WASHINGTON - The coronavirus pandemic inched ever closer to President Donald Trump on Friday as questions swirled about why the president, his top aides and his family weren't going into self-quarantine, doing more to protect themselves or being tested for COVID-19.
As Trump tried to calm a panicked nation, the White House was grappling with a string of potential and confirmed exposures. A top Brazilian official tested positive after spending time with Trump and others at the president's private club in Florida last weekend. Also testing positive: An Australian Cabinet minister who met a week ago with top administration officials including U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka.
Trump said he will "most likely" be tested for new virus "fairly soon," but said he has "no symptoms." The president did not confirm that he would share the results of any testing with the public when asked directly by a reporter.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to flout public health officials' advice by publicly and repeatedly shaking hands during a Rose Garden address, even as he cautioned that "anyone can be a carrier of the virus" and risk infecting older Americans and others at higher risk.
Trump has also had repeated contact with lawmakers who were themselves exposed to people who later tested positive and chose to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution.
But the president, according to two people close to the White House, has not wanted to take the test because it would project weakness or worry. Trump wants to appear in full control during the crisis, especially as he tries to calm the markets amid historic drops, and believes that taking personal steps could undermine that.
As White House officials worked to determine the level of exposure by the president and senior aides, Trump held an afternoon news conference where he announced that he was declaring a national emergency — something he had been reluctant to do for fear it would further rattle the markets — and unveiled a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities.
Still, he said that, “We don't want everyone taking this test," adding: "It's totally unnecessary. This will pass.”
The president has so far declined to be tested for the virus or to limit his contact with others, professing no concern about potential exposure as his White House insisted they were following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He told reporters on Thursday that he was “not concerned,” adding Friday that, "we have no symptoms whatsoever."
And even as he refused to modify his own behavior — including continuing to shake hands — Trump told the nation that, “We must take all precautions” and be “responsible for the actions" that we take and see others take.
Trump spent time over the weekend with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s communications director, Fábio Wajngarten, who tested positive just days later. Wajngarten posed for a photo with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club and attended a birthday party for Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The president attended the party as well. There were also fears that Bolsonaro himself might have the virus, but he said Friday he'd tested negative.
The White House stressed that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time.”
The CDC advises those who have been in “close contact with a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19" to remain home and practice social distancing.
The Australian who met with Barr and Ivanka Trump, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, said he woke up with a temperature and sore throat on Friday, one week after his meeting with the Americans.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Ivanka Trump worked from home Friday “out of an abundance of caution,” but said that Dutton had been asymptomatic during their interaction and that the White House Medical Unit determined she was "exhibiting no symptoms and does not need to self-quarantine.”
Trump has also had repeated contact with others who were exposed to the virus and quarantined themselves out of an abundance of caution. That included Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who traveled aboard Air Force One with the president on Monday and found out mid-flight that he was among a handful of GOP lawmakers who were exposed to a person who tested positive for the virus after last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
Also staying home: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who announced Friday he would be extending his CPAC-related self-quarantine after coming into contact with another person who later tested positive, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who announced Thursday he was self-quarantining after spending time in Mar-a-Lago and his own meeting with Dutton. Florida Sen. Rick Scott was also isolating himself following his interactions with the Brazilian delegation.
Many doctors across the country have been advising those who have been exposed to someone with the virus to isolate themselves. And Trump, who is 73, is considered to be at higher risk of developing serious complications because of his age.
The president should get tested, even if he is not exhibiting symptoms, said Stephen Morse, a Columbia University expert on the spread of diseases.
”If f I were in that position I’d certainly want to be tested, rather than waiting until something happened,”said Morse. Beyond Trump’s own health, he said, he could pose a risk to others if he is infected and keeps meeting other political leaders.
”Anyone who’s infected is a risk of spreading it to other people,” and that can be true of people who are infected but don’t have symptoms, Morse said.
Trump's new conference came amid intense criticism over his mixed messages on the severity of the outbreak and over the administration's scattershot response. His prime time address earlier this week only added to the public confusion, and Trump has grown increasingly frustrated that his words to the nation so far have done little to calm the public or the financial markets.
The president’s mood was “as black as it has ever been” on Thursday, according to one confidant. He has called around to allies while watching cable news coverage of the Wall Street plummet, furious that his efforts to bolster markets did the exact opposite, according to three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
And he has been lashing out at those around him for failing to do more, at times criticizing former President Barack Obama and a familiar target, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.