Just hours before President Trump announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, he was mingling with supporters at a fundraising event held at his New Jersey golf club—and even posed for personal photo-ops with them.
The event went ahead after the White House learned that one of the president’s closest aides, Hope Hicks, had tested positive for the disease, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows confirmed Friday.
Meadows said they learnt of Hicks’ positive test on Thursday night, “right as Marine One was taking off” for the New Jersey golf club. He said some people who’d had close contact were pulled off the flight.
“I’m not going to get into the tick tock,” he said Friday when reporters asked why Trump still attended the fundraiser despite being exposed to the virus.
Trump was last seen in public Thursday afternoon, when he headed home to the White House after the fundraising trip to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster. Ahead of that event, attendees were promised a photo-op with the president, and Trump was due to meet with the winner of a raffle organized to raise funds for his campaign. Despite Hicks’ positive result, the event went ahead as planned.
The Daily Beast found a Facebook post of one woman, finance executive Patricia Bosisio Schechter, who said she had her photograph taken with the president at the ritzy event. She wrote: “As for all of you who have expressed concern for me, thank you for that. We were with him literally 30 seconds for our photo and other than that never close to him.” She added that she was “praying” for Trump to pull through his illness.
On top of the personal photo-ops, local reports state that the roundtable event with dozens of supporters went ahead despite knowledge of Hicks’ infection, and Trump delivered a droplet-spraying speech. According to The Washington Post, Trump didn’t wear a mask at the golf club, or on the plane back to Washington, D.C. The president then announced he’d tested positive after he had returned to the White House.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the state had begun contract-tracing for everyone who attended the event, writing: “We urge everyone who attended yesterday’s event in Bedminster to take full precautions, including self-quarantining and getting tested for COVID-19.”
The event may have exposed dozens of people to the virus and adds to a long list of people who have had recent contact with Hicks or Trump who may now need to isolate. They include a large contingent from Trump’s family who traveled to Tuesday night’s debate in Ohio together. Hicks was also seen boarding Marine One on Wednesday with President Trump and senior White House advisers Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden will reportedly undergo an urgent test Friday due to his proximity to Trump at the first presidential debate, where the two men exchanged aerosols for 90 minutes.
The fact that the Bedminster event went ahead despite Hicks’ symptomatic case has been met with stunned disbelief. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper said: “The fact that the president still went, knowing he’d had very close contact with somebody who’d tested positive, is irresponsible.”
Reporters also voiced their incredulity at the fact that press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has also been in contact with Hicks, held a news briefing at the White House on Thursday and didn’t wear a mask. Neither Hicks’ symptoms or rest were mentioned at the briefing.
CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins asked: “Why did the president still go to New Jersey, knowing that he could potentially put these people at risk, these donors and fundraisers? And of course, why did the press secretary still hold a briefing despite knowing she had come into contact with somebody who had just tested positive for coronavirus?”
On Friday morning, Meadows didn’t wear a mask while briefing the press on Trump’s condition.
Although a Trump rally scheduled for Friday in Florida was canceled after his positive test result, some events are still being pushed as if there’s a chance of them going ahead. Early Friday, an email went out to Trump supporters for a Texas rally next week which touted a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter to win a trip to meet your favorite president.”