Local leaders react to Trump testing positive for COVID-19, having ‘mild symptoms’

By , Daily Memphian Published: October 02, 2020 12:50 PM CT

Shelby County legislators are praying for the health of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump after they revealed they tested positive for the coronavirus.

However, they also say the president might have been too careless, either by not wearing a mask or by being around large numbers of people, putting himself at risk for contracting COVID-19.

President Trump is experiencing “mild symptoms” of COVID-19 after revealing Friday, Oct. 2, that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus, a stunning announcement that plunges the country deeper into uncertainty just a month before the presidential election, the Associated Press reported.

House Speaker calls for cutting Shelby Health Department autonomy

<strong>Tom Leatherwood</strong>

Tom Leatherwood

“Hindsight is 20/20. He has been exposed to it now, so obviously he could have been more careful,” said state Rep. Tom Leatherwood, an Arlington Republican. “But if this exposure is with someone on his campaign team or White House team, then that should be hard to avoid.”

Leatherwood and state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, both said they hope for a quick recovery by the president and his wife. U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen and David Kustoff also made statements hoping for a quick recovery.

Hardaway said he is concerned about the threat to the health of the president and his wife and family and the impact it has on the nation’s stability. But he also said the president’s actions “appear to have been irresponsible.”

<strong>G.A. Hardaway</strong>

G.A. Hardaway

“Irresponsibility in leadership can have consequences that are dire, that are fatal for those who follow him,” Hardaway said. “So, I hope we are able to make it through this. I wish him a speedy and a complete recovery.”

Hardaway noted he has been praying for people’s health for the past seven months, including 200,000 Americans who succumbed to the virus and millions more who caught COVID-19. A speedier reaction by the federal government could have averted many of those illnesses and deaths, Hardaway said.

“There’s another side to this. Those who follow his leadership can no longer be misled that it’s a hoax. They can no longer be misled that it’s something that is going to disappear by itself,” he added.

Trump, who has spent much of the year downplaying the threat of a virus that has killed more than 205,000 Americans, said he and Mrs. Trump were quarantining. The White House physician said the president is expected to continue carrying out his duties “without disruption” while recovering. A White House official said Friday morning that the president was experiencing mild symptoms but was working from the White House residence.

Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter Friday morning he and his wife, Maria, are praying for President Trump and First Lady Melania’s swift recovery and “for all others affected by this virus.”

<strong>Steve Cohen</strong>

Steve Cohen

Among those offering well wishes was Cohen, a Memphis Democrat.

“I hope that the President and First Lady have only mild cases from exposure and remain safe from this dreaded virus and that they can return to their family after the required quarantine,” Cohen said in a statement.

Kustoff, a Shelby County Republican, also said on Twitter he and his wife, Roberta, are wishing for a speedy recovery of the president and first lady.

Trump’s diagnosis was sure to have a destabilizing effect in Washington and around the world, raising questions about how far the virus had spread through the highest levels of the U.S. government. Hours before Trump announced he had contracted the virus, the White House said a top aide who had traveled with him during the week had tested positive.

<strong>David Kustoff</strong>

David Kustoff

”Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately,” Trump tweeted just before 1 a.m. “We will get through this TOGETHER!”

Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus on Friday morning and “remains in good health,” his spokesman said.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, said early Friday they tested negative.

Many White House and senior administration officials were undergoing tests Friday, but the full scale of the outbreak around the president may not be known for some time as it can take days for an infection to be detectable by a test. Officials with the White House Medical Unit were still in the process of tracing the president’s contacts, the official said.

Trump was considering how he might address the nation or otherwise communicate with the American people Friday, the official added.

Trump was last seen by reporters returning to the White House on Thursday evening and did not appear visibly ill. He is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has infected more than 7 million people nationwide.

The president’s physician said in a memo that Trump and the first lady, who is 50, “are both well at this time” and “plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”

The diagnosis marks a devastating blow for a president who has been trying desperately to convince the American public that the worst of the pandemic is behind them. In the best of cases -- if he develops no symptoms, which can include fever, cough and breathing trouble -- it will likely force him off the campaign trail just weeks before the election and puts his participation in the second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, into doubt.

Trump’s handling of the pandemic has already been a major flashpoint in his race against Biden, who spent much of the summer off the campaign trail and at his home in Delaware because of the virus. Biden has since resumed a more active campaign schedule, but with small, socially distanced crowds. He also regularly wears a mask in public, something Trump mocked him for at Tuesday night’s debate.

”I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said of Biden. “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.”

In a tweet Friday morning, Biden said he and his wife “send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery. We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”

Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and her husband tweeted similar sentiments.

It was not immediately clear whether the former vice president had been tested since appearing at the debate with Trump or whether he was taking any additional safety protocols. Trump and Biden did not shake hands during the debate, but stood without masks about 10 feet apart for the 90-minute event.

On Friday, Trump had been scheduled to receive an intelligence briefing, attend a fundraiser and hold another campaign rally in Sanford, Florida. But just after 1 a.m., the White House released a revised schedule with only one event: a phone call on “COVID-19 support to vulnerable seniors.”

Trump’s announcement came hours after he confirmed that Hope Hicks, one of his most trusted and longest-serving aides, had been diagnosed with the virus Thursday. Hicks began feeling mild symptoms during the plane ride home from a rally in Minnesota Wednesday evening, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private information. She was isolated from other passengers aboard the plane, the person said.

Hicks had been with Trump and other senior staff aboard Marine One and Air Force One en route to that rally and had accompanied the president to Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, along with members of the Trump family. The Trump contingent removed their masks during the debate, in violation of the venue rules.

Multiple White House staffers have previously tested positive for the virus, including Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and one of the president’s personal valets. An RNC official confirmed Friday that Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel learned she had tested positive Wednesday afternoon. She has been at her home in Michigan since last Saturday and did not attend the debate.

But Trump has consistently played down concerns about being personally vulnerable, even after White House staff and allies were exposed and sickened. Since the coronavirus emerged earlier this year, Trump has refused to abide by basic public health guidelines — including those issued by his own administration — such as wearing face coverings in public and practicing social distancing. Instead, he has continued to hold campaign rallies that draw thousands of often mask-less supporters.

Questions remain about why it took so long for Trump to be tested and why he and his aides continued to come to work and travel after Hicks fell ill. Trump traveled to New Jersey Thursday for a fundraiser, potentially exposing attendees to the virus. Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who were originally set to join him on the trip, were replaced at the last minute by other aides.

Trump is far from the first world leader to test positive for the virus, which previously infected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent a week in the hospital, including three nights in intensive care. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was hospitalized last month while fighting what he called a “hellish” case of COVID-19.

While there is no indication that Trump is seriously ill, the positive test raises questions about what would happen if he were to become incapacitated due to illness.

The Constitution’s 25th Amendment spells out the procedures under which the president can declare himself “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the presidency. If he were to make that call, Trump would transmit a written note to the Senate president pro tempore, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Pence would serve as acting president until Trump transmitted “a written declaration to the contrary.”

The vice president and a majority of either the Cabinet or another body established by law can also declare the president unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, in which case Pence would “immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President” until Trump could provide a written declaration to the contrary.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 


coronavirus President Donald Trump Melania Trump
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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