Attempt to trace source of Trump infection reveals many large crowds, few masks

It’s not clear where the president got the virus, or even when he tested positive, but his week included several rallies, and a White House event where several attendees fell ill

In this photo taken on September 26, 2020 US President Donald Trump announces 7th US Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett (R) as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
In this photo taken on September 26, 2020 US President Donald Trump announces 7th US Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett (R) as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The scene at the White House a week ago was one of normalcy in these most abnormal times: a crowd of revelers gathered in the Rose Garden, a band playing, the mingling of the elite, good cheer everywhere, handshakes and hugs left and right.

Now it’s a suspected petri dish of coronavirus infection, prominent among the numerous occasions over a week or more where President Donald Trump might have caught — or spread — the virus that has now landed him in the hospital

No one knows how, when or from whom Trump became infected. Nor is it established who, if anyone, has contracted the disease from him. But to retrace some of his steps over the last week is to see risk at multiple turns and an abundance of opportunity for infection.

This was the case day after day and right up until a few hours before his positive diagnosis, as he took a contingent to New Jersey for a fundraiser while knowing he’d been close to someone sick with COVID-19.

The result is that one of the most protected people on the planet is now hospitalized, battling a disease that has killed more than 1 million people worldwide, more than 200,000 of them in the United States.

A look at days leading up to it:


More than 150 people gathered in the Rose Garden for Trump’s introduction of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court. The event was highly social, but not distanced.

President Donald Trump walks along the Colonnade with Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a news conference to announce Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. First lady Melania Trump is at center. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Few in the crowd wore masks; in fact, some guests were told it was safe to take them off after they received tests upon arrival, said Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, one of the attendees.

From right, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greet people after President Donald Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

COVID-19 tests are not 100% reliable and do not rule out the possibility that someone might have an infection that is not yet detectable. The virus can incubate for days before a test will uncover it.

In the days that followed, a succession of attendees reported they had contracted COVID-19, among them Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and former counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, seen in an AP photo with his arm around another guest while chatting up several face to face, announced his positive virus test this weekend.

In this Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, photo former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, front second from right, speaks with others after President Donald Trump announces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington. Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins stands at back right. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Jenkins contracted COVID-19, too.

“I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and by shaking hands with a number of people in the Rose Garden,” he said in a message to the Notre Dame community.

Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer as they wait for a Trump campaign rally to begin at Harrisburg International Airport, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Middletown, Pa. (AP/Steve Ruark)

“I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so.”

Public-health experts say Trump failed to lead by example, too.

That night he headed to Pennsylvania for a rally, followed Sunday by an outing to the golf course, a reception with Gold Star families, and a press conference during which he made not a single reference to the virus.



After a spirited send-off from the White House grounds, Trump and members of his team headed to Cleveland and the raucous presidential debate with Democrat Joe Biden. Adviser Hope Hicks was among them.

Everyone admitted to the hall was supposed to have been tested in advance and come up negative, the Cleveland Clinic officials who served as the debate’s health advisers said in a statement. “We had requirements to maintain a safe environment that align with CDC guidelines — including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking.”

But most in Trump’s contingent — his adult children, senior staff and other VIPs — stripped off their masks for the duration of the debate, violating the rules.

First lady Melania Trump (L), Ivanka Trump (C), and Eric Trump (R) arrive to the presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

Moderator Chris Wallace, seated on stage, noted that when Biden’s VIP guests, including his wife, Jill, walked in, they were wearing masks and kept them on throughout the debate.

“I don’t wear a mask like him,” Trump said of Biden mockingly in the debate. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden exits his plane after landing in Cleveland, Ohio to participate in the first Presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Said Biden: “He’s been totally irresponsible the way in which he has handled the social distancing and people wearing masks, basically encouraged them not to. He’s a fool on this.”

Trump and his team returned late to Washington, with much more on tap for the week and the election now just a month away. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who attended the debate and helped him prepare with Christie, has tested positive for COVID-19.



People around Trump are tested daily for the coronavirus and Hicks had her test in the morning, along with the others to be traveling with him for the day. Her results were negative. She joined others aboard Marine One for the 15-minute or so flight to Air Force One waiting for them at Joint Base Andrews.

Marine One is a single-cabin chopper, normally seating 10, a noisy aircraft with no partitions except between the president and the cockpit. Once at Andrews, it was on to Minnesota for a fund-raiser followed by an outdoor rally in Duluth.

On the ground in Minnesota, Hicks reported feeling unwell.

It was blustery and cold in Duluth with a bit of a mist. As usual, few in the crowd wore masks. They heard Trump make his dubious promise of a vaccine by the end of the year and congratulate himself for doing a great job. “On November 3rd, Minnesota will decide whether we end this pandemic, defeat the virus, and return to record prosperity,” he said. “Either way, we’re returning. Either way.”

US President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport, September 30, 2020, in Duluth, Minnesota. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump’s speech was notably shorter than usual, 45 minutes instead of the usual one to two hours.

After his remarks, he mingled on stage briefly, pumping his fist to the beat of the Village People and waving to folks in the crowd. He did not speak to reporters before boarding Air Force One nor come back to speak with them on the flight.

Hicks kept apart from others on the big plane coming back and did not take the crowded Marine One back to the White House once at Andrews.



On Thursday morning, Hicks got another test. This time it was positive.

The results came not long before the president was set to lift off in Marine One for a fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Hicks’ diagnosis affirmed that Trump had been in close proximity to someone infected with the virus. That’s when you should quarantine, according to public-health guidelines. But Trump went ahead with the trip. Not only that, but others who had also been around Hicks were not immediately told about her positive test.

Counselor to the President Hope Hicks, left, with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, walk from Marine One to accompany US President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One as he departs Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The White House worked furiously to swap out staff who had been in close contact with Hicks and replace them with others. Spokesman Judd Deere was swapped in at the last minute, without being told why. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not make the trip. White House officials said they began learning of Hicks’ positive test after Trump boarded Marine One to start his journey to New Jersey.

Comedian Joe Piscopo attended the outdoor Bedminster fundraiser and told The Associated Press by phone that “it was meticulously run, from the Secret Service to COVID testing to masking.”

“I’ve never seen him more on top of his game — warm, funny, vulnerable,” Piscopo said. “Like we say in New Jersey, he’s an animal. He’s going to be fine, and I mean that in a good way.”

US President Donald Trump gives the thumbs-up as he walks from Marine One to the White House in Washington, October 1, 2020, as he returns from Bedminster, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Charlie Kolean, 25, of Dallas also attended the event, and described getting a nasal swab and negative results in 15 minutes, after which he joined a cocktail party of some 60 people. Staff at the event were masked but the guests weren’t, he told AP. VIPs had their pictures taken with Trump in another room, standing six feet from the president with no handshakes.

Hours after the Bedminster fund-raiser, Trump publicly confirmed Hicks had tested positive and told Fox News he and his wife had been tested and were prepared to quarantine if necessary.

This chain of events during the week does not establish how or where Trump got the virus. Given the highly variable period between infection and sickness — anywhere from a few days to two weeks — he could have contracted it on any number of occasions from a variety of people.



At 12:54 a.m., Trump tweeted: “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Flotus refers to Melania Trump, the first lady, who also has COVID-19.

Hours after that, Kolean got a “Dear Supporter” letter from the Trump campaign team saying: “We unfortunately write today to notify you that, as you have probably seen, President Trump confirmed late last night that he and the First Lady were tested for COVID-19 and produced positive test results.” The email urged attendees to contact their doctor if they developed symptoms.

White House physician Sean Conley, with medical staff, gives an update on the condition of US President Donald Trump, on October 3, 2020, at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

Well wishes for the Trumps came in from around the world and from across the political divide, some of them with an I-told-you-so undertone.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pronounced the news “tragic, it’s very sad,” but also unsurprising given actions by Trump that were “sort of a brazen invitation for this to happen.” Biden kept to a simple statement saying “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”

Before the day was out, Trump was admitted to a military hospital for a stay expected to last at least several days, in what White House officials initially said was merely a precaution. But his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said Saturday that Trump went though a “very concerning” period Friday and it was revealed that he had been given supplementary oxygen at the White House Friday.

US President Donald Trump leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the South Lawn of the White House on October 2, 2020 in Washington, DC (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

The next 48 hours would be critical to his care, Meadows said.

Despite the abject failure to keep the president protected from the virus, White House officials defended their current protocols as well thought out. And masks still won’t be required on the White House grounds for all West Wing employees. “Wearing a mask,” said one official, “is a personal choice.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed