WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent Joe Biden stood wide apart on the debate stage and looked at a strange sight – part of the room dutifully in masks, the other part openly without.
The mostly bare contingent consisted of Trump’s VIP guests who broke the rules by removing their masks once in the hall, despite the Cleveland Clinic debate’s health advisors doing their best to protect everyone. It was a conspicuous act of rebellion that reflected divisions that were capitalized across the country.
But what Trump calls the “invisible enemy”
Nobody knows how, when or by whom Trump was infected. Nor is it known who, if any, got the disease from him. But retracing some of his steps over the past week means seeing multiple rounds of risk and an abundance of infection possibilities.
That was the case day in and day out and until a few hours before his positive diagnosis, when he took a quota to a fundraiser with the White House in New Jersey because he knew he was close to someone with COVID-19.
The result is that one of the most protected people on the planet has contracted a disease that has killed more than 1 million people worldwide, including more than 200,000 in the US.
A look at the days before:
After a spirited farewell from the White House grounds, Trump and members of his team made their way to Cleveland and the heated debate. Counselor Hope Hicks was among them.
Everyone who was admitted to the hall had been tested in advance by their own team and turned out negative, the Cleveland Clinic said in a statement. “We had requirements for maintaining a safe environment that was in line with CDC guidelines – including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature testing and masking.”
Such steps don’t rule out someone having a coronavirus infection that wasn’t yet detectable by testing. The virus can incubate for days before testing reveals it.
And Trump’s grown children and executives took off their masks and broke the rules for the duration of the debate.
Host Chris Wallace, who sat on the stage, noted that Biden’s VIP guests, including his wife Jill, wore masks and kept them on throughout the debate.
“I don’t wear a mask like him,” Trump said mockingly of Biden in the debate. “Every time you see him he has a mask. He could speak 200 feet away and he shows up wearing the largest mask I’ve ever seen. “
Biden said, “He was completely irresponsible in the way he handled social distancing and people who wear masks basically encouraged them not to. He’s a fool. “
Trump and his team returned to Washington late, with a lot more for the week and the elections just a month away.
The people around Trump are tested for the coronavirus daily, and Hicks had her test in the morning, along with the others, to travel with him for the day. Your results were negative. She joined others aboard Marine One for the approximately 15-minute flight to Air Force One and waited for them at Joint Base Andrews.
Marine One is a single cabin helicopter with usually 10 seats, a noisy aircraft with no partitions except between the President and the cockpit. Once in Andrews, we went to Minnesota for a fundraiser, followed by an outdoor rally in Duluth.
On the ground in Minnesota, Hicks reported feeling uncomfortable.
In Duluth it was stormy and cold with some fog. As usual, few in the crowd wore masks. They heard Trump make his dubious promise of a vaccine by the end of the year and congratulate himself on his great job. “On November 3rd, Minnesota will decide whether to end this pandemic, defeat the virus, and return to prosperity,” he said. “In any case, we will return. Either way.”
Trump’s speech was much shorter than usual, 45 minutes instead of the usual one or two hours.
After his remarks he mingled briefly on the stage, pumped his fist in time with the villagers and waved to the crowd. He did not speak to reporters before boarding Air Force One, nor did he come back to speak to them on the flight.
Hicks stayed away from others on the big plane that was returning and didn’t even bring the crowded Marine One back to the White House in Andrews.
On Thursday morning, Hicks got another test. This time it was positive.
The results came not long before the President in Marine One was due to take off for a fundraiser at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club.
Hicks’ diagnosis confirmed that Trump was in close proximity to someone infected with the virus. Then you should quarantine according to public health guidelines. But Trump continued the journey. Not only that, but others who were also around Hicks weren’t immediately notified of their positive test.
The White House worked furiously to swap and replace staff who were in close contact with Hicks. Spokesman Judd Deere was brought on at the last minute without being told why. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not make the trip. White House officials said they learned of Hick’s test positive after Trump boarded Marine One to begin his trip to New Jersey.
Comedian Joe Piscopo took part in the outdoor bedminster fundraiser, telling The Associated Press that “it was meticulously carried out by the Secret Service, COVID testing and masking.”
“I’ve never seen him so well – warm, funny, vulnerable,” said Piscopo. “As we say in New Jersey, he’s an animal. He’ll be fine, and I mean well. “
This chain of events does not determine how or where Trump got the virus. Given the vastly different length of time between infection and illness – from a few days to two weeks – he could have got it on a variety of occasions from a variety of people.
It could have been at the weeklong Rose Garden event that Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court election, a gathering that saw four attendees – Sens. Mike Lee from Arizona and Thom Tillis from North Carolina, the former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and the University of Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins – were later diagnosed with the disease.
Or it could have been his rally in Pennsylvania that night, his event with some lawmakers and Lordstown, Ohio, truck executives on Monday – or his routine interactions anytime during the incubation period.
Many hours later, Trump confirmed that Hicks had tested positive and told Fox News that he and his wife had been tested and were ready to quarantine if necessary.
At 12:54 am, Trump tweeted: “Tonight @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will start the quarantine and recovery process immediately. We’ll get through this TOGETHER! “Flotus is referring to Melania Trump, the first lady who also has COVID-19.
Good wishes came from all over the world and from across the political divide, some of them with an undertone I told you.
Democratic House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said the news was “tragic, it is very sad”, but also not surprising given Trump’s actions, which were “a bold invitation”. Biden maintained a simple statement: “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the President and his family.”
Despite the pathetic failure to protect the President from the virus, White House officials also thoughtfully defended their current protocols. And masks are still not needed on the White House grounds for all west wing staff. “Wearing a mask,” said one officer, “is a personal choice.”
Associate press writers Thalia Beaty in New York and Zeke Miller and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.