COVID-19 cases mount in Trump's orbit as president remains hospitalized

Six others who attended a White House event with the president have tested positive for the coronavirus

WASHINGTON -- President Trump remained hospitalized at Walter Reed military hospital Saturday after a positive Covid-19 test, raising questions about the future of his health, his government and his re-election bid weeks before Election Day.

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The White House characterized the president's relocation to the medical center as being taken out of an "abundance of caution." He was to stay there for the next few days, working out of offices at the hospital. Still, it was a startling development coming less than 24 hours after the president said on Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the virus.

Late Friday evening, the president's physician, Sean Conley, said in a memo that the president had completed his first dose of remdesivir, which is among the few drugs that have been shown to treat Covid-19 and have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for such use. Dr. Conley said the president was doing well and hadn't required any supplemental oxygen.

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Mr. Trump tweeted from the hospital late Friday: "Going well, I think!

Mr. Trump's diagnosis early Friday set off a turbulent day at the White House, as campaign travel was suspended, senior officials rushed to get tested and aides sought to track down people who may have been exposed to the virus. That evening, a masked Mr. Trump walked across the South Lawn to the Marine One helicopter to head to the hospital.

When the day began, the president, Mrs. Trump and senior White House adviser Hope Hicks were the only confirmed positive tests. By the end of the day, several other members of the president's orbit had tested positive, including at least six people who attended an event last weekend in the Rose Garden where Mr. Trump announced his Supreme Court pick. Guests at the event sat closely packed together, many not wearing masks after being tested earlier in the day.

Others -- including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who assisted in the president's debate preparations -- were awaiting test results. The White House has said it is conducting contact tracing.

President Donald Trump walks along the Colonnade with Judge Amy Coney Barrett after a news conference to announce Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/A

Late Friday, the Trump campaign confirmed that Bill Stepien, the president's campaign manager, had tested positive. Mr. Stepien was experiencing mild symptoms and plans to quarantine until he recovers, the campaign said. The diagnosis further complicates the president's re-election effort, which now has both a candidate and a campaign manager who are quarantined. Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also tested positive earlier this week, the party said.

As Mr. Trump canceled trips to Florida and Wisconsin, it remained unclear when -- or if -- the president will be able to return to the campaign trail and whether he will be able to participate in the remaining two debates with Joe Biden. The Democratic nominee on Friday tested negative for the virus, his campaign said.

As the president left the White House on Friday, he tweeted a recorded video of himself, in which he said: "I think I'm doing very well, but we're going to make sure that things work out." It was his first tweet since he revealed his and the first lady's diagnosis after midnight.

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Mr. Trump's positive test results underscored the unrelenting nature of the virus as Americans grapple with the trade-offs between reopening businesses and schools, and staying safe. The diagnoses of the president and several of his associates also exposed severe holes in the White House's Covid-19 protocol, which has largely consisted of frequent rapid tests. Health experts say that conducting frequent tests without also wearing masks and social distancing is an ineffective way of combating the virus, since it can take days for a person to test positive after being infected.

The White House will continue to leave mask-wearing optional on its grounds, an official said Friday.

White House officials said the president's diagnosis wouldn't affect his governing. White House communications director Alyssa Farah said there would be no transfer of power with the president's move to Walter Reed.

Still, Mr. Trump asked Vice President Mike Pence to host a scheduled call in his place on Friday afternoon.

Dr. Conley said in an afternoon memo that the president was fatigued and that the first lady had a mild cough and headache. He has been treated with an experimental antibody cocktail that was found to help reduce virus levels and improve symptoms in sick patients who weren't hospitalized.

The news that the president was ill rattled markets and sent a shock wave through Washington, which is grappling with a Supreme Court nomination, trillion-dollar-plus coronavirus aid talks and an election that will decide control of the White House and Congress just a month away. It also creates potential uncertainty for his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom Republicans are trying to get confirmed by Election Day.

As the day wore on, White House officials grew concerned about the Rose Garden event last weekend where Mr. Trump announced Judge Barrett's nomination. Two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who were in the Rose Garden -- Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina -- said they tested positive Friday, and both said they would isolate for 10 days. Mr. Lee was captured on video embracing several attendees at the Rose Garden event.

University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, another attendee who didn't wear a mask during the event, has also tested positive, and said Friday that not wearing a mask was an error in judgment. The president, first lady and a White House journalist who has since tested positive were also in attendance, as was former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who said late Friday that she had tested positive. Ms. Conway also assisted in the president's debate preparations, where aides didn't wear masks.

Neither Mr. Trump nor Judge Barrett wore a mask at the Rose Garden event. Judge Barrett tested negative for the virus, the White House said.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett speaks after President Donald Trump announced Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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Democrats called for postponing Judge Barrett's confirmation, arguing that the infection of two senators could make it difficult to hold in-person hearings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who both spoke with Mr. Trump on Friday, said they plan to move forward.

The president's positive test refocused attention on the criticism of his administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as Mr. Trump's regular playing down of its seriousness and the value of wearing masks.

Senior officials were at the White House on Friday, and it wasn't known how many aides who had been in contact with the president this week were quarantining. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for individuals to quarantine for 14 days after coming in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mr. Trump traveled each of the three days leading up to his diagnosis, with dozens of White House staffers, top campaign aides, senior Republican Party officials, and at least five members of Congress, according to White House travel logs reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Friday confirmed that the White House was aware Ms. Hicks had tested positive before the president left for New Jersey on Thursday, where he attended two events with supporters -- one inside, one outside. Mr. Meadows said the White House decided to pull some aides from the trip after learning of Ms. Hicks's test results.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk to the White House residence as they exit Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Ms. Hicks traveled with the president twice this week, including to Minnesota for a campaign rally on Wednesday, when she began to feel symptoms and quarantined for part of the return flight.

At the White House on Friday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that officials had cleared Mr. Trump's trip to New Jersey as safe. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy urged anyone who had been in or around the Bedminster, N.J., Trump event to quarantine and get tested.

While many Covid-19 patients recover without suffering serious illness, Mr. Trump's age of 74 puts him at higher risk from the virus, as does the fact that he is overweight. According to the CDC, people in their 60s and 70s are "at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s."

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife tested negative for the coronavirus, his press secretary said Friday on Twitter.

If the president's condition were to worsen, he could temporarily transfer power to Mr. Pence under the 25th Amendment. That has happened only three times in U.S. history, when then-presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies. In other incidents, such as when Mr. Reagan was shot and had to undergo emergency surgery in 1981, power wasn't formally transferred.