Ever since March, when much of the country went into lockdown to contain the coronavirus, Donald Trump has tempted fate — ignoring his own administration’s advice on avoiding the virus, yet managing to avoid it all the same.
There was a June rally inside a Tulsa arena, and a convention speech to 2,500 people on the South Lawn of the White House in August. Then came de facto political rallies, which gave way to full outdoor rallies, which gave way to indoor ones. All gathered Trump supporters, largely maskless, tightly packed together, and yet the president — a habitual germophobe even before the pandemic — always emerged unscathed.
But they all paled next to last weekend’s celebratory introduction of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, where roughly 150 guests sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the White House Rose Garden. Senators and other Republican luminaries worked the crowd, shaking hands, hugging and air-kissing, leaning in for conversation. There were indoor gatherings, too. And barely a mask in sight.
The triumphant event has turned into a public health nightmare. At least eight people who attended have since tested positive, including Trump himself, his wife, two Republican senators, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the president of Notre Dame University, though it isn’t known where they contracted the virus.
In the aftermath, the White House said it is performing contract tracing, but several attendees told Bloomberg News that they haven’t been contacted. Some guests are quarantining while others are not, in apparent contradiction of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“If you had to invent a way to transmit this virus, that’s the environment you would invent,” said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “The only higher risk environment I can think of is the air in an ICU that is caring for lots of Covid patients.”
The response mirrors Trump’s inconsistent approach to the pandemic: only selectively, and rarely, following the advice of his own health professionals. Trump, in a statement from Walter Reed hospital on Saturday, chalked up his diagnosis to fate and his desire to be seen leading the country.
“I had no choice because I just didn’t want to stay in the White House,” he said. “I had to be out front, and this is America, this is the United States.”
Trump has made downplaying the risk of the virus and getting the country back to work a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. Now voters will judge how that approach has paid off for both the country and Trump personally, just a month before Election Day.
“We have a situation now where multiple people in the White House have Covid, as precautions were not being taken,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University who is a former health commissioner of Baltimore.
Trump has often cited ubiquitous coronavirus testing within the White House as an excuse to