Trump and Pence Won’t Be Tested After Meeting With Infected Brazilian Official
“Both the president and vice president had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive,” the White House press secretary said.
President Trump hosting President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, center left, on Saturday at his Mar-a-Lago estate. One of Mr. Bolsonaro’s aides later tested positive for the coronavirus.Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
By Annie Karni
- Published March 12, 2020Updated March 13, 2020, 8:58 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON — President Trump will not be tested for the coronavirus after coming into contact with a Brazilian official who tested positive for the virus just days after participating in meetings with him in Florida, the White House said on Thursday.
Fabio Wajngarten, a top communications aide to President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, tested positive days after accompanying him to Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and posing for a photo with the president and Vice President Mike Pence. In the photo, which he posted on social media, Mr. Wajngarten is standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Trump, who is clutching a brown “Make Brazil Great Again” baseball cap.
A video from the event also showed Mr. Wajngarten standing directly behind Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro as they spoke to a crowd.
After his meeting with the Brazilian delegation, Mr. Trump hosted a dinner for Mr. Bolsonaro and his aides. But Mr. Pence did not stay for the dinner, an aide said, and had not received any guidance from his physician that he needed to be tested or quarantined.
Mr. Wajngarten also stopped by the birthday party of Kimberly Guilfoyle, an adviser to Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and the girlfriend of his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., a campaign aide said. Mr. Trump also attended the party.
But the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, played down Mr. Trump’s level of exposure. “Both the president and vice president had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time,” Ms. Grisham said in a statement on Thursday.
She also indicated that neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Pence intended to self-quarantine as a precautionary measure. “There is currently no indication to test patients without symptoms, and only people with prolonged close exposure to confirmed positive cases should self-quarantine,” Ms. Grisham said. “Exposures from the case are being assessed, which will dictate next steps.”
While the White House has indicated that its bar for testing the commander in chief is high, Dr. Judith N. Wasserheit, a professor of global health and medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, recommended otherwise. “Because of the critical roles that the president and vice president play, it would be wise to have a low threshold for testing regardless of symptom status,” she said.
Dr. Thomas File, the president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said that anyone within five feet of an infected individual for five minutes or more had potential exposure to the virus. The recommendation for someone who had exposure would be to “stay home and monitor themselves” for 14 days, Dr. File said. “If they develop symptoms, they would be tested.”
In contrast to Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence, Senator Rick Scott of Florida and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina announced on Thursday that they were self-quarantining after potential contact with Mr. Wajngarten.
And in Brazil, several cabinet members and the first lady, Michelle Bolsonaro, were awaiting test results amid fears that Mr. Wajngarten could have exposed members of the delegation. Mr. Bolsonaro also canceled a trip he had planned to make on Thursday, after spending the past few days playing down the risks of the virus.
Mr. Trump also chose not to get tested for the coronavirus last week after he had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, where an attendee who was infected with the virus mingled with lawmakers. Four members of Congress — including Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who traveled with Mr. Trump on Air Force One last week — announced they were self-quarantining, citing an abundance of caution after coming into contact with the infected individual at the conference.
Mr. Trump, however, did not choose to take any precautionary measures. “He has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed Covid-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms,” Ms. Grisham said this week. “President Trump remains in excellent health, and his physician will continue to closely monitor him.”
In an interview with “Fox & Friends” this week, Ms. Grisham dismissed the coronavirus as “something that is like a flu” and said that when it came to his own exposure, Mr. Trump was “not concerned about this at all” because he “uses hand sanitizer all the time.”
Still, some experts warned the risk was high. “Any public figure, including the president, who really doesn’t want to get infected has to understand: They can no longer be in the public domain with person-to-person contact like this and not get infected,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. “This virus will penetrate into our population.”
In the past, presidents made a point of personally taking precautions as an example to the public. In 1976, when President Gerald R. Ford embarked on an ambitious crash program to vaccinate tens of millions of Americans against what was thought to be a dangerous new strain of influenza, he was photographed receiving the vaccine in the White House as part of a public awareness campaign.
In 2002, President George W. Bush was vaccinated against smallpox after American troops and civilian health care and emergency workers were ordered to have inoculations before the invasion of Iraq out of fear that the country’s leader, Saddam Hussein, had biological weapons.
Administration officials have said they would consider starting a public-relations campaign around testing if that becomes necessary. But they noted that the White House was not recommending mass testing across the country, focusing instead on older Americans with underlying health conditions.
Photo ops of Mr. Trump or Mr. Pence getting tested, they said, would be inconsistent with a message that people should follow the recommendations of their doctors, and that healthy Americans are likely to stay healthy.
Mr. Trump has also long resisted making his medical history public. The White House has still refused to provide any details about why he made an unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center four months ago. At the time, the White House described it as an “interim checkup,” and since then, Mr. Trump has been vague about when he plans to complete his annual physical.
“I’m going probably over the next 90 days,” he told reporters last week. “I’m so busy, I can’t do it.”
Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington, Roni Caryn Rabin from New York and Ernesto Londoño from Buenos Aires.
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