Why the date of Trump's last negative COVID-19 test matters

The White House physician treating President Trump for COVID-19 refused to tell reporters at a Monday news conference the date of the president’s last negative test for the coronavirus, a key question for those who might have been in proximity to him before last Thursday, when he fell ill.

Trump returned to the White House Monday night and several reporters sought to nail down the last time the White House had definitive evidence that he was virus-free.

“I don’t want to go backwards,” Dr. Sean Conley said when asked for the date of the president’s last negative test.

When a reporter followed up by saying the date was important for tracing the president’s contacts during the infectious period, which can begin days before a patient shows symptoms, Conley offered another evasive answer.

“The contact tracing, as I understand it, is being done. I’m not involved with that,” he said.

When asked by Hunter Walker of Yahoo News whether he was concerned about his own exposure to the virus given that he traveled with Trump last week, Conley acknowledged the significance of having an accurate record of the president’s testing history.

Sean Conley, center
White House physician Dr. Sean Conley answering questions on the condition of President Trump. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The president has been tested regularly for the virus, although not necessarily every day.

“I am concerned, but as the CDC says, there are caveats for essential employees that as long as you continue to test negative, you remain symptom-free and you keep a mask on when you’re out and about, which we do inside the hospital 24/7, then you can carry on your duties,” Conley said.

Walker pressed Conley to say when Trump’s last known negative test for COVID-19 was recorded.

“Everyone wants that,” Conley said with a laugh.

Two members of the White House cleaning staff tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, the White House said, though they were believed not to have been in direct contact with the president or the first lady.

On Sunday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked whether Trump was given a COVID-19 test before he attended last Tuesday’s presidential debate with Joe Biden in Cleveland, and again on Thursday before heading to a fundraiser at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

“I’m not going to give you a detailed readout with timestamps at every time the president is tested,” McEnany said. “He’s tested regularly, and the first positive test he received was after his return from Bedminster.”

McEnany herself got a positive COVID-19 test result on Monday morning.

But without clarification on the exact dates and times of the negative test results, no one who came in recent contact with Trump and his staff in Cleveland, in Bedminster or at a mass rally last Wednesday in Duluth, Minn., can be sure of the extent of the risk.

Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s aides, said she began feeling sick on Wednesday on the plane ride home from the Duluth rally, a White House source told the Associated Press. She also traveled with the president to Tuesday’s debate.

Debate moderator Chris Wallace noted that the president and his campaign staff did not show up at the venue in Cleveland in time to be given tests.

“They didn’t arrive until Tuesday afternoon,” Wallace said. “So for them to get tested, there wouldn't have been enough time to have the test and have the debate at 9:00 that night. They didn't show up until 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the afternoon. Yeah, there was an honor system when it came to people that came into the hall from the two campaigns.”

US President Donald Trump tosses a cap to supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport in Duluth, Minnesota on September 30, 2020. - President Trump announced early on October 2, 2020, that he and First Lady Melania Trump would be going into quarantine after they were both found to have contracted the novel coronavirus. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump tosses a cap to supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally in Duluth, Minn., on Sept. 30. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived two hours early and both tested negative. But Wallace said that the members of Trump’s entourage, including first lady Melania Trump, who also later tested positive for the virus, struck a different posture at the debate.

“People in the hall noticed that they weren’t wearing masks, and everybody else in the hall was wearing a mask,” Wallace said. “When the debate ended, Mrs. Trump came over, walked past me, she was not wearing a mask. Mrs. Biden walked past me to her husband, and she was wearing a mask. So there was a difference in the way the two families and their camps treated the health safety regulations inside the hall.”

When Trump attended his Thursday fundraiser in New Jersey, some guests described him as “lethargic” and “not himself.”

“It was deemed safe for the president to go,” McEnany said of the fundraiser, but staff members were taken off the White House helicopter before it left for the event.

The CDC notes that “even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy [people who were exposed to the virus] should stay home (quarantine), since symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.” That appears to have been the case for people like McEnany, who initially tested negative following the president’s diagnosis only to receive a positive result days later.

The date of Trump’s last negative test would help make clear just how regularly the “most tested man in America,” as the White House has called him, undergoes testing as well as who may be at risk for exposure. The fact that the White House and Trump’s doctors are unwilling to provide that information, despite clearly having it at their fingertips, raises even more questions.


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