Just days after mocking his presidential rival Joe Biden for regularly wearing masks, President Donald Trump has revealed that he and first lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19 and are entering 14 days of isolation. For months, Trump has downplayed the severity of the pandemic, which has killed over 200,000 Americans. President Trump is 74, has elevated blood pressure and is over the threshold for obesity — three factors linked to higher morbidity and mortality among COVID-19 patients. For more on the pandemic and Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, we speak with Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
President Donald Trump has announced he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19. Just before 1 a.m. Eastern Time Friday, Trump tweeted, “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” Trump wrote. For months, Trump has downplayed the severity of the pandemic, which has killed over 208,000 Americans.
CNN reports Joe Biden is being tested for coronavirus this morning, over fears that Trump may have infected him at Tuesday’s debate, where the candidates stood about 10 feet apart not wearing masks. During the debate, Trump mocked Biden for wearing masks.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don’t have — I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from me, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s announcement early Friday that he has COVID-19 came hours after Bloomberg News reported that Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s closest and longtime advisers, became ill during Trump’s Wednesday night rally in Duluth, Minnesota, and had to be quarantined aboard Air Force One on the return flight to Washington. Hicks went on to test positive for coronavirus early on Thursday, though the White House did not report her illness. A number of reporters who were on her flight, on the Air Force One flight, say no one has reached out to them to perform contact tracing or to inform them of their risk of COVID-19.
On Thursday afternoon, President Trump flew to his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, for a campaign fundraiser, where he delivered a speech while wearing no mask, coming in close contact with scores of staffers and campaign supporters and major donors.
Trump’s positive result has raised concerns about the line of succession. The White House has just announced Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, have both tested negative. Pence had met with Trump at a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Monday, but sometimes it takes days before a person tests positive.
President Trump is 74 years old, he has elevated blood pressure, he’s over the threshold for obesity — three factors linked to higher morbidity and mortality among COVID-19 patients.
We’re going to begin today’s show with two doctors. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is a physician, an epidemiologist, former director of the Detroit Health Department and author of the book Healing Politics: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic. And we’re joined in San Francisco by Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine and associate division chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF, San Francisco General Hospital.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dr. Monica Gandhi, let’s begin with you. You are known as one of the country’s leading mask experts. Start off by responding to this news that both the president and his wife, the first lady, have tested positive for COVID and are going into 14 days of quarantine.
DR. MONICA GANDHI: Yeah, when I first heard this news, my biggest concern was that this particular president and many around him had not been following basic public health guidelines that would prevent acquisition of COVID-19 virus, so I was waiting for this to happen. And what concerns me is that this particular week has been really heavy with the campaigning and him being around a lot of people, and then he yelled nonstop at another candidate for 90 minutes on Tuesday in an indoor space without a mask, and so I’m worried about the impact on all this contact tracing that needs to happen now. So, public health principles have to be followed to prevent the acquisition of the disease.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the tick tock, as they say, not the app, but the tick tock of how this all went down and how we know. When staffers test positive at the White House, sometimes the White House announces it. This time, that’s not how it went down.
You had the isolation of Hope Hicks, one of President Trump’s closest aides, in the Air Force One plane coming back from the Duluth rally. Many reporters did not know this was the case. They were not told the next day that she had been sick in the plane. She tested positive.
And then, apparently, the press secretary who was slated to fly with President Trump to Bedminster, his golf resort, for a fundraiser yesterday, on Thursday, she didn’t go. She knew of Hope Hicks’ positive COVID test. But she did hold a press briefing without a mask and getting in heated debates with reporters in the White House Press Briefing Room. Still, most people did not know.
And then the reporters, learning about Hope Hicks, who had been on the Air Force One plane, learning in the media, not from the White House, not from contact tracers, that they might have been exposed, not only to Hope Hicks, because, we have to be clear here, while she has tested positive, so has the president and the first lady.
Can you explain how this works? We actually don’t know who possibly is the superspreader or if there are a number of people at the White House, but these are very close quarters there.
DR. MONICA GANDHI: Yes. The concern about what you just laid out is this is not at all how it’s supposed to go. So, if someone feels symptomatic or if someone’s been at risk, there has to be an immediate contact tracing episode, where everyone around this person stops doing what they’re doing and we figure out how to isolate people from each other. So, the fact that all these people have been put at risk — so, Hope Hicks is the first example of someone that if she felt ill on Wednesday, there are people between Wednesday and when we got the news late last night, early this morning, that should have been informed that she was feeling ill, and then, beyond that, all those people on the plane. Air Force One is full of people. There was a lot of people in both Minnesota and New Jersey that were in contact with everyone. This is not how it’s supposed to go. This is actually not how it’s supposed to go.
So, we can’t be above rules of contact tracing, because the reason we do this is that we know to isolate the people who have it — the correct word is “isolate,” so that means President Trump is not quarantining, he’s actually isolating, because he has the infection — and then quarantine people who have been around them, meaning they have to stay way from everyone just in case they get it. So, anyone who’s been out is now exposed — this person, this person, this person — and this is not how an ordinary citizen would have been allowed to go about their business. So, yeah, it’s going to be hard.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Dr. Gandhi, talk about how you found out late last night — I mean, our time, it was about 1:00 in the morning in New York; you’re in California — where you were and also about your latest study around masks. We just recently had you on because you’re known as the mask expert. The significance of this, when you hear the debate with Joe Biden on Tuesday night with President Trump once again mocking him for wearing a mask?
DR. MONICA GANDHI: Yes. It is actually this mask issue that is really concerning me, right? Because I think there’s probably been — I just know, personally, I’ve seen this president twice, maybe thrice, in public with a mask. And that footage can be played as much as you want, but it’s the same footage. It’s very rare. And then, beyond that, there is this devastating mockery of the concept of one of the most important pillars of pandemic control, I think, which is facial masking.
And so, what we’ve been looking at as a follow-up to a prospective that we published is — on masking, is this idea that we wanted to look at mask mandates across the United States in various counties and the severity of illness before and after mask mandates. And mask mandates are totally variable. We didn’t have a national mask mandate, which almost every other country did. Instead, one county would do a mask mandate, depending on their politics and a surge in cases, and then another would do it, depending on their politics and surge in cases, instead of national blanket mask mandate.
And what this study shows is that after mask mandates, the severity of disease in 34% of the counties around this country went down massively. And the reason that’s important is, our theory is that the inoculum, or the amount of virus you get in, is related to your severity of illness. So, showing that decrease in severity of illness is very hopeful.
The issue with the president is, like you mentioned, he has the hypertension, which I think is mild, but he has obesity, and he has — and he’s elderly. And those two factors together put him at risk. And then so does possibly the viral inoculum, that he has not been putting something that would protect him, let alone protect other people. And then Hope Hicks being symptomatic, there’s data that someone who’s symptomatic has a higher viral load, so she may have exposed him to more. So, all of this, let’s see how it plays out in terms of his degree of illness. He’ll get great care, but these are very concerning features for him not protecting himself and then absolutely not protecting others around him.