Trump and White House reel from positive coronavirus tests

US faces first presidential health crisis since assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan

Written By Nardos Haile and Jake Dabkowski

This article was written on October 5. Any changes that have occurred since will not be reflected in the content of this story. This is a rapidly evolving story. 

At least 27 people within the White House have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week. President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and at least three White House reporters have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

After the news of Trump’s diagnosis, Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, tested negative for the virus multiple times. Current Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence are two of the few members of Trump’s inner circle who have consistently tested negative for the virus.

President Trump was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center via helicopter late Friday afternoon. Melania Trump did not accompany her husband to Walter Reed and is recovering at home. President Trump has been treated with experimental medication, although that doesn’t mean that the treatments are not backed by science.

“The company that is providing that experimental therapy has been backed by a lot of research, but it hasn’t been fully approved by the FDA, so it’s still in the experimental stage,” said Dr. Laura Frost, a Point Park biological sciences professor who teaches a class on Infectious Diseases.

President Trump has required supplemental oxygen at least twice in his treatment so far. White House Doctor Sean Conley initially refused to disclose this information but eventually did in a press conference Sunday morning.

“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, his course of illness has had,” Conley said, defending himself against accusations that he was misleading the public on the president’s health.

Despite being hospitalized, President Trump still retains full powers of the presidency. The powers of the presidency were previously transferred in 1981 after Ronald Reagan was shot during an assassination attempt. Reagan briefly transferred the powers to then Vice President George H.W. Bush.

“If they were to put him on a mechanical ventilator, they would have to transfer the powers of the presidency, because he would have to be fully sedated. If the president is incapacitated and unable to fulfil the duties of the presidency, then those duties have to be transferred to the vice president,” Dr. Frost said.

President Trump was discharged from Walter Reed to return to the White House Monday afternoon. He claims to “feel better than he did 20 years ago.”

During a press conference held on Monday before the President’s release, Conley was questioned about Trump’s last negative test and lung scans.

“We’ve done routine standard imaging. I’m just not at liberty to discuss,” Conley said.

When questioned again, Conley invoked the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). 

“There are HIPAA rules and regulations that restrict me from sharing certain things,” Conley said.

According to the CDC website, “HIPAA is a federal law that requires the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.”

There is no presidential exception to HIPAA. The president has to consent to the release of specific information regarding his health in order for Conley to divulge it to the press and public.

Though many have called into question whether this should be set precedent for a public figure as visible as President Trump. The conditions of his health are directly tied to the national security of the country. 

Moreover, Conley stated that the president’s mental health has not faltered since his diagnosis.

“I think you’ve seen the video…the tweets. [Trump’s] back,” said Conley.

Dr. Frost agreed that the president would be on a quick road to recovery. 

“I think he’ll likely recover because the vast majority of patients that get coronavirus recover, especially because he has access to top quality medical treatment,” Dr. Frost said.

Even the Trump 2020 campaign communication director, Tim Murtaugh, said “it’s the president’s intention to debate,” on Oct. 15. Biden also said he was ready to participate in the debate if it was safe.

“If the scientists say that it’s safe and the distances are safe, then I think that’s fine,” Biden said. “I’ll do whatever the experts say is the appropriate thing to do.”

Lillian Pintz, a freshman forensic science major, stated that while the public isn’t informed of all of President Trump’s current medical conditions, he still should not be released from the hospital prematurely. 

“I definitely think that if you’re getting COVID and then you’re being hospitalized like the normal person that is being hospitalized, they have to stay in the hospital until they’re symptom free or for a certain amount of time so they don’t spread the virus,” Pintz said. “Even if he is symptom free or he’s getting better, I don’t think he should be released from the hospital because they need to stop the spread that could be caused by having him out of the hospital.” 

Both Pintz and Jaelyn Nye, another freshman forensic science major, weren’t shocked by Trump testing positive for coronavirus. 

“[Trump] doesn’t follow the guidelines set in place,” Pintz said. 

“I was also not surprised because he doesn’t really wear his mask,” Nye said.  “I’ve just heard some things and I was definitely not shocked whenever the news was reported.”

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, Trump and his administration continued to ignore the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines the administration itself encouraged Americans to follow.

The CDC’s guidelines for events and gatherings stated, “the higher the level of community transmission in the area where the gathering is held, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading at the gathering.”

Within the last two weeks, Trump traveled to various states to campaign for the upcoming election. Many Trump rallies held in cities like Pittsburgh were not socially distanced. 

After Trump’s visit to Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf released a statement condemning Trump’s rallies which were in violation of local public health guidelines.

“It is gravely concerning that the president would insist on holding this event with blatant disregard for social distancing and masking requirements,” Gov. Wolf said. “His decision to bring thousands of people together in a tight space in the midst of a global pandemic caused by an airborne virus is flat out wrong.”

Furthermore, Trump’s diagnosis disappointed Pintz because of his position as a national and international leader.

“It’s kind of a let down I think because he’s supposed to be the country’s leader and be wearing the mask and following guidelines and showing people what they’re supposed to do,” Pintz said. “Not only the fact that he got COVID, he got COVID by not following the restrictions. It definitely should be a disappointment to anybody whether you’re Republican or Democrat.”

The cause of the outbreak within the White House is believed to be a ceremony held in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Eight people present at the event have publicly announced that they have tested positive, only one of which was wearing a mask.

“If his administration doesn’t really care [about COVID-19 safety measures] why should everybody care?” Nye said. 

Despite the White House’s lack of COVID-19 safety measures, Nye and Pintz believe President Trump and his team of doctors will work tirelessly to ensure the president’s health in this precarious time. 

“I believe in science, obviously I am a science major. I trust that they are doing what they think is best for him,” Pintz said.