U.S. president Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. This comes a month before the 2020 presidential election and a couple of days after Trump's and former Vice President Joe Biden's chaotic first presidential debate in Ohio.
The 74-year-old president, who spent months downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, mocking masks and pushing for the country to re-open, is in a high-risk group for contracting severe disease due to his age.
The risk of hospitalization with COVID-19 for those between 65 and 74 years of age is 5 times higher than it is for those between the ages of 18 and 29, while the risk of death is 90 times higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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"Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!," Trump wrote on Twitter early Friday morning (Oct.2). His tweet became his most shared ever, according to Axios.
It's not clear if the two are experiencing any symptoms. Melania Trump, who is 50, wrote on Twitter early in the morning that they are quarantining at home and are "feeling good." Trump's personal physician, Dr. Sean Conley also released a memo early Friday saying they "are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence."
COVID-19 can begin as an asymptomatic disease before the person develops symptoms, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious-diseases specialist and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. The severity of the disease increases with age and certain risk factors such as obesity, according to a previous Live Science report. "Obviously, someone that's older and more obese is at more risk of having symptomatic disease than someone who isn't as old or isn't as obese," Adalja told Live Science.
Trump and Melania were tested for the virus yesterday (Oct. 1), after news broke that his close advisor Hope Hicks had tested positive. Hicks traveled on Air Force One with Trump to and back from the presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday (Sept. 29) and to a Minnesota rally the next day, according to Bloomberg. Hicks started to show mild symptoms on the plane ride home from the rally on Wednesday evening (Sept. 30), but she was isolated from other passengers, according to an anonymous administration official, The Associated Press reported.
But it's unclear when and how Trump was infected, or whether he could have also potentially exposed Biden on the debate stage on Sept. 29. The two candidates were tested before the debate, according to The Associated Press (opens in new tab). But it’s possible that Trump could have tested negative while still being infected with the virus, Adalja said. That test was conducted at “one moment in time,” and it’s not clear exactly when he was tested and when he was exposed, Adalja said.
What's more, though the candidates didn't shake hands and were socially distant, "in special circumstances, when people are speaking forcibly or yelling, there is a possibility droplets can travel [farther than] 6 feet," Adalja told Live Science. "It is not an ironclad number."
But this is all guesswork. "There's a lot of speculation going on without enough timeline," he said.
Trump has frequently downplayed the need for masks and rarely wears them in public.
"I wear masks when needed," Trump said at the debate and then proceeded to mock Biden for wearing masks too frequently. "I don't wear masks like him," Trump said. "Every time you see him he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from it, he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen."
Trump also traveled to a private fundraiser on Thursday, the day he tested positive, at his Bedminster resort in New Jersey, according to The Associated Press.
Trump joins several other prominent world leaders who have had COVID-19, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was ultimately admitted to the intensive care unit for his disease, and Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, who, like Trump, has spent a good deal of time downplaying the pandemic.
Originally published on Live Science.