Saturday 26 September
Donald Trump formally nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the supreme court at a Rose Garden ceremony that was attended by up to 200 guests, plus members of the press.
Washington DC mandates mask-wearing, including for individuals when they are outside, apart from a few exceptions. But in the packed event, many senior lawmakers and members of the president’s family, campaign team and White House staff mingled and sat together in close proximity without wearing masks.
The ceremony is now considered a possible “super-spreader” event, and may have been responsible for the infection of the president and several other senior US government officials.
Kellyanne Conway, who would later test positive, had close conversations with Attorney General Bill Barr, while Utah senator Mike Lee, a member of the Senate judiciary committee who later tested positive, hugged fellow guests. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and Senator Thom Tillis, who all later tested positive and did not practise social distancing, were among the dozens of guests who sat together in close proximity and without masks in violation of CDC guidelines. Judge Barrett, who reportedly suffered from Covid-19 over the summer but has since recovered, also declined to wear a mask. Her seven children and husband attended the event without masks, as did Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame University, which had been forced weeks earlier to suspend in-person classes because of an outbreak on campus.
Trump later flew to Pennsylvania to attend an outdoor rally, accompanied by Hicks and others.
Father John Jenkins publicly apologised for not wearing a mask and shaking hands with people at the Rose Garden event after he was criticised at Notre Dame. In a letter he admitted he has “failed to lead by example”.
Trump prepared for the presidential debate with his adviser Chris Christie among others. Christie later said no one wore a mask.
Trump arrived in Cleveland for the presidential debate in the afternoon, accompanied, among others, by close adviser Hope Hicks. Under agreed debate rules, everyone in the auditorium was supposed to wear a mask except Trump, Biden, and moderator Chris Wallace. Jill Biden and other supporters of the former vice-president kept their masks on during the debate.
But the first family – Melania Trump, and Trump’s four adult children who were in attendance, as well as some of their partners – took off their masks, as did chief of staff Mark Meadows. When a Cleveland Clinic physician approached them, offering surgical masks in case they did not have any, the doctor was, in Wallace’s words, “waved away”, in direct violation of the Cleveland Clinic’s safety rules.
Everyone present in the auditorium was meant to be tested beforehand, but it later emerged that the president and his entourage arrived too late to be tested by the Cleveland Clinic, and the campaign was taken at its word that Trump and others had tested negative before their arrival. Those results have not been independently verified; however, and it is still unclear when the president last tested negative before his positive test.
In the debate, Trump mocked Biden for frequently wearing a mask, while Biden repeated health guidelines that masks could dramatically reduce infection rates.
Marine One, the presidential helicopter, departed from the White House to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland with Trump, Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, and Dan Scavino. The officials and advisers then boarded Air Force One, the presidential plane, en route to Minnesota, where the president was greeted by local Republican officials.
Trump attended a private fundraiser hosted by Marty Davis, a local businessman, and at 8pm attended a packed rally with more than 3,000 supporters, most not wearing masks.
Hicks reportedly began showing symptoms during the rally and “quarantined” on Air Force One on the return flight to Washington that evening. Hicks disembarked from the back of the plane upon arrival in DC. Experts later questioned whether it would have been possible to quarantine effectively.
White House officials were reportedly well aware of Hicks’ symptoms. It is not clear whether she received a test that night, nor whether the president and Melania Trump were tested. According to a statement by Trump’s physician that was later retracted, the president learned of his diagnosis on this day.
The Biden campaign was not alerted to possible exposure, and nor were other officials who were close to Trump in previous days.
Thursday 1 October
According to White House accounts, the administration learned that Hicks tested positive as Marine One was taking off for Bedminster, New Jersey, in order for Trump to attend a private roundtable discussion and a fundraiser. Trump learned of Hicks’ diagnosis about one and a half hours before the fundraiser.
Meadows later said that some individuals traveling with the Trump team pulled some people off the helicopter, but the event proceeded.
Under CDC guidelines, people who had come in close contact with her – including the president – ought to have quarantined as soon as they learned of their exposure. It is not clear whether Trump was given a rapid test at that time.
The fundraiser was reportedly attended by about 100 people – none of whom was warned of the president’s exposure – and included several events, including an indoor roundtable, an indoor VIP reception, with a socially distanced photo opportunity, and an outdoor reception.
The same day, Bloomberg broke the news that Hope Hicks had tested positive, marking the first moment that the public became aware of an infected person close to the president.
Two hours later, Trump told Fox’s Sean Hannity that he was surprised by the Hicks news and suggested she may have been infected because of the law enforcement officials and military personnel who often want to hug her in thanks for her service to the president.
At 10.44pm, Trump announced in a tweet that the Hicks news was “terrible” and that he and the first lady were awaiting test results and had begun a quarantine.
Trump began to receive supplemental oxygen, though it was not known or reported at the time.
At 12.54am, the president announced on Twitter that he and his wife Melania had tested positive for coronavirus. Father John Jenkins also tested positive.
The Biden campaign learned of the results from news reports and Biden and his wife Jill were tested.
Democratic governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey urged everyone early on Friday who had attended the Bedminster fundraiser to take “full precautions”, to be tested and to self-quarantine.
At 10am, the White House chief of staff told reporters that Trump was exhibiting mild symptoms following his diagnosis. In reality, it was later revealed that Trump had a fever and that his blood oxygen levels had “dropped rapidly”, leading to serious concerns.
While the public was told that Trump was experiencing fatigue and mild symptoms, the president received supplemental oxygen while still at the White House. Trump also received an experimental antibody treatment that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and required special permission to be administered to the president. Fewer than 10 others have reportedly been given the drug outside clinical trials.
Regeneron, the company that makes the drug, confirmed it provided it to the president under “compassionate use” rules that allow experimental drugs to be given to patients with life-threatening conditions or serious diseases. It is considered one of the most promising drugs for the future handling of Covid-19. Trump was also given remdesivir, a known Covid-19 treatment.
At 12.22pm, Biden announced that he and his wife Jill had tested negative.
The president was taken to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center unannounced early on Friday evening “out of an abundance of caution”, according to the White House.
Before his departure, Trump announced via a short video on Twitter that he believed he was doing “very well” but was going to Walter Reed to “make sure that things work out”.
Judge Barrett and others – including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner – tested negative. But two Republican senators on the judiciary committee, Thom Tillis and Mike Lee, tested positive and said they would begin a quarantine.
Democrats in the Senate begin to raise alarms about the two positive cases on the judiciary committee, which is responsible for vetting Barrett and holding her supreme court confirmation hearing, saying that the Senate cannot possibly safely proceed.
Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters and a former White House official, announced she tested positive, half an hour after her teenage daughter Claudia – who like her father frequently criticises Trump on social media – announced the diagnosis on TikTok.
A team of Trump’s doctors, led by his physician, Sean Conley, held a press conference at Walter Reed that included contradictory information about when the president was first diagnosed, and when he was first given the experimental drug cocktail Regeneron. Suggestions that Trump had been diagnosed earlier than was understood were later recanted.
Pressed by reporters about whether the president had received oxygen, Conley insisted he had not received any oxygen that morning. The administration later confirmed that Trump had indeed received supplemental oxygen on Friday.
It would late emerge that Conley – who said on Friday that the president was in “exceptionally good spirits” – had been seeking to offer up an “upbeat attitude”.
Conley’s rosy outlook was contradicted by reports from an anonymous administration official – later confirmed to be Mark Meadows – who described a far more dire situation for the president.
Meadows told reporters that Trump had gone through a “very concerning” period a day earlier and said the next two days would be key to understanding Trump’s prognosis. Early in the day he added that Trump was not on a clear path to full recovery and that his vitals were of concern.
Trump reportedly was angry about the message Meadows had given the public about his condition, with one official anonymously telling the Washington Post that the Meadows briefing had been “of zero help to us”. Others privately told reporters they were in the dark about Trump’s true condition.
The president’s oxygen levels dropped to about 93% on this day – though that was only disclosed later. He was also treated with dexamethasone, a steroid that is believed to reduce mortality in severely ill Covid-19 patients. This information was, however, not released on Saturday.
Christie announced he had tested positive for Covid-19 and that he checked into a hospital for monitoring based on doctor’s advice. Christie, who suffers from asthma, was given remdesivir although his symptoms were reportedly mild.
At 6.51pm Trump released a four-minute video from Walter Reed that showed the president, looking pale and at times sounding as if he was struggling for breath, saying he was “feeling much better now” and that he had to get back to his campaign. “I think I will be back soon,” he said. “We’re going to beat this coronavirus or whatever you want to call it,” he added. He also referred to new therapeutics – including ones he received – as miracles from God.
By the evening, Conley issued another statement saying that Trump has made “substantial progress”.
At 11.10pm, Ivanka Trump tweeted a photograph that purported to show Trump working at Walter Reed. In the tweet, she wrote: “Nothing can stop him from working for the American people. RELENTLESS!”
While the White House statements suggest the president’s condition has improved from Friday’s scare, reporters emphasised that the next few days would be critical to fully understanding the president’s condition.
The president’s physician announced that Trump has improved and could be discharged as early as Monday if he continued to make progress. At the same time, the prediction of a possible release seemed to contradict the known trajectory of the disease. While Trump may have been infected anywhere from about five to eight days ago, doctors have said that an individual’s worst symptoms can occur after 7 to 10 days. Among questions that have not been answered are whether Trump has sustained any lung damage due to the illness, and when he last tested negative for the disease.
Anonymous sources told reporters that the president is bored and eager to get back on the campaign trail, and that he has been working phones.
Two members of the White House residence tested positive for Covid-19.