Two days later, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a national pandemic.
Since then, the virus has claimed more than 212,000 American lives, tanked the economy and forced millions out of their jobs or school, imperiling the president’s reelection prospects. But it may never have been more palpable for Trump than the moment last week when Hicks took ill — closely foreshadowing his own sickness.
Hicks is rarely seen — her disdain for the spotlight is matched by her loyalty to the man who loves nothing more. But for the president she is ever-present. Whatever her title, her unspoken job description has been to prevent reality from intruding on him. She has managed his moods and counseled him on nearly everything, from the most substantive to the trivial. Until last week, she spent more time with him than almost anyone else outside his family.
“She is trusted because she isn’t driving her own policy agenda. She is looking out for him,” said former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who has worked closely with Hicks. “It’s so important for him to have a voice in the room that’s not trying to do anything other than be strictly helpful to him. She is a confidante, an adviser and a strategist.”
But when a reporter broke the news of Hicks’s coronavirus diagnosis last week, it exposed a contagion at the White House that has presented Trump with his biggest challenge at the defining moment of his presidency. It has placed exactly the kind of scrutiny on Hicks that she abhors and put her movements at the center of a conversation about the president’s handling of the nation’s most deadly pandemic in a century.
This story is based on interviews with 12 current and former administration officials or others close to Hicks, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak about her and her recent diagnosis.
Hicks had tested negative last Wednesday, the morning after Trump’s first debate with Joe Biden, but she started feeling unwell at a rally in Duluth, Minn., that night. She quarantined herself on Air Force One on the return trip, discreetly enough that other staffers did not know she was ill. When the plane landed, she exited from the rear entrance.
The next morning, Hicks reported for work at the White House and tested positive for the coronavirus. She returned home to begin isolating — but told only the president and a small circle of senior staff, including chief of staff Mark Meadows. Many colleagues, including one aide who had been near her during her potentially contagious period, were enraged when they only learned about it several hours later through the gossip vine or White House contact tracers; two said they would have curtailed their contact with other people and taken a test immediately had they known sooner. Several aides said they suspected there might be a positive case in the West Wing when co-workers started wearing masks, but by the time they learned