coronavirus.

Melania Trump, 50, also falls within an age range with high risk of complications. The virus can have wide-ranging impact on different people, even at advanced age, from relatively mild symptoms to devastating breathing problems.

"Karen and I send our love and prayers to our dear friends President @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS Melania Trump," Pence tweeted early Friday. "We join millions across America praying for their full and swift recovery. God bless you President Trump & our wonderful First Lady Melania.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is fourth in the presidential line of succession, told reporters Friday that he had tested negative for Covid-19 earlier that morning, and that the last time he was with the president was Sept. 15.

“We’re praying for the president and the first lady, that they’ll have a speedy recovery,” Pomepo, who was traveling on Friday to Croatia, said. He added that he had spoken to Pence’s office Friday morning and that “we’re taking this, obviously, very seriously.”

It is unclear whether Trump caught the coronavirus directly from Hicks. She had traveled with him Tuesday for his debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Cleveland.

Hicks showed symptoms and got her test result early Thursday, but few people in the White House knew about it until later in the afternoon, according to the person familiar with the situation.

Hicks was seen traveling Tuesday on Air Force One without a mask. She also traveled with the president during his rally in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Only a small group of White House officials were aware of Hicks’ positive diagnosis Thursday morning, and later in the day, news spread to more aides inside the West Wing.

Still, business at the White House continued. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany held a briefing in the late morning, and in the afternoon the president flew to his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., for a fundraising roundtable and reception with high-dollar donors.

The president traveled with a smaller group of aides for the short trip, including John McEntee and deputy press secretary Judd Deere.

Pressed Friday on when he found out about Hicks testing positive — and whether he sat on the news of her diagnosis until after Trump's fundraiser — Meadows told reporters he was "not going to get into the tick-tock" of events.

"I can tell you, in terms of Hope Hicks we discovered that right as Marine One was taking off yesterday," Meadows said. "We actually pulled some of the people that had been traveling and in close contact."

Meadows suggested the news of Hicks testing positive began trickling out because "we had already started the contact tracing just prior to" Trump's fundraiser.

As for Trump's positive test, "last night — even in the early hours of this morning — the minute we got a confirmatory test on the president, we felt like it was important to get the news out there at that time," Meadows said.

Minutes after Trump's tweet, the White House canceled the president's travel plans. He had been scheduled to attend a rally in Florida on Friday night. His other weekend events, including rallies in Wisconsin, which is struggling with a surge in Covid-19 cases, were also expected to be canceled.

Just how long the president will be confined to the White House is an open question. The White House has required other officials who tested positive for the virus to have a week without symptoms and two negative test results before returning to work. The next presidential debate is set for Oct. 15.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone who has the coronavirus to self-isolate and “separate themselves from others by staying in a specific ‘sick room’ or area.” For symptomatic individuals, the agency recommends staying isolated until 10 days after symptoms first appear and at least a full day after a fever has died down and other symptoms are improving. For asymptomatic individuals, it recommends simply waiting until 10 days have passed since the date of the positive test.

Trump has been under fire for downplaying the virus in its earliest months and throughout the year. He told journalist Bob Woodward in February that he was “playing it down” even though it was possibly five times “more deadly” than the flu. Publicly, however, he compared Covid-19 to the flu and assured the public that “like a miracle, it will disappear.”

Trump has long faced criticism for his cavalier approach toward coronavirus precautions. His campaign rallies often feature large crowds of supporters tightly packed together, many without masks. He has also resumed indoor campaign events, even though health officials advise against crowded enclosed spaces. During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in late August, a legion of supporters gathered on the White House grounds, many without masks.

Trump also has vacillated on his public support for basic coronavirus safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask when out in public and around other people. He’s railed against mask mandates that several cities have enforced but insists he wears masks “when needed.”

At this week’s debate, Trump even mocked Biden for wearing masks so often. “I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from ‘em and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Trump stood only feet away from Biden at the Tuesday debate — where multiple members of Trump’s entourage declined to wear masks, despite requests from the staff hosting the event. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was at the White House last weekend to help the president with debate prep, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday that he and others working Trump did not wear masks.

As news reports swirled Thursday night about Hicks’ diagnosis, Trump expressed sympathy for her during an interview with Fox News‘ Sean Hannity and said that he and the first lady had been tested for the virus. “We‘ll see what happens, but who knows?“ Trump said.

During that interview, Trump said members of the military and law enforcement often want to “hug you and they want to kiss you because we really have done a good job for them.“ Trump said that it‘s hard to turn them down and that Hicks often receives them warmly.

Prior to her current role, Hicks served as White House communications director and on the 2016 Trump campaign’s press team.

Trump’s infection is just the latest example that the novel coronavirus does not spare the powerful — numerous world leaders have contracted the disease. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent three nights in intensive care after he contracted the virus and experienced trouble breathing. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also tested positive over the summer.

The virus has similarly infiltrated elite political circles. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife tested positive after attending a large event in London. Elsewhere, the Australian home affairs minister and Iran’s deputy health minister were just two of scores of government officials who have been infected since the pandemic’s outbreak.

Still, Trump’s diagnosis will raise serious questions about whether the White House’s coronavirus protocols were adequate — and whether the West Wing took the threat of the virus seriously enough.

Hicks was one of the most senior aides to the president to have tested positive for the virus. National security adviser Robert O’Brien tested positive for the virus in July, as did a number of Secret Service agents. Katie Miller, a spokesperson for Pence, tested positive in May, and a Brazilian dinner companion of the president tested positive back in March.

In the wake of the earlier diagnoses of Pence’s spokesperson and the military valet, the White House stepped up its protocol by increasing the frequency of its testing of the president, vice president and their top aides. The White House press office said staffers also regularly deep cleaned workspaces and did regular temperature checks of anyone around the president.

McEnany, the White House press secretary, said over the summer that the president was tested frequently for the virus. White House staffers were also notified in August that they would be subject to random coronavirus screenings.

Deere said in a statement on Thursday night, “White House Operations collaborates with the Physician to the President and the White House Military Office to ensure all plans and procedures incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on complex and when the President is traveling.“

“The President takes the health and safety of himself and everyone who works in support of him and the American people very seriously,“ his statement said.

Daniel Lippman and David Lim contributed to this report.

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