JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s the most serious health threat to a sitting president in decades, and President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis could have both health and political implications ahead of Election Day.
With a month to go until the Nov. 3 election, news that President Trump and First Lady Melanie Trump tested positive for COVID-19 has political analysts saying the development adds an element of chaos into an already chaotic presidential campaign.
“The most important takeaway is the seriousness of the public health situation,” Chris Hand, who served as chief of staff to former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, told News4Jax.
“This is obviously a very infectious and determined virus at any given time," Hand said Friday. "The president is the most protected person in the country. But obviously all the physical and medical security in the world can’t stop COVID if people don’t take the necessary precautions.”
The positive test results have the potential for complicating an already contentious election. Hand believes the news has the potential to undermine the president’s all-is-well messaging on the pandemic.
“I don’t think there is any question about it,” Hand said. “I think this reinforces COVID as the top issue of the 2020 election.”
“Throughout the campaign, including Tuesday’s debate, the president ridiculed Joe Biden for this frequent wearing of masks and for his cautious public engagement strategy and for his approach,” Hand said. “Obviously this news undermines those attacks and focuses on President Trump’s handling of the worst public health emergency since 1918.”
The age of the president, who is 74, and his medical designation as being obese place him at a higher level of risk for complications resulting from the disease, which is caused by novel coronavirus. But a Jacksonville doctor said the relatively clean bill of health Trump has received offers reasons for optimism.
“From what we’ve had from the presidents' doctors' reports, they have declared him to be in good health, which is fantastic,” Dr. Jonathan Kantor, an epidemiologist with the Penn Center of Epidemiology, said. “I believe he does have issues with cholesterol and, of course, his weight. Otherwise, his health is good.”
“He doesn’t have any known preexisting lung disease, things like that, which could be a risk factor. That said, his age itself is a risk factor,” Kantor added.
Since President Trump has been active on the campaign trail and on the debate stage, there are questions and concerns about the potential for the spread of COVID-19 among those in close contact with the president.
“The two questions are: where did the president get it from? And how contagious could the president be to other people?” Kantor said. “Just because he is one of the most exposed people in the United States."
“He is going to these fundraisers and he is going to these rallies. He is going to have close contact with people that are not wearing masks and he is not wearing a mask,” Kantor added.
So, there is the potential for spread. The White House is monitoring staffers and it has been suggested that people who have come in direct contact with the president get tested.
Concerning the ultimate impact on the campaign and election, it may depend on the president’s diagnosis and health. In the near future, he will unlikely to be able to stage the kind of massive rallies that have energized his most loyal supporters.
And, for now, it calls into question the second presidential debate, which is set for Oct. 15.