The Slatest

Does Donald Trump Have the Coronavirus?

The well-being of our hardworking president is too important to take for granted.

SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 05: President Donald Trump greets supporters following a Fox News Town Hall event with moderators Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum on March 05, 2020 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Among other topics, President Trump discussed his administration's response to the Coronavirus and the economy.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump greets supporters following a Fox News Town Hall event. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Donald Trump insists that he’s fine. He feels “extremely good,” in fact, and also “very good.” He’d be happy to get a coronavirus test, he said Friday, if one were ever needed. But, he tells us, there’s no reason. The president is doing great.

While Trump might feel fine—or at least, no different than usual—the people in his immediate vicinity haven’t all been able to say the same. Over the past week or so, we’ve learned about multiple instances of Donald Trump directly interacting with either a coronavirus victim or someone who recently interacted with someone with the coronavirus. Considering how highly infectious this new strain of coronavirus is, someone who has had multiple opportunities to contract the virus might have cause for concern.

But if Trump won’t worry about his own health, it falls on us to worry about it for him. Mr. President, let’s look at the facts.

When could Trump have potentially contracted the virus?

On March 7, it was announced that an attendee at the Conservative Political Action Conference had tested positive for the new coronavirus. What’s more, this wasn’t just any normal attendee. This person was at least high-profile enough to have come into direct contact with lawmakers Ted Cruz, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Doug Collins, as well as American Conservative Union president Matt Schlapp. Schlapp has since self-quarantined, but not before introducing Trump and greeting him with a firm, prolonged handshake.

As his speech came to a close, Trump wandered over to a nearby American flag and embraced it. During that warm embrace, Trump placed his face firmly on his right hand.

Trump hugging a flag, his face is pressed against his hadn

Schlapp wasn’t the only CPAC attendee with direct coronavirus exposure to then spend time with Trump. On Monday, before entering his own self-quarantine, Matt Gaetz flew with the president on Air Force One.

Matt Gaetz walks up stairs to board a plane

Both Gaetz and Schlapp have said that the self-quarantine was out of an abundance of caution and that they’ve yet to experience any symptoms. While this doesn’t entirely remove the possibility that they may have been carriers, it is at least one point in the president’s favor. Unfortunately, this was not Trump’s only potential point of contact with the new coronavirus.

On March 8, Fabio Wajngarten, an aide to President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, posted a photo of himself with Trump—and Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s designated leader of the White House’s anti-pandemic efforts.

Their heads appear to be approximately one foot apart, plenty close enough for a spare saliva or mucus particle to make its way from one orifice to another. Curiously, if you look closely on the right-hand side of the image, you’ll see a number of bizarre smudges and irregularities.

A closeup of a two lower torsos with smudging on the right

Above, you can see that same portion, brightened a bit to highlight the oddities. It bears the unmistakable hallmark of Photoshop’s “clone” tool, which allows the user to paint over part of an image with different portions of that same image. Here, we appear to be looking at misplaced section of Trump’s tie and coat.

A diagram pointing out which sections of the image have been photoshopped

You can see exactly which portions have been doctored in the diagram above.

Now, the conspiracy-minded might understandably assume, on finding obvious evidence of tampering in a widely circulated and newsworthy photo, that all this effort to obscure something must have had a nefarious purpose. I myself thought whoever edited the photo must have been trying to obscure some additional touching, or perhaps even a used tissue.

Upon further research, though, I discovered a different photo taken of the same group of people at the same time. From this, it appears our Brazilian communications aide (or whoever edited his photo for him) was merely trying to place himself at the forefront of the scene, at the expense of the man to his left.

But this additional photo revealed something else. As you can see from the flesh-colored blur, Wajngarten’s hand had at one point been a mere six inches from Trump’s own. While no direct contact appears to have been captured on camera, a hand moving as fast Wajngarten’s apparently was moving might easily have grazed surrounding objects, including the hand of our very own president.

Two lower torsos with their hands circled

These photos weren’t their only interaction. Later, Wajngarten posted a video he recorded in a completely different room, a mere foot or so away from Trump’s repeatedly opened mouth.

And in yet another room, Wajngarten hovered around Trump once again.

According to The New York Times, the aide even made a stop at Kimberly Guilfoyle’s birthday party, where Trump was also in attendance. Fabio Wajngarten tested positive for the coronavirus several days later.

Despite these repeated, clearly documented interactions, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on Thursday that “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.” This runs counter to the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top immunology official, who said that someone who has stood next to a person with the coronavirus should self-isolate and “find a test.” It would also explain why multiple lawmakers who had similar levels of interaction with Wajngarten have all decided to self-quarantine.

To make matters worse, just hours ago, it was revealed that a second person in attendance at Mar-a-Lago last weekend has tested positive for the coronavirus.

And as the virus makes its way through the globe-trotting elite, it brings Trump into association with even more potential wellsprings of disease. His own beloved daughter, for instance:

In other words, Trump has had ample opportunity to come into contact with the virus.

Why wouldn’t Trump get tested for the coronavirus?

With COVID-19 test kits being in such short supply, you’d think that any potential infectee who had an opportunity to get their hands on one would be relieved. And the president naturally falls into the category of crucial people who might immediately make their way to the top of the list. Donald Trump, however, claims not to be particularly interested in checking his status.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday after the CPAC revelation, Trump said that he feels “extremely good. I feel very good.” He then added, “I guess it’s not a big deal to get tested and something I would do, but, again, I spoke to the White House doctor, terrific guy, talented guy. He said he sees no reason to do it. There’s no symptoms, no anything.”

On Thursday, when he was asked about Wajngarten testing positive, Trump said, “Let’s put it this way, I’m not concerned, OK?”

Yet if history is any judge, we can’t simply take Donald Trump’s word for it. If you’ll recall, before the 2016 election, the Trump campaign released a letter from his longtime doctor, Harold Bornstein, declaring, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Two years later, Bornstein admitted to CNN that the letter had been a fraud: “[Trump] dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter. I just made it up as I went along.” More than just demanding his doctor falsify medical records, Trump also apparently took steps to cover up the reality of his health.

Speaking to NBC, Bornstein claimed that, in February 2017, three men came to his office of behalf of Trump to collect the president’s medical records, after Bornstein acknowledged having prescribed him something for hair growth, in what the doctor described as a “raid.”

Trump also has a history of, if not outright lying about his health, doing everything he can to keep the truth hidden. In November, Trump made an unexpected visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that was followed by a multi-day absence from the public eye. The visit was not announced ahead of time, the medical staff at Walter Reed were reportedly not given advance notice, and the accompanying White House reporters were strictly forbidden from reporting on the president’s movements until he arrived. All of this would have been highly unusual for a sitting president undergoing a routine checkup, which is what the White House claimed had prompted the visit.

And while the White House claimed that Trump had merely undergone a “quick exam and labs,” CNN reported that “several experts familiar with White House medical procedures said that Trump can get routine labwork done at the White House’s on-site clinic, indicating Trump needed tests that can’t be done there.”

Does he appear to have any symptoms?

According to the CDC, the main symptoms to watch out for are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. It’s obviously impossible to truly diagnose the coronavirus from a distance, and most of these symptoms could also indicate any number of other ailments. But we are not here to talk about any number of other ailments. We are here to talk about the coronavirus, and whether our president might have COVID-19. Fortunately, Donald Trump just got done holding an hour-long press conference, giving us ample opportunity to attempt to assess his physical state.

Roughly six seconds into the above clip, you can hear Trump falter on the word “virus.” Unlike other Trump linguistic stumbles, this one does not seem to be a symptom of reading difficulty. He begins saying the word, getting as far as sounding out “vi,” before pausing, appearing to collect himself, and finishing the word. There’s a slight shortness of breath, or perhaps merely a half-wheeze. Either way, it does not appear to be the voice of a man who is feeling his absolute best.

This does not appear to be a single-day anomaly. On Wednesday, Trump gave an error-riddled primetime address, in which he announced a number of actions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Throughout the speech, he seemed similarly lethargic and short of breath.

Perhaps more alarming, though, was Mike Pence today. In the clip below, as soon as he gets his first few words out, Pence pauses for several seconds before finishing his thought. That in itself wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary if not for the what happens during the pause.

There is audible, heavy breathing that would seem to indicate at least some shortness of breath. Mike Pence has been in many of the same situations as Donald Trump. In recent days, he has spent plenty of time in the direct vicinity of Donald Trump. If Pence isn’t feeling well, it stands to reason that there’s a good chance our president might soon suffer the same fate, if he hasn’t already. And while roughly 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are “mild,” mild can mean anything from pneumonia to having no symptoms at all. Trump himself seems to take particular pleasure in pointing out that, for many, it’s a “very mild” disease and “you never hear about those people.” Which means we can’t fully discount the possibility of Trump being asymptomatic.

So, does Donald Trump have the coronavirus? My professional, medical opinion as an English literature and communication major, is that we cannot exclude the possibility that Donald Trump has the coronavirus. In which case, prudence says we must err on the side of caution and assume the worst—at least until he takes the test.

Update 11:20 p.m.: A third person who attended Mar-a-Lago this past weekend, acting Brazil Ambassador Nestor Forster, has also tested positive for the coronavirus. Forster ate dinner with the president on Saturday night.

Update 3/14, 1:00 p.m.: During a press conference today, Donald Trump claimed that he “took the test last night,” that it had been sent to a lab, and that results are expected within a few days. This would appear to directly contradict the letter released by Trump’s physician at midnight last night, which stated that testing the president for coronavirus “is not currently indicated.”

Update 3/14, 7:35 p.m.: Less than 24 hours after Trump’s physician released a memo stating that the president had not been tested for the coronavirus, the White House has released a second memo announcing that the president’s test results have come back negative.