WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday for a stay that was expected to last several days, a move the White House said was made out of an abundance of caution after he tested positive for the deadly coronavirus and experienced symptoms.
“I want to thank everybody for the tremendous support. I’m going to Walter Reed hospital,” Trump said Friday in a videotaped statement released on Twitter less than 24 hours after he and his wife, Melania, tested positive for the coronavirus. “I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out.”
Trump was experiencing fatigue, and the first lady was coughing with a headache on Friday, the White House doctor said, describing the physical impacts of a White House coronavirus outbreak that has upended the nation’s capital and disrupted American politics one month before a presidential election.
Trump, who is 74, began taking a cocktail of drugs as a “precautionary measure,” according to doctor Sean Conley, who provided only limited information about Trump’s condition or the reasons for his extended stay at Walter Reed.
“In addition to the polyclonal antibodies, the President has been taking zinc, vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and a daily aspirin,” Conley said in a White House memo Friday afternoon, describing Trump as “fatigued but in good spirits.”
Conley said Trump received an 8-gram dose of Regeneron’s polyclonal antibody cocktail via “infusion without incident.”
A few hours later, Trump walked to Marine One wearing a mask, then was transported to Walter Reed.
The president otherwise remained out of sight and publicly silent through much of the day, while suspending all in-person campaign events - a sharp departure from his defiant approach in recent months when playing down the pandemic and boastfully flouting public health precautions became central components of his reelection bid.
Trump’s positive diagnosis and hospitalization reverberated through the nation’s capital Friday, with uncertainty, recrimination and the disease itself spreading from the West Wing to Congress and beyond.
In addition to Trump, Melania and top adviser Hope Hicks, several other people who had been to the White House in recent days reported positive tests Friday, raising the prospect that the West Wing had become an epicenter of community spread for the deadly virus.
The mystery surrounding Trump’s condition Friday carried over from the previous day, when the White House was slow to publicly acknowledge Hicks’s positive test, which came before Trump attended a fundraiser in New Jersey. Hicks, one of Trump’s closest advisers, traveled with him on Air Force One and Marine One this week, before becoming ill.
Hicks was among a group of several people - including a U.S. senator, a university president, another White House aideand multiple journalists - who reported testing positive Friday after having spent time at the White House. Melania Trump said on Twitter that she had “mild symptoms but overall feeling good.”
The spread of the virus in the West Wing jolted the country’s leadership just a month ahead of Election Day. Trump’s diagnosis and hospitalization had some advisers discussing the continuity of government on Friday, should the president’s condition grow worse. Vice President Mike Pence, who tested negative Friday, said he wished a swift recovery for Trump as he battles the coronavirus, which has killed more than 208,000 Americans and sickened millions more.
The president worked from the White House residence early on Friday, aides said, but canceled all scheduled official events. He originally planned to go ahead with a call Friday with elderly Americans about the coronavirus but asked Pence to do it instead.
If his condition worsens, it’s possible Trump could consider a temporary surrender of powers by the president to the vice president, as clarified in the 25th Amendment. If the president is unable to perform his duties, including by disability or illness, he can inform the House speaker and Senate president, allowing the vice president to perform presidential duties.
The president could then resume his duties after providing “a written declaration to the contrary” to the congressional leaders, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The White House gave no public indication Trump was preparing to hand over power to Pence and said he would be working out of offices at Walter Reed.
The Trump campaign announced that events involving the president - including rallies scheduled this weekend in Florida and Wisconsin - have been postponed. Members of Trump’s family - who had been serving as his top surrogates on the campaign trail - also suspended their planned events.
Pence planned to resume campaigning after his doctor wrote a memo saying that he did not need to quarantine despite his exposure to Trump. The doctor, Jesse T. Schonau, said Trump did not count as a “close contact” of Pence.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, tested negative Friday and intend to continue campaigning as well.
Trump’s early-morning announcement that he had contracted the disease marked an extraordinary turn for the first family, coming as the president has escalated his campaign pace in an effort to catch Biden, who leads in national and key state polls. Trump, aides and voters say, trails largely because of his handling of the virus, which has dominated voters' attention along with the economic collapse caused by pandemic shutdowns.
Trump has mocked Biden for following public health guidelines, including avoiding crowds and wearing masks - measures the president has openly flouted during a string of mass rallies and public events in recent weeks.
Biden, who shared a debate stage with Trump on Tuesday, said he hoped for the president’s swift recovery. He also used the opportunity to promote public health guidelines - which he has publicly embraced despite Trump’s mocking.
“I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands,” Biden said on Twitter after announcing his own negative test result.
The virus could further challenge Trump’s reelection bid because advisers were hoping to close the gap in upcoming weeks with an aggressive travel schedule and a message that the coronavirus had largely passed. Trump rallies planned for Friday in Florida and Saturday in Wisconsin have been scrapped.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tested positive for the virus Wednesday but didn’t reveal her diagnosis until after Trump announced he had the virus. McDaniel was last with Trump a week ago at a Sept. 25 fundraiser.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, all of whom attended Trump’s Rose Garden event Saturday announcing Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee, have tested positive as well. Both were seen not wearing masks during the event.
A maskless White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters outside the White House on Friday that he and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino had tested negative.
Others in Trump’s immediate orbit who have also so far tested negative include daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, teenage son Barron Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Since late Tuesday, Trump has appeared with thousands at a rally in Minnesota, debated Biden onstage in Cleveland and met with donors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. He has also interacted with a coterie of aides, lawmakers and political advisers at the White House and on the road.
The White House has launched a contact tracing program to find out how many additional people have tested positive.
Some aides are expected to stay at home for the foreseeable future, and presidential and political travel has been canceled, officials said. The president’s reelection campaign has also been impacted, with campaign manager Bill Stepien writing in a memo to staff that anyone who has been in contact with an infected person “should immediately begin self-quarantine.” Stepien himself was pictured traveling alongside Hicks this week.
The president has denigrated masks and pushed publicly for the country to reopen fully despite stubbornly high levels of cases, hoping that the resulting economic benefit and potential for nationwide optimism would spur his electoral chances. An infected president could raise concerns nationally about reopening businesses and schools - both key goals for the president.
Even as the virus exploded across the nation, Trump has continued to hold large events indoors and outdoors featuring mostly maskless crowds of people who squeezed together to greet the president. Some members of the Secret Service have also contracted the virus while preparing for presidential events, The Washington Post has reported.
The president has insisted that the virus is mostly dangerous to older people - a group to which he belongs - or those with health complications, although medical experts say the virus can strike anyone. Trump has publicly and privately squabbled with a number of the medical experts in his administration over how seriously the White House should take the virus.
During a prerecorded speech to a Catholic charity dinner in New York on Thursday night, Trump took his usual optimistic tone about the virus. “And I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country,” he said.
Following Trump’s lead, many White House aides have eschewed masks, both in the West Wing presidential offices and on trips. Some could be seen wearing masks on Friday.
The president’s diagnosis has raised additional concerns about the rapid testing system used by the White House, which is known to have a lower accuracy rate than more intrusive tests.
Attendees at recent events with Trump and Pence have not been tested for the virus or required to have their temperatures taken.
Hicks is the most senior White House aide known to have tested positive for the virus. Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, caught the virus in May, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top Trump fundraiser and girlfriend of the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., contracted the virus in July. Before Hicks, the most senior White House official to test positive was national security adviser Robert O’Brien in late July.
The White House administers daily coronavirus tests to aides, reporters and others who come into contact with the president. But public health experts warn they are not foolproof and that masks and social distancing are still the best protection against the virus.
The virus’s spread through the West Wing forced Congress to increase its vigilance, after Lee’s positive result showed how the virus could reach even high-ranking lawmakers who get tested regularly at the White House. Congress’s Office of the Attending Physician said Friday that all lawmakers and congressional staff who have symptoms or recent exposure to the coronavirus should be tested in the Capitol. Republicans ignored calls by Democrats to postpone hearings for Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court due to the virus.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Twitter that he planned to move “Full steam ahead” with the nomination.
At Tuesday’s debate, Trump was pressed on his insistence on having huge campaign rallies where no one is required to wear facial coverings or to socially distance.
“We’ve had no negative effect, and we’ve had 35 to 40,000 people at some of these rallies,” Trump said.
Biden shot back: “He’s been totally irresponsible the way in which he has handled the social distancing and people wearing masks, basically encouraged them not to. He’s a fool on this.”
Whether that debate will be the only faceoff between Biden and Trump remains to be seen.
Frank Fahrenkopf, the chair of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, said he was not sure what the status of the next two presidential debates would be, but is proceeding with the planning of the next vice-presidential debate on Wednesday.
While Biden and Trump stayed at their podiums, which were 12 feet and 8 inches apart, in Cleveland on Tuesday, members of Trump’s family did not follow rules for mask-wearing in the hall.
“The first family came in wearing masks, but they took them off,” he said. “The rules said you had to wear a mask.”
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The Washington Post’s Alex Horton contributed to this report.