Amid a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, and after almost a year of questioning medical advice and flaunting rules about mask-wearing, President Donald Trump announces that he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19 in an early-morning tweet on October 2, 2020. Coming a week after a White House gathering celebrating his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and just 48 hours after his first debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump’s announcement precipitates several days of uncertainty in Washington and around the country.
“You don’t have to do it,” Trump told the nation on April 3, the first time he addressed the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that Americans wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.” Trump never fully embraced masks or social distancing, and reportedly chastised aides who wore masks in his presence even as case numbers began to climb for a second time in the fall of 2020. Masks were few and far between at the September 26 ceremony announcing Barrett’s nomination, an event that became infamous over the next week as a number of high-profile attendees later tested positive for COVID.
When news broke that Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s advisors, had tested positive, speculation swirled that Trump and the First Family could have contracted the virus. Around 1 a.m. on October 2, Trump confirmed his diagnosis, tweeting “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”
Although those close to him kept the seriousness of his condition secret even from others in the West Wing, the president’s fever became debilitating and he was placed on oxygen. The FDA hurriedly approved an experimental treatment of monoclonal antibodies, and doctors warned that someone in his condition—74 and medically obese, Trump was considered to be at high very high risk—should be taken to the hospital. Reluctantly, Trump went to the hospital later in the day on October 2, a Friday, and remained there over the weekend.
Although doctors warned that his departure from Walter Reed was premature, Trump returned to the White House on Monday and made a full recovery. Trump claimed he had “learned a lot” about COVID from his experience, but he and his supporters continued to question the effectiveness of masks, vaccines and other CDC recommendations. Trump’s bout with COVID was probably the most highly-publicized in the world, and it was impossible to ignore the irony of the president being laid low just hours after holding a rally at which he claimed that “the end of the pandemic is in sight.” COVID cases in the United States continued to climb following Trump’s recovery, and his prediction proved entirely unfounded. By the time he left office in January of 2021, some 400,000 Americans had died of COVID.
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