The White House’s refusal to answer a very basic question with serious implications not only for the president’s health but for the health of those around him — when did President Trump last test negative for the coronavirus? — is raising questions about when Trump was first infected and how many people he may have exposed to the virus.
Trump announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus last Friday morning. But by that point, the coronavirus had been spreading like wildfire in his orbit for a week — and Trump was reportedly not feeling well as far back as the evening of September 30. At least 13 people who had spent time around the president in the days leading up to his Friday announcement (including Trump himself) tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week, and that doesn’t include the 11 positive tests traced to organizers of last Tuesday’s presidential debate or members of the media who covered it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who test positive for the virus isolate for 10 days after the onset of symptoms. But according to the White House’s timeline, Trump’s release from Walter Reed medical center on Monday evening came just four days after he started feeling sick. That discrepancy prompted Howie Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, to note that Trump is being treated as though he was infected with the coronavirus much earlier than the White House timeline would have people believe.
The White House has repeatedly stonewalled questions asking for clarity about the timeline. Asked on Monday when Trump last tested negative, presidential physician Sean Conley wouldn’t say, instead saying, “I don’t want to go backward.”
Q: Can you tell us when the president had his last negative test?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 5, 2020
CONLEY: I don't want to go backwards pic.twitter.com/u3Qe4ECkKG
That was also the line on Sunday when, during a mask-less gaggle with reporters, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany — who on Monday announced she’s tested positive for coronavirus — said, “I’m not going to give you a detailed readout with timestamps of every time the president is tested regularly. He’s tested regularly, and the first positive test he received was after his return” from a fundraiser at his private club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Thursday afternoon.
White House Press Sec. McEnany says she won't give “a detailed readout with timestamps of every time the president's tested" for coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/jKqpseZoJC— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 4, 2020
The White House’s refusal to answer this straightforward question creates the appearance that they’re hiding something — either that Trump wasn’t being tested nearly as often as the White House wanted the public to believe he was or that he had an earlier positive test that he wanted to conceal.
McEnany’s “most tested man in America” comments haven’t aged well
During a briefing in July, McEnany characterized Trump as the “most tested man in America,” saying he was tested for the coronavirus “multiple times a day.” But the obfuscation surrounding Trump’s recent coronavirus testing suggests that, like so much else McEnany has said, she was lying.
If Trump really was tested multiple times a day, and if his first positive test came on Thursday, then you’d expect Trump’s last negative test to have occurred sometime either that day or on Wednesday. But that timeline is in doubt not just because Conley suggested Saturday that Trump received a positive test earlier than had been announced (Conley later said he’d misspoken), but because of changes in the president’s behavior leading up to that official announcement.
For instance, as Philip Bump detailed for the Washington Post, at a September 28 White House event, Trump was unusually distanced from others who spoke, raising questions about if he may have already known he’d contracted the virus. The next day was the presidential debate, to which Trump showed up too late to be tested by the Cleveland Clinic. By Wednesday’s campaign trip to Minnesota, top White House aide Hope Hicks was ill, and Trump reportedly fell asleep on Air Force One before the onset of more serious symptoms the next day.
There are already indications that Trump had no qualms about not being forthcoming about the coronavirus cluster that was developing around him at the White House. The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender and Rebecca Ballhaus reported on Sunday that Trump had at least two positive test results before he announced his coronavirus infection on Twitter early Friday morning — and that he also “received a positive result on Thursday evening before making an appearance on Fox News in which he didn’t reveal those results.”
"You get close, and things happen ... I just went out for a test ... because we spend a lot of time with Hope" -- asked about Hope Hicks testing positive for coronavirus, Trump says he was just tested pic.twitter.com/Rr7Kd5YfWR— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 2, 2020
Not only that, but Bender and Ballhaus report that as the coronavirus spread throughout the White House in the past 10 days or so, Trump urged one adviser who had a positive test 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.
Keeping a diagnosis secret is incredibly dangerous; those who’d been in contact with that adviser wouldn’t know they should quarantine, and in going about their lives they could spread the virus unknowingly if they had become infected.
The reporting suggests the president was unconcerned about this sort of community spread, which raises some questions: Was Trump banking that if he got coronavirus, his symptoms would be mild enough to allow him to continue campaigning — even if he exposed other people along the way? Or, for whatever reason, was he just not being tested nearly as much as McEnany said he was?
The White House’s refusal to say when Trump’s last negative test was suggests one or both of those things is the case, but in the absence of more information, it’s impossible to say for sure. And even if the White House releases more details, its poor track record for accuracy will mean they are unlikely to be taken at face value.