This repeated refusal by Trump, his doctors, and top aides raises questions about when the president first became contagious, and his judgment in traveling around the country after at least one top staffer began showing symptoms. A bevy of Trump’s top aides have since fallen ill, and several of the nation’s top military leaders are in quarantine after interacting with a Coast Guard admiral who tested positive after attending the Gold Star event.
Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, his physician Sean Conley, and other aides and campaign officials have all refused to answer the question. Their explanations range from wanting to protect Trump’s privacy to not being in the loop on the president’s testing timeline. Sometimes, they urge reporters to focus on the future, not the past.
But the question is relevant to the immediate future, public health experts say, because it could guide the contact tracing effort that has belatedly begun at the White House. An official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention embedded in the White House Medical Unit is contact tracing to ensure those who had direct contact with the many White House COVID-19 cases isolate and are tested, so they don’t continue to spread the disease.
“The more precision that we can have in terms of the last day he was negative…the more precise contact tracing efforts can be,” said Dr. Howard Koh, a former top official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration. “Having precision on that whole process is very important, and we don’t have that now.”
The question also has political importance given the White House’s COVID-19 outbreak has drawn blistering criticism of Trump’s approach to handling the disease both in his own home and as president. Even some Republicans are criticizing the president for holding events — some indoors — without social distancing or masks. This week, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell suggested he’s avoided going to the White House since August because officials there appeared to have a lax approach to COVID-19.
“My impression was their approach to how to handle this was different from mine,” McConnell told reporters.
If it turns out Trump had not been tested for coronavirus in the days before he received a positive result, it would reinforce the concern he carelessly exposed his own donors in New Jersey and others, even as those around him, including top staffer Hope Hicks, were falling ill.
“It is a very important question for our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters Thursday. “Let us see a date, a time, when you last tested negative before you admitted to this virus.”
On Friday, White House aide Brian Morgenstern would not even confirm in an interview with MSNBC whether Trump had received a negative test result within 72 hours of the Sept. 29 debate against Joe Biden, as the Cleveland Clinic required of both candidates.
“You are very focused on looking backwards,” Morgenstern replied. He said the last negative test result