Unpacking the revelation that Trump tested positive for Covid before he debated Biden
If Mark Meadows is to be believed, Trump's conduct was appalling but not surprising. Let's examine the timeline.
A new book from former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows contains a stunning revelation — that then-President Trump first tested positive for Covid on September 26, 2020, three days before his first debate against Joe Biden, and five days before he publicly announced he had the virus.
According to an excerpt of the book obtained by the Guardian, Meadows writes that despite testing positive, “nothing was going to stop [Trump] from going out there” and debating Biden. But while Meadows seems to think that attitude is commendable, the reality is that if that timeline is accurate, Trump put Biden’s health in grave danger by sharing a stage with him during a debate in which he sweated profusely and behaved manically.
According to Meadows, after Trump tested positive on the 26th, he took another test, which produced a negative result. But that doesn’t mean the first test was a false positive. As epidemiologist Michael Mina explained on Twitter, the different results could just be the product of the different types of tests used.
(Mina adds that because Trump’s first positive test apparently occurred right after the Amy Coney Barrett superspreader event at the White House — an event where all other attendees were required to take rapid tests — it may be the case that Trump was the source of the spread.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly given how his campaign made a mockery of public health, Trump and his team seemed to regard the negative test as a clean bill of health. Or that’s the charitable interpretation, at least. The more cynical one is they just didn’t give a shit.
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On September 27 — the day after the positive test — Trump took part in an event for military families at the White House. In light of what Meadows is now saying, a Washington Post report about that event indicates Trump’s disinterest in protecting people around him was the epitome of selfish irresponsibility.
At Trump’s insistence, few were wearing masks, but they were packed in a little too tight for his comfort. He wasn’t worried about others getting sick, but he did fret about his own vulnerability and complained to his staff afterward. Why were they letting people get so close to him?
That same day, a mask-less Trump held a news conference indoors.
The next day, Trump took park in an event in the Rose Garden in which his lectern was unusually and conspicuously distanced from those used by other speakers. During it, Trump even quipped about how he hoped Adm. Brett Giroir, the White House’s coronavirus testing czar, wouldn’t test positive for the virus.
While all of this was going on, Trump was taking every opportunity to heap scorn upon Biden for taking social distancing and mask wearing seriously. When Trump wasn’t interrupting Biden during the September 29 debate, for instance, he was making false claims about masks not being effective.
Along similar lines, on September 30, Trump traveled to Duluth, Minnesota, for a rally that was abnormally short, but in which he criticized Biden for following basic public health guidance.
It was on the trip to Duluth that Trump adviser Hope Hicks became ill with what was later determined to be Covid. Trump announced on Twitter just over 24 hours later that both he and Melania had tested positive as well.
Consider that all of the above happened between Trump’s first positive test on September 26 and his second one on October 1. But despite the fact that he may have exposed military families to Covid during the September 27 event, Trump actually went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show the evening of October 1 and suggested military families may have been the source of the White House outbreak.
While Meadows’s book sheds new light on just how recklessly irresponsible Trump’s behavior was in the days surrounding the presidential debate, it was already understood that Trumpworld was hiding something about the circumstances surrounding the then-president contracting Covid.
For instance, in the days following Trump’s release from the hospital on October 5 following a struggle with Covid that was more serious than the White House let on at the time, administration officials and Trump himself refused to answer questions about when Trump’s last negative test occurred — coyness that fueled suspicions the White House may not have wanted to acknowledge how many people Trump exposed.
Around that same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that as Covid spread like wildfire through the White House, Trump asked officials to keep quiet about it.
As the virus spread among the people closest to him, Mr. Trump also asked one adviser not to disclose results of their own positive test. “Don’t tell anyone,” Mr. Trump said, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
In response to Meadows’s revelation, Trump released a statement saying “the story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News. In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.” But note that Trump’s statement is consistent with the timeline presented by Meadows — it doesn’t deny he tested positive before he tested negative.
On Wednesday, Biden was asked if he thinks Trump put him at risk by forging ahead with the presidential debate a day after he apparently tested positive for the virus. Even though the answer to that question is obviously yes, Biden didn’t bite.
But Press Secretary Jen Psaki was more direct. During Wednesday’s press briefing, she swatted down a question from Fox News implying Biden’s Covid response has been just as ineffectual as Trump’s, saying, “I think the fundamental question here is what are you doing to save lives and protect people?”
“The former president was suggesting people inject bleach,” she added. “He apparently reportedly didn’t even share with people he was going to interact with that he had tested positive for Covid himself.”