US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he and his wife Melania had tested positive for COVID-19 and were in quarantine, after Hope Hicks, one of his closest advisers, tested positive for the disease, and after months of downplaying the severity of a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States.
Trump himself confirmed Hicks’ diagnosis in an earlier Tweet when he revealed that he and Melania were awaiting the outcome of their own tests.
Hicks travels regularly with the president on Air Force One and, along with other senior aides, accompanied him to Cleveland for the first presidential debate with Democrat Joe Biden on Tuesday.
She was also with Trump at a campaign event in Minnesota on Wednesday and flew back to the White House with him on the Marine One helicopter after the rally. A source familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency that Hicks was suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus, which usually include a fever and a cough.
Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett, speaking from the US, said the issue now was how many other people in the administration could have been exposed to the virus.
What does this mean for the campaign?
Trump, whose preferred campaigning method is to speak in front of large rallies, is being forced into quarantine with just 33 days to go before the election on November 3 when he hopes to beat Democrat Joe Biden to secure a second term in office.
He did not elaborate on the length of his quarantine, but the White House has already cancelled all events including a planned trip to Florida from the president’s schedule.
Halkett said it could be a “cataclysmic” event for Trump given the proximity of the polls, and Biden’s lead.
“It’s really hard to see how he can bounce back from this,” she said.
More than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and Trump has been heavily criticised about his response to the pandemic. He and his aides rarely wear masks, and nor do many of the thousands of supporters who attend his election rallies.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House takes care to follow procedures “for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on complex and when the president is travelling.”
While Trump has denigrated people who wear masks, health professionals say mask wearing is one of the key things people can do to help prevent the spread of the virus.