President Trump said Friday he will likely be tested for the coronavirus “fairly soon,” as questions swirled about why the president, his top aides and his family weren’t doing more to protect themselves and others against COVID-19.
In the face of repeated direct and indirect exposures, Trump was defensive, insisting he didn’t need to isolate himself because he wasn’t exhibiting symptoms. But he conceded he would “most likely” submit to testing after a top Brazilian official who spent time with him last weekend in Florida tested positive for the virus.
At the same time, Trump continued to flout public health officials’ advice by publicly and repeatedly shaking hands during a Rose Garden address on efforts to combat the pandemic. At the same event, he allowed that “anyone can be a carrier of the virus” and risk infecting older Americans and others at higher risk.
The president, according to two people close to the White House, has resisted taking the test for fear it would project weakness or worry. Trump has wanted to appear in full control during the crisis, especially as he tries to calm stock markets amid historic drops, and has expressed concerns that taking personal steps could undermine that.
Trump continued to stress Friday that he is not exhibiting any symptoms of infection, but he skirted questions about whether he was being selfish by refusing to isolate himself when others who have had similar exposure have chosen to do to avoid potentially infecting others. Asked whose advice people with similar exposure should listen to in the face of the contradictory messages, Trump said, “I think they have to listen to their doctors.”
Trump has also had repeated contact with lawmakers who were themselves exposed to people who later tested positive and chose to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution.
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As White House officials worked to determine the level of exposure by the president and senior aides, Trump held an afternoon news conference and announced he was declaring a national emergency — something he had been reluctant to do for fear it would further rattle the markets — and unveiled a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities.
Still, he said that, “We don’t want everyone taking this test,” adding: “It’s totally unnecessary. This will pass.”
The president had up until Friday declined to be tested for the virus or to limit his contact with others, professing no concern about potential exposure as his White House insisted they were following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He told reporters Thursday that he was “not concerned,” adding Friday that, “we have no symptoms whatsoever.”
And even as he refused to modify his own behavior — including continuing to shake hands — Trump told the nation that, “We must take all precautions” and be “responsible for the actions” that we take and see others take.
Trump spent time last weekend with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s communications director, Fábio Wajngarten, who tested positive just days later. Wajngarten posed for a photo with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club and attended a birthday party for Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The president attended the party as well. There were also fears that Bolsonaro himself might have the virus, but he said Friday he’d tested negative.
The White House stressed that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time.”
In addition to the Brazilian official, top administration officials — including Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka — met last week with an Australian Cabinet minister who on Friday tested positive for the virus.
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said he woke up with a temperature and sore throat on Friday, one week after his meeting with the Americans.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Ivanka Trump worked from home Friday “out of an abundance of caution,” but said Dutton had been asymptomatic during their interaction and the White House Medical Unit determined she was “exhibiting no symptoms and does not need to self-quarantine.”
Trump has also had repeated contact with others who were exposed to the virus and quarantined themselves out of an abundance of caution. That included Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who traveled aboard Air Force One with the president on Monday and found out mid-flight that he was among a handful of GOP lawmakers who were exposed to a person who tested positive for the virus after last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference.