As October surprises go, this sure is a doozy. President Trump’s announcement that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for Covid-19 instantly reshapes his reelection race, but the ramifications of Trump’s infection may extend far beyond the campaign trail.
Trump’s illness, for example, could affect the public’s perception of the pandemic, or even reverberate through the economy. It could also give lawmakers a much-needed push to finally reach a deal on a long-stalled coronavirus relief package.
Here’s an overview of what’s happening and what it all means.
Trump hospitalized: Trump, 74, was being taken to Walter Reed Medical Center, where he is reportedly expected to spend a few days. “Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the President will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. The White House had earlier said that Trump was experiencing mild symptoms. He reportedly had a “low-grade” fever.
"All previously announced campaign events involving the President’s participation are in the process of being moved to virtual events or are being temporarily postponed," campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement. Despite Trump’s diagnosis, mask-wearing at the White House will reportedly remain optional.
Who else has tested positive: Trump’s announcement came hours after White House aide Hope Hicks was reported to have the virus. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) have also tested positive, as did the University of Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, who attended the White House ceremony Saturday for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a professor at the school.
Who has tested negative: Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence; Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their spouses; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar; Barrett, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee; Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner; and the Trumps’ son Barron. Look for updates here.
The election impact: Trump has tried mightily to portray his handling of the pandemic as a success and to shift the focus of the campaign away from the virus that has infected more than 7 million Americans and caused more than 208,000 deaths. That now will be impossible, as Trump’s infection will pull him from the campaign trail with the election just 32 days away and ensure that the pandemic and Trump’s dismissiveness toward it are top news for the final weeks of the race. It will be harder to convince anyone that the country has “turned the corner” on the pandemic. Mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask and for campaigning “from his basement” won’t quite work when Trump himself is in quarantine.
A hit to the economy? “This is almost certainly negative news for the economy, because the chances of a significant relaxation in lockdown provisions in the U.S. have just been sharply reduced,” writes Bloomberg’s John Authers. “It was much easier to argue for reopening the economy when a large part of the population truly believed that the pandemic was a hoax. That will change, and many individuals' behavior will probably alter even without an adjustment in the official rules.”
Changing how Americans see Covid? Trump’s illness could get some Americans to take the threat of the virus more seriously — or it could have the opposite effect. “There is a genuine concern, and it’s not an unreasonable concern, that in the event that the president was to experience only mild illness, then he might seek to use that as evidence to further suggest that this is not as serious as what it actually is,” Adam Kamradt-Scott, who researches how governments and organizations deal with health challenges, told Bloomberg. “That would be unfortunate, would be the diplomatic way of putting it.”