Relying on testing to ward off COVID put Trump White House at risk

(Reuters) – Early in the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump put his faith in a toaster-sized machine that could spit out test results in a matter of minutes.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump boards the Marine One helicopter to depart the White House and fly to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where it was announced he will stay for at least several days after testing positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

In late March, Trump hailed the launch of Abbott Laboratories’ ID NOW test at a Rose Garden event and embraced its widespread use at the White House to keep the deadly virus at bay. The president often skipped his own administration’s public health recommendations on mask wearing and social distancing, explaining that “everyone’s tested” around him using the Abbott device.

His strategy was no match for the virus.

The president announced Friday that both he and his wife, Melania, tested positive – news that raised questions about the health of other top U.S. officials and threw the final weeks of the presidential campaign into disarray. On Friday, Trump began an experimental treatment and checked in to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as a precautionary measure, a White House official said.

“The reliance on a rapid test, with its limitations, unfortunately gave the White House and its staff a false sense of security that they were in control of the virus,” said William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“You cannot rely on that test to create a barrier between you and the virus,” he said, adding that people “have to wear masks, do social distancing and not go to all these rallies.”

While rapid tests can help contain the spread of a highly contagious virus, they were not designed to be used in isolation. A negative result merely captures a snapshot in time and doesn’t guard against infection soon after. And a person may be infectious for days before the amount of virus in their body registers positive on a test.

Krutika Kuppalli, an assistant professor and expert on infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, said not enough is known about how these rapid tests perform in people who are asymptomatic.

“Trump was playing with fire and it was really a matter of time before something like this was going to happen,” she said. “Even if Trump had been around someone who was sick, wearing a mask could have prevented him from getting the virus.”

The White House said in a statement Thursday that Trump “takes the health and safety of himself and everyone who works in support of him and the American people very seriously” and that the administration followed guidelines for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible.


An Abbott spokeswoman said the company’s ID NOW test

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