Officials in Cleveland, which hosted the debate, said that they were aware of 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 stemming from “pre-debate planning and set-up.” The majority of cases were among out-of-state residents, officials said, suggesting that the virus had been brought to the debate, rather than contracted there. Members of the Trump entourage, including family members, aides, and campaign staff, watched the indoor debate without wearing masks. When offered masks by officials with the Cleveland Clinic, which co-hosted the debate, they “waved them away,” according to the debate moderator, Chris Wallace.
Trump next held a campaign rally in Minnesota on Wednesday. On Thursday, after learning that Hicks, a close aide, had tested positive for COVID-19, he traveled to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for a fundraiser. Trump was described as “lethargic” at the event and reportedly came into contact with dozens of wealthy donors, who were alarmed to discover that they had paid upwards of a quarter million dollars to meet not only the president but the deadly illness he was carrying. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy warned anyone who attended the fundraiser to get tested and self-quarantine as a precaution; the White House has given New Jersey health officials a list of at least 206 people who may have been exposed at the event.
The ripple effects of the president’s infection could be far larger still. On Friday, the White House Correspondents’ Association reported that three journalists who had been in the building last week had tested positive. In apparent violation of airline policy, three Minnesota congressmen flew home on a commercial flight after they were exposed to the president. Countless others, including debate attendees, support staffers, cooks, Secret Service personnel, journalists, and aides who travel with the president, could still be at risk of showing symptoms of the virus in the days to come.
For some in the White House, this string of infections might have served as a wake-up call. As the president prepared to take off for Walter Reed for medical treatment, McEnany and others were photographed standing by, arms crossed, hands to themselves. Like children who had been burned after months of playing with fire, they were more cautious. At long last, they were wearing masks.
The president, though, doesn’t seem to have been changed by the experience. After he got sick, Trump tweeted a video message in which he claimed that he had “no choice” but to breathe in so many people’s faces, because he “had to be out front. And this is America.” Post-diagnosis, his choice to prioritize optics over safety has continued to imperil the health of people close to him. On Sunday evening, Trump briefly left the hospital to take a joyride before his supporters—in a sealed vehicle carrying not just the president, but also the Secret Service agents charged with protecting him.