WASHINGTON — At a press conference Saturday, President Trump announced that he had been tested for the coronavirus, settling for the time being a question on which the White House has reversed itself three times in less than two days.
Only about 12 hours earlier, the White House physician released a letter saying testing wasn’t necessary for the president and would not be done — while acknowledging that another person Trump hosted at Mar-a-Lago last weekend has now tested positive for the virus.
Trump did not explain why he changed his mind. Results of the coronavirus test typically take around two days.
On Friday afternoon, Trump had told reporters at a White House press conference that he would “most likely” be tested. The president was photographed at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last Saturday standing shoulder to shoulder with a spokesman for the Brazilian government, who tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday.
“I didn’t say I’m not going to be tested,” Trump said after one reporter asked him if he was being “selfish” by not getting tested and continuing to interact with members of his administration, including officials in charge of controlling the pandemic. Defying public health precautions, he spoke to a large group of reporters in the Rose Garden and shook hands with numerous staffers who joined him on the podium.
“Shaking hands is not a great thing to be doing now, I agree,” Trump said Saturday, but he said it was a hard habit to break.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key figure in the response to COVID-19, spoke to the press from the lectern on Friday — repeatedly using his hand to adjust the height of the microphone into which the president, who is at least six inches taller, had just been speaking.
Trump’s statement represented a reversal of the White House’s position from a day earlier, when press secretary Stephanie Grisham said there was no need for Trump or Vice President Mike Pence to be tested. “Both the president and vice president had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time,” Grisham said.
Then, just before midnight on Friday night, the White House reversed itself again, releasing a letter from Sean Conley, the president’s physician, which said that “testing for COVID-19 is not currently indicated” for Trump.
At the same time, the letter disclosed that in addition to the Brazilian government spokesman, they had learned of “another dinner guest, this one sharing the table with the President and White House delegation, who was symptom-free until [Friday] morning and has since tested positive for COVID-19.”
That dinner guest was Nestor Forster, the Brazilian charge d’affaires to the U.S., the Brazilian embassy announced.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who was at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday and attended some of the events involving the Brazilian delegation, announced Friday morning that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Trump has also been in contact with members of Congress who went into self-quarantine after being exposed to individuals who later tested positive.
Staff at Mar-a-Lago sent a note to members saying that they were “washing the place down a couple times a day.”
In the letter from Conley late Friday, the president’s doctor characterized Trump’s “exposure” to the Brazilian spokesman, Fabio Wajngarten, as “extremely limited.” But Conley’s letter also revealed that Trump had shaken Wajngarten’s hand, which was not evident from the photograph. The letter also stated that Wajngarten started showing symptoms three days after that interaction, which would have been Wednesday.
Conley acknowledged that Trump “spent more time in closer proximity” to Forster but downplayed the concern, saying that “all interactions occurred before any symptoms onset.”
“These interactions would be categorized as low risk for transmission per CDC guidelines, and as such, there is no indication for home quarantine at this time,” Conley wrote. “I will continue to closely monitor and care for the president.”
Leana Wen, a former Baltimore City health commissioner, who is now an emergency physician and professor at George Washington University, told Yahoo News on Friday that it is possible that people who have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all could be spread the virus to others.
If Trump is such a carrier, he could be what Wen called a “super-spreader,” someone who infects more than two to three people, which the average number infected by a virus carrier.
“There are some people who end up spreading the virus to many more. The more people one is in contact with, the more they could potentially spread the disease,” she said.
Wen said the president’s delay in getting tested went against basic public health protocols. “The standard public health practice is to test all contacts, so at a time of a public health emergency, when containment is key, everyone should abide by public health principles no matter their position or their title,” she said.
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