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Americans awoke Friday to the grave news that President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the dreadful coronavirus that has killed more than 208,000 people in the U.S. and brought the economy to its knees. They went to bed Friday night knowing that the president, whose symptoms included fatigue and fever, had been taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as a precautionary step.
Word of Trump’s infection came the way that so much of the news from the White House does: in a tweet from the man himself. It wasn’t wholly surprising for a president who has refused to observe pandemic safety protocols; the day before, the White House had announced that his close advisor Hope Hicks had tested positive. Hours after the president’s disclosure, at least seven people in recent contact with Trump were reported to be infected, hinting at a larger outbreak that may continue to ripple among the halls of power.
No matter how you feel about his presidency — and we feel pretty strongly that it has been a disaster — this is a time for Americans to come together and wish Trump a speedy recovery. He has flouted the norms of our democracy, but citizens should still uphold the norms of decency. We hope Trump will return to good health — and then be resoundingly defeated in November.
His infection and hospitalization represent another crisis for a nation reeling from a year that almost seems apocalyptic. And this one is fully of Trump’s own making, endangering not only himself, his family and security detail, but the stability of the country by throwing the executive branch into chaos.
The fact is that Trump is at particular risk of severe illness and death by virtue of his age and health: He is 74 and obese. We sincerely hope he doesn’t find out how much worse COVID-19 can be than influenza, but it’s a real possibility for which we must be prepared.
And we must be informed as well. The White House hasn’t been forthcoming about Trump’s health during his term, but this latest development is a matter of national security. The American people deserve to be kept fully and honestly apprised until Trump is recovered. Meanwhile, the administration must put aside its dangerously casual approach to infection control and require the same measures the rest of us have been told to observe in public places. Incredibly, even as the scope of this apparent outbreak widened Friday, face masks were still optional at the White House.
Several prominent people who spent time with the president over the last week have also tested positive for the coronavirus, including Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins. Though others who’d come into contact with Trump tested negative Friday, including Vice President Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden, those results aren’t necessarily dispositive. It takes three or more days after exposure for the viral tests to reliably detect infection.
That Trump went ahead with an indoor fundraiser at his New Jersey golf club the day after Hicks tested positive, coming into contact with as many as 100 people, shows the depth of his disregard for the welfare of others.
In a way, this outcome was inevitable. From the start, Trump has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, dismissing it as no more than the flu even when he knew full well that it was a serious threat. While other nations were launching sustained testing and tracing programs to keep the spread of the virus in check, Trump dithered.
Worse still, the president politicized the pandemic, contradicting and sidelining his own health officials when they said things he didn’t want to hear. He undermined the federal agencies charged with fighting infectious diseases, and urged governors to lift restrictions and reopen schools before state and local authorities deemed it safe. He packed unmasked supporters into rallies and shared so much bad information, pushing untested and questionable treatments, that a Cornell University study pointed to Trump as the single largest driver of coronavirus misinformation. There’s no telling how many people have gotten sick or even died because of the president’s irresponsible actions.
Apparently, Trump managed to even convince himself that the coronavirus was no big deal — rarely wearing a face mask in public and shamefully mocking those who do. During the first presidential debate on Tuesday, Trump derided Biden for wearing “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen” and hinting that it made him look like a scared old man. Heedless and, in retrospect, ironic.
Of course, we hope that the president and the first lady recover swiftly and fully — just as we hope the same for anyone unfortunate enough to be infected by a potentially deadly virus for which there is no cure or effective treatment. The odds are in his favor that they will, and not just because they will receive better healthcare than is available to most Americans. Most of those who are sickened with COVID-19 do recover, though severe cases can stretch on for weeks and cause lasting damage.
Furthermore, we hope this crisis will act as an object lesson for the nation about the dangers of pretending the coronavirus isn’t a real threat. If the most protected man in America can be struck by COVID-19, so can we all.
If the most protected man in America can be infected, so can we all.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.