WHO Director General Wishes President Donald Trump Speedy Recovery From COVID-19 – As US Presidential Campaign Enters Uncharted Waters
Donald Trump at a recent White House meeting – close contact among staff may have fueled COVID-19 infection spread

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus joined the chorus of world leaders wishing United States President Donald Trump and his wife a speedy recovery from COVID-19 – while the US presidential campaign entered uncharted waters, with the cancellation of campaign rallies and fears that other White House Staff and political allies who had accompanied Trump recently on the campaign trail, and to a raucous election debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, might also have been exposed to the virus.     

Trump revealed on his Twitter account early Friday morning that he, along with first lady Melania Trump, had tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. He said they will quarantine in the White House for an indeterminate period. 

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

“The President and First Lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence,” said Dr. Sean P. Conley, the White House physician, in a statement.

Speaking at a WHO press briefing later the same day, Dr Tedros and other senior WHO officials avoided any reference to the hailstorm of criticism that Trump had directed for months at WHO’s performance in the pandemic. Instead, they struck a conciliatory note, stressing the leadership role the US President could still play in the battle against the pandemic.

“Overnight we heard that the president of the United States of America Donald Trump, and first Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19; I want to start today by wishing them both a full and swift recovery. Our prayers are with them,” said Dr Tedros in his opening remarks at the briefing. 

Asked whether Trump had failed to show adequate leadership in controlling infection spread  in the United States, where new infections are averaging some 40,000 cases a day, Mike Ryan, Executive Director of Health Emergencies, refrained from explicit comment.  

But Ryan suggested that the US President, who is 74 and overweight, might draw new insights into the disease from experiencing it himself, adding it was still not too late for the United States to “turn the corner” on it’s own chronically high infection rates.  

“We wish the president well. Like we would wish anyone facing this disease well. This is a nasty virus and this virus can cause severe disease. Particularly in older individuals with underlying conditions,” said Ryan. 

“We’ve all been through things in our life, health events that transform our lives whether we want them to or not. And other things that allow us to learn and absorb lessons in our lives. 

“We want all public leaders, particularly leaders of great countries to lead us and to give us hope, to give us certainty, to give us truth and to give us a chance to fight and win against this disease. So it is never, ever too late for that to be true.” 

Election Campaign In Uncharted Waters Alongside Reports Biden may have been infected   
Crowds flock to recent Trump campaign rally in Virginia

The news of Trump’s infection poses a clear challenge to the pace and tone of his re-election campaign against former Vice President Joseph Biden, the Democratic nominee. The President has already cancelled his campaign rallies scheduled over the weekend and early next week, while uncertainty surrounds plans for the next presidential debate, scheduled for October 15 in Miami. 

Disease experts also suggested that a much wider outbreak among White House staff and political allies may be underway. In the week leading up to Trump’s positive test, he interacted with staff members, donors, and supporters at a variety of events. 

It is presumed that the president and first lady tested positive for the virus following close contact with a senior advisor, Hope Hicks, whose positive test results were reported late on Thursday evening. However, according to White House officials, Hicks began exhibiting symptoms on Wednesday, when she traveled with Trump to a campaign rally in Minnesota. The White House wanted to keep the news of Hicks’ positive test result from leaking, said White House aides. 

Advisors to the president were reported as saying that they expected additional cases among those who are in close and regular contact with Trump. Ronna McDaniel, Chairwoman of the Republic National Committee, already had tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, after having contact with Trump last Friday. However, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, tested negative for the virus on Friday as did Biden who had faced off against Trump on Tuesday in a raucous, nationally televised election debate that lasted more than two hours and included ample shouting from the podium.  

Asked about the potential for a wider COVID outbreak among White House staff, Biden and others, WHO’s Ryan added: “Two cases that are linked to space and time can be considered to be an epidemic or a cluster, and there is clearly a cluster of cases occurring in that scenario. And that needs to be properly investigated. And those individuals who may be at risk need to be advised, the necessary quarantines need to be put in place. This is epidemiology 101. 

“We absolutely trust the US public health authorities to make the appropriate decision and advise those individuals whether there may be a risk,” he said, adding, “There is no reason why the United States of America cannot control this disease, turn the corner. But that requires work. Corners don’t turn by themselves, they need to be turned in the case of biologic processes.  You’ve got to fight the virus, push the virus down. That costs, that costs in effort, in commitment in transparency. It costs in honesty and it costs a sustained support to get that job done. 

New Report Charges Trump With Fueling “Infodemic” On COVID-19

Trump’s positive COVID-19 test results emerge after months in which he consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic and the threat of the virus, saying at times that it was no worse than the flu. While the pandemic advanced, killing 207,816 people in the US so far, Trump continued his appearances before large crowds of people, both indoors and outside. Those appearances had picked up in pace as he hit the campaign trail even harder, in preparation for the November 3 Presidential election, holding big rallies with little social distancing, and limited mask wearing – often in defiance of state public health guidelines and regulations. 

The news also followed the recent publication of a critical report, charging that Trump is one of the leading contributors to the current ‘infodemic’ of misinformation around COVID-19, including disinformation and conspiracy theories about a virus that he has consistently blamed China for releasing, even malevolently. 

He has also been accused of lighting false hopes of an easy resolution to the pandemic from a vaccine – which experts have said would likely only be about 50% effective, and still take a number of more months to develop and release safely. On Thursday night at a political dinner, several hours before Trump’s diagnosis, the US President remained optimistic, saying, “we are on track to develop and distribute a vaccine before the end of the year, and maybe substantially before… the end of the pandemic is in sight.” 

And at the same time, Trump’s eagerness to accelerate the vaccine clinical trial processes  – even overriding standard scientific safety protocols – has also fueled growing distrust among members of the US public that a vaccine, whenever one is released, will be safe and reliable. 

“We don’t comment on the behaviour of any specific individual,” said WHO’s Ryan, when asked about Trump’s overall attitude towards the pandemic as well as the preventive measures that the President may or may not have observed personally.

“We don’t know what risk management measures were put into place, especially around the president. What we do know is that each and every individual and each and every citizen should be guided by the national guidance in their country, and that there are a combination of different measures that reduce risk … washing your hands, staying at a safe distance, avoiding crowded spaces, wearing a mask, both to protect others and yourselves. We are a community and we need to get through this together.” 

Even so, WHO Health Emergencies technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, herself a US citizen, acknowledged that Trump, 74, is in an age category considered most vulnerable to the coronavirus. 

“If you have underlying conditions or are above 60, 70, 80 you have a higher risk of death,” Van Kerkhove said at the WHO briefing. She added that the infection fatality rate “increases by age.. estimates overall are around 0.6 %, … and the more infections we have, the more opportunity there is for those infections to reach people of an older age, who are at a higher risk of dying.” 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths in the US have been among adults aged 65 and older. Trump reportedly also has a Body Mass Index over 30, which places him in a higher risk group of overweight people.

Trump’s age has thus raised concerns about the potential incapacitation of the US president, which would have global repercussions. In the case of medical incapacitation, presidential power could temporarily be transferred to Vice President Mike Pence, according to the 25th Amendment in the US Constitution. 

Such scenarios are not far-fetched, particularly in light of the hospitalization of leaders such as Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, 56, after contracting a serious case of COVID-19 in April. 

On the other hand, a range of other world leaders have contracted COVID-19 and recovered relatively quickly,  including Jair Bolsanaro, president of Brazil, Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of Honduras, Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, Alejandro Giammattei, president of Guatemala, and Jeanine Anez, the interim president of Bolivia.  So it remains to be seen if Trump will emerge more defiant than ever from a mild bout of the virus –  or visibly humbled by a more serious case. 


Image Credits: WHO, White House, Twitter – Donald Trump.

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