Overnight Healthcare: President Trump has coronavirus
Welcome to Friday’s Overnight Healthcare. Well, there certainly has been a lot of news today. President Trump, his wife Melania, a top White House aide, and possibly others, have COVID-19.
The reverberations of Trump’s positive test are being felt all over. Let’s start with the White House and campaign trail:
The news provoked concern about the president’s health and raised questions about the continuity of government with the 2020 election only one month away.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the president is experiencing “mild symptoms” from the virus and that contingency plans are in place to ensure the government continues to function while the president is in quarantine.
Trump has not appeared on-camera since the news of his positive test broke early Friday morning.
“I fully expect that, as this virus continues to go on, other people in the White House will certainly have a positive test result, and we’ve got the mitigation plan in place to make sure the government not only continues to move forward but the work of the American people continues to move forward,” Meadows said.
The 25th Amendment stipulates that Trump could assign the powers of the presidency over to Vice President Pence if he were to become incapacitated. Pence tested negative for the disease, his office said Friday.
The coronavirus has been deadliest for seniors and those with preexisting respiratory conditions. Trump is 74 years of age and overweight, factors that place him in a high-risk category for falling seriously ill from the virus.
On Capitol Hill, calls for testing grow
The new cases highlight that there is no systematic testing regimen at the Capitol.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who attended a White House event with Trump and other Republicans over the weekend, became the latest lawmaker on Friday to announce he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) turned down the White House’s offer to provide rapid testing capabilities in May, stating that frontline facilities should be provided the resources before they are made available to Congress.
But with the uptick in cases is adding pressure on them to reconsider.
Possible movement? House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said providing testing at the Capitol is being discussed, and expects a decision to be made before lawmakers return from the October recess that began Friday afternoon.
“I talked to the Speaker about that this morning, but we haven’t made a decision on that. But I think certainly in light of that we need to consult with our medical people,” Hoyer told reporters on Friday.
Biden tested negative, and headed to Michigan to campaign:
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden have tested negative for COVID-19, his doctor confirmed on Friday.
“Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” said Kevin O’Connor, Biden’s primary care physician, in a statement.
Biden also tweeted confirmation that he and his wife had tested negative.
“I’m happy to report that Jill and I have tested negative for COVID,” Biden tweeted. “Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands.”
It also comes just days after Biden and Trump met in Cleveland for the first presidential debate on Tuesday. The Trump campaign did not notify Biden’s team on Friday of the president’s positive coronavirus test, and Biden’s aides only became aware of the matter after seeing news reports.
Democrats press Azar on COVID-19 efforts at testy hearing
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar testified before Congress on Friday, just hours after President Trump disclosed he had tested positive for COVID-19, at a sometimes-combative hearing where lawmakers pressed him on the federal government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
Trump’s coronavirus test results came after holding multiple campaign rallies, including an indoor one last month, that public health experts warned were dangerous and could spread the disease.
Azar on Friday declined to answer questions about whether he had advised the president not to hold those rallies, where mask-wearing and social distancing were rarely practiced.
“I’m not going to discuss my discussions with the president, but the president’s guidelines since April have said wear face coverings, wash your hands, wear face coverings, practice social distancing,” Azar said.
He was also asked why the first family did not wear masks at Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland.
“The protective aspect around the president is a different situation than the rest of us because of the protocols around the first family,” Azar said, likely referring to the regular testing of those in contact with Trump.
Read more here.
Contingency plans needed?
The positive coronavirus test is also raising serious questions about what the administration would do if the president’s unable to carry out his official duties, and what impact a worsening illness could have on an election that’s just a month away.
The White House said Friday that Trump is experiencing mild symptoms after he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19 late Thursday. But experts say that the test results would inevitably trigger plans at the White House for a potential transfer of authorities should the president become gravely ill.
“Normally, what we would expect is a whole lot of communications with the vice president and plans for decision making authority to transfer to him in the event that the president is incapacitated,” said William Howell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
A constitutional amendment has been in place since 1967 to address the question of what happens when a president is unable to discharge their duties. The electoral implications, however, are less clear cut.
“Of all the nightmare scenarios, a presidential candidate dying or becoming incapacitated suddenly raises some really knotty problems,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert and law professor at the University of California Irvine.
What we’re reading
As ‘the click starts ticking’ after coronavirus infection, Trump faces an uncertain road ahead (STAT)
Trump Has the Coronavirus. What Risks Does He Face? (New York Times)
Supreme Court nominee tested positive for coronavirus this summer, has since recovered (Washington Post)
State by state
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announces health reform package (Pittsburgh Business Times)
Governor downplays hospital bed shortage as North Dakota further relaxes quarantine guidelines (Grand Forks Herald)
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations reach new high in Oklahoma (Oklahoma News 4)