A play-by-play of how the Trump and Biden administrations handled their septuagenarian commander-in-chiefs getting sick with COVID

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Joe Biden, left, and Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden, left, and former President Donald Trump, right, have now both had COVID-19.Getty Images
  • Biden and Trump have something in common besides the presidency: they both caught COVID.

  • Thanks to vaccines and treatments, the pandemic is in a different place today than it was before the 2020 election.

  • Both Biden and Trump projected resilience through the illness — with different results.

Contracting COVID-19 as president may be the one thing that unites Joe Biden and Donald Trump — beyond their time behind the Resolute Desk.

Even so, experience suggests the two political foes won't be calling each other to compare notes on symptoms, governing, or Netflix binge-watching.

Their approaches to testing positive have been markedly different, from the diagnosis announcement to White House management of their illness.

Presidential personalities and health play a role. But a bigger factor is where we were then and are now with the virus. Biden is vaccinated and twice boosted, though 437 people in the US are still dying every day of COVID. He tested negative after completing five days of Paxlovid treatments. No vaccine was yet available to Trump, who was hospitalized for three days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and received what was then an experimental drug.

Biden pointed to vaccinations and treatments as differences between his experience and Trump's during his remarks on Wednesday after testing negative.

"Here's the bottom line: When my predecessor got COVID, he had to get helicoptered to Walter Reed Medical Center," Biden said during a Rose Garden speech.  "He was severely ill.  Thankfully, he recovered.  When I got COVID, I worked from upstairs of the White House — in the offices upstairs — and — for the — that five-day period."

But both men have taken steps to project strength in their own ways. Here's how Biden and Trump's early handling of a COVID diagnosis compares:

In this image released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden with a fist bump after his arrival at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 15, 2022.
In this image released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden with a fist bump after his arrival at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 15, 2022.Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP

Before testing positive

Biden's diagnosis announcement on July 21 follows a busy couple of days that included travel Wednesday to Massachusetts with members of Congress and his administration. On Tuesday, he met with Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska at the White House. Photos show Biden was mask-free during his meeting in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud a week ago.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a Thursday statement that Biden had tested negative as recently as Tuesday.

As for Trump, he announced on October 2, 2020, that he had COVID.

But his former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows revealed in his book published last year that Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on September 26, 2020 — three days before his presidential debate with Biden. He then tested negative shortly after the positive test, and the White House did not publicly disclose either result.

Trump held a Rose Garden Ceremony to celebrate the Senate's confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Multiple news outlets called it a "super-spreader" event.

Donald Trump gets into a presidential SUV
President Donald Trump gets into a SUV at Walter Reed Medical Center in May 2018.Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images

The announcement 

True to form, Trump broke his own news on Twitter.

At 1 a.m.

"Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19," Trump said. "We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!"

Then-White House physician Sean Conley issued a statement shortly after Trump's tweet confirming the positive result.

"The President and First Lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence," Conley wrote.

The news came just two days after Bloomberg broke the story that White House advisor Hope Hicks had COVID. At that time, Trump had said he planned to quarantine.

When Biden tested positive for COVID, the US first learned of the diagnosis through an email Jean-Pierre sent to reporters, which they then widely disseminated through tweets and news reports.

The statement said Biden was taking the antiviral Paxlovid. It also included a letter from Biden's White House physician, Kevin O'Connor, who has worked with him for decades. Biden himself then followed up on Twitter: "Folks, I'm doing great."

Later in the day, the White House conducted a press conference with Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus coordinator, who answered questions about Biden's health. But the White House refused to make O'Connor available for questions.

Still, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted the Biden administration is doing things "very differently" from the last administration when reporters asked why they weren't being transparent by allowing Biden's doctor to take questions.

Jean-Pierre also told a reporter, "I don't think it matters" when asked during the news briefing where Biden caught COVID.

"What I was trying to say is what's important now is that he has mild symptoms, is that he's working from the residence on behalf of the American people," she later said.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden acknowledges guests and staff as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House July 20, 2022 in Washington, DC.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Plans change

After Biden's illness, he had to cancel a planned trip to Pennsylvania to tout a new crime-fighting fund. Instead, he is isolating in the White House for at least five days, the White House said.

Biden's diagnosis also meant canceling a trip to Florida that he had planned for Monday. There, he planned to deliver remarks at a law enforcement conference, and separately, at a rally for the Democratic National Committee.

On Friday morning, O'Connor said that Biden's temperature went up the previous night but he responded to Tylenol.

Less than a day after Trump first announced he had COVID, the White House flew him eight miles to Walter Reed hospital in a helicopter to be hospitalized.

Wearing a navy blue suit and a face mask, Trump walked across the White House lawn to board Marine One.

In this photo provided by The White House, President Joe Biden talks on the phone with his national security team from the Treaty Room in the residence of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 22, 2022.
In this photo provided by The White House, President Joe Biden talks on the phone with his national security team from the Treaty Room in the residence of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 22, 2022.Adam Schultz/The White House via AP

The reel 

Shortly after arriving at Walter Reed, Trump posted an 18-second video to his Twitter account to reassure the nation of his condition.

"I want to thank everybody for the tremendous support," he said. "I'm going to Walter Reed Hospital. I think I'm doing very well. We're going to make sure that things work out. The first lady is doing very well. So thank you very much, I appreciate it. I will never forget it. Thank you."

In similar fashion, Biden's White House team also posted an upbeat video of the president's condition. In it, Biden was maskless and wearing a blue blazer, and said he was hard at work and "doing well."

"In the meantime, keep the faith," he said. "It's going to be OK."

Both presidents posted to Facebook pictures of themselves working. Trump even posted a photo while at Walter Reed. There, the presidential suite — where he could both work and receive care — awaited him.

trump rose garden white house scotus amy coney barrett mike lee coronavirus
President Donald Trump and Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden at the White House on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020.Alex Brandon/AP Photo

The reaction 

Trump was fixated on the most recent, primetime January 6 hearing the day of Biden's announcement. He didn't say anything about his successor's illness.

Biden, in contrast, wished Trump well when he contracted the novel coronavirus, saying he and his wife, Jill, were praying for the Trumps' "quick and full recovery," while calling it "a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously."

Democrats joined in wishing Trump well but also scolded him for not taking the virus seriously enough. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Trump had created a "brazen invitation for something like this to happen" after appearing before maskless crowds.

Opinion columns called Trump "reckless," and "foolish," and said he demonstrated "arrogant negligence." USA Today even posted a picture of all the people who attended the Barrett Rose Garden ceremony and asked readers to help reporters identify who was present, so they could trace the origins of the virus and see who else got infected.

Biden faced some backlash for his infection, too. Some critics mocked him on Twitter for last year calling the post-vaccination COVID surges a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" and for falsely saying, "You're not going to get covid if you have these vaccinations."

On Thursday, "President Harris" began trending on Twitter, and news organizations, including Insider, wrote explainers about the presidential line of succession in the event Biden couldn't execute his duties.

Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, a former White House physician, tweeted: "Hope President Biden is feeling better soon, but as the former White House Physician, I recommend he remain in isolation for the next 913 days, 20 hours, and 51 minutes. Just to be safe…."

White House Covid Response Coordinator Ashish Jha speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, July 22, 2022.
White House Covid Response Coordinator Ashish Jha speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, July 22, 2022.Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Doctor's orders

Biden and Trump both released post-COVID-diagnosis statements from their doctors. And they both faced criticism about transparency.

Biden's White House has refused to make O'Connor available for questions despite multiple requests from journalists during the White House press briefing.

Conley, meanwhile, came under criticism for his refusal to answer some of reporters' questions when Trump was at Walter Reed. Instead, it was Meadows who disclosed that Trump's condition was worse than previously disclosed — he had a fever and his blood oxygen level dropped rapidly.

Presidential doctors face a difficult ethical and legal dilemma, however. By law, doctors cannot disclose information about patients without their explicit consent — even when a patient happens to be the president of the United States. If doctors do share such information without patients' consent, they could lose their license, face fines, or even go to prison.

Adding to the public's partial view of the situation is that no law requires presidents to provide information to the public about their health.

In this image released by the White House, former President Donald Trump works in the Presidential Suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on Saturday, October 3, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19.
In this image released by the White House, former President Donald Trump works in the Presidential Suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on Saturday, October 3, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19.Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House via AP

'Show him working'

Both presidents tried to ease concerns about their conditions and show they're still working.

But that's where style similarities end.

Trump alarmed medical experts by leaving the hospital to drive past supporters and wave while still under medical care, raising concerns for the Secret Service agents who drove him. They wore full medical protective gear.

After being released from Walter Reed, Trump returned to the White House and took off his mask to pose for photos on the Truman balcony.

"Don't be afraid of Covid," Trump said in a tweet. "Don't let it dominate your life."

At that point in time, 210,000 people living in the United States had died from the disease in a matter of months.

Biden told supporters, via his video, that he appreciates their concerns, and he's been holding virtual meetings. He started an economic briefing Friday by apologizing for his voice.

"I'm feeling much better than I sound," he said.

On Monday, the president's official social media accounts shared a photo of Biden and his German shepherd Commander sitting together on the White House balcony as he spoke on the phone. "Took some calls this morning with man's best co-worker," POTUS captioned the photo.

 

Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that the White House has been preparing for Biden contracting COVID for "several months," given the percentage of cases in the US.

"What they need to do over the next couple of days is show him working and show him still active and serving as president and I'm certain they'll likely do that," Psaki said on MSNBC, the network she'll join in the fall.

During his Rose Garden speech after testing negative on Wednesday, Biden said he was thankful that his symptoms were mild and that his recovery was quick.

"The entire time I was in isolation, I was able to work to carry out the duties of the office and without any interruption," he said.  "It's a real statement on where we are in the fight against COVID-19."

He later added, "And now I get to go back to the Oval Office."

Read the original article on Business Insider