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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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The stunning news overnight Friday that Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, both have tested positive for the novel coronavirus has sent the nation into tumult just weeks before this year’s presidential election.

So far, Trump’s illness is not described as terribly serious.

“He has mild symptoms as we look at that. The doctor will continue to provide expertise in the residence,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Friday. “He is in the residence now. And in true fashion he is probably critiquing the way I’m answering these questions. And I can tell you that a number of us will be reporting back to him on the task at hand.”

Concerns about Trump’s health remain, however.

“The president’s top aides have been discussing this since Thursday morning when they first found out about the exposure and had the tests. And from what I can glean, from different conversations with senior Republican sources is that there are concerns at the highest level of the government about the president’s possible comorbidities, his age, his health,” said Robert Costa, the Washington Post political reporter and host of the PBS program Washington Week. “He’s going to be having a call with seniors later today, we’ll see if that continues to go on as schedules, that would be a phone call, not any kind of visit. So you see concern, but they’re trying to play this out. And they also know the president behind the scenes, for months, has been speculating about possibly getting coronavirus — and shrugging his shoulders about it.

“So they know that’s going to likely be his mentality, at least moving forward. But one person inside the White House did tell me late last night, really early this morning, that there is seriousness about this inside the West Wing,” Costa added. “That there is a darkness about it. This is a bleak reality. They all hope, of course, the president recovers quickly, but they know that this is no joke with over 200,000 Americans dead.”

Given that this disclosure came at the end of the week when Trump had his first presidential debate with Democrat Joe Biden, there was also concern that Biden could have been infected as well.

However, Biden, and his wife, have tested negative for the novel coronavirus, their primary care physician said in a statement released Friday.

In fact, Biden and his wife Jill are among those from both sides of the political aisle sending Trump well-wishes.

“First of all, I wish the president and the first lady that they have full recovery and that it is not any more serious than it is,” the Rev Al Sharpton said Friday. “I think that the appeal that I make is that we do not — those of us opposed to him, and many of us aggressively so, don’t take this as a moment of ‘I told you so’ or finger-pointing, but really take this as a moment to say, this is why we need to deal with the reality of what impact this pandemic has had on this country. That even the president and the first lady, who has the best medical and health advisers and personnel available to them, that it can reach them.

“And I would hope that — you know, the only conversation I had with the president since he’s been president was I called him early in this pandemic and talked about testing the homeless and the incarcerated, the people that are vulnerable. I hope we take this moment to try and come to terms on another stimulus package,” Sharpton said. “People that are suffering out there, with no thing they caused of their own, it would be wonderful if now [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin can now say, ‘While we pray for the president, whether we agree with him or not, let’s move forward and take care of the people of this country. The worst we can become is become mocking because we felt that he mocked others. Don’t become like them. Show that we are sincere by making the country go forward. I hope we don’t miss an opportunity to rise up and show we can be better than the situations that we protest.”

“Well, of course, as with everyone, we all received that news with great sadness. I always pray for the president and his family that they’re safe,” Pelosi said. “I continue to do so more intensified. And I know that he’ll have the best of care, and that’s what we want for everyone in our country. I hope this will be a moment where people will understand that what we have in our HEROES bill and have had in our conversations over and over is, we must have testing, tracing, treatment. We must have spacial distancing. We must be wearing our masks. We must have sanitation because it can help crush the virus and stop the spread.

“So maybe now that people who see the president of the United States with all the protection that he has and the first lady still having this exposure, it might be, as you say, a learning experience,” she added. “But more than learning, it has to be something that is acted upon. This is tragic. It’s very sad. But it also is something that, again, going into crowds unmasked and all the rest was sort of a brazen invitation for something like this to happen. Sad that it did, but nonetheless, hopeful that it will be a transition to a saner approach to what this virus is all about.”

Carl Bernstein, the famed Watergate reporter, called the current moment a unique national security crisis.

“I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable, but certainly his recklessness has contributed to this horrible situation,” Bernstein said of Trump’s positive result. “And I think we need to look at one thing immediately. We are now in the midst of a national security crisis, it is different than any one in our history in this country. We have to be concerned about adversaries, particularly Russia, taking advantage of this situation for its own purposes. We have to think about possible cyber-manipulation of the markets. You’ve talked about the markets, obviously this is going to have a huge effect on them. The future of this election campaign, it depends on the president’s health. We don’t know what his health is going to be.

“It’s going to totally upend the end of the election campaign. So every aspect of our national life in terms of stability is now affected in ways that we could never envisioned a day ago,” Bernstein added. “And I think we need to start from that perspective the political equation, and of course, what you are talking about is there as well, because his conduct in the handling of this virus is now even more front and center of the election campaign than it ever has been.

“But first let’s look at all the implications in terms of our national security. I am sure there are all kinds of alerts that have gone out, both military and civilian, the vice president I’m sure now is under a different regime than he was hours ago,” Bernstein said. “So as this unfolds, it is going to be new to all of us.”

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  • comment-avatar
    cecelia A holland October 2, 2020

    i hope he recovers quickly. this is a terrible disease, with longterm consequences, and he’s not healthy to begin with.