(Reuters) – President Donald Trump, who played down the threat of the coronavirus pandemic for months, said on Friday that he and his wife Melania had tested positive for COVID-19 and were going into quarantine, upending the race for the White House.
“We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” the president said in a tweet early on Friday morning.
Trump, 74, is at high risk with the deadly virus both because of his age and because he is considered overweight. He has remained in good health during his time in office but is not known to exercise regularly or to follow a healthy diet.
Trump understated the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages and has repeatedly predicted it would go away. On Thursday night he said the end of the pandemic was in sight. He rarely wears a mask and criticizes people, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who do.
Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
More than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the United States alone. The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions have been especially hard hit.
Trump, a Republican, urged U.S. states to re-open shuttered economies even as the number of cases continued to soar and knocked Democratic governors for putting tough measures into place to bring the virus under control.
His health scare, which rattled financial markets, shifts the 2020 presidential campaign dramatically.
With only weeks before the Nov. 3 election, Trump will now be sidelined from doing in-person events after holding a slew of rallies with thousands of people at indoor and outdoor venues, against the advice of public health professionals.
Biden leads Trump in national polls.
Trump’s positive test also means that others at the highest levels of the U.S. government have been exposed and may have to quarantine, too.
A White House official said early on Friday that contact tracing was under way.
Trump’s physician, Sean Conley, said he expected the president to carry out his duties “without disruption” while he recovers.
“The President and First Lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence,” Conley wrote in a memo that was distributed to the press.
Leaders around the world wished Trump a speedy recovery.
Biden has criticized Trump sharply for his response to the pandemic; the president has praised himself and his team.
On Thursday night, shortly after Trump predicted the pandemic’s end was in sight, news broke that Hope Hicks, a top adviser and trusted aide, had tested positive for the virus. Hicks traveled with the president on Air Force One on Tuesday and Wednesday.
CHANGE IN THE RACE
The White House issued a new schedule for Trump’s activities on Friday that did not include a planned trip to Florida. Biden plans to campaign in Michigan on Friday. Both states are swing states that could help decide the U.S. election.
The president’s condition is likely to bring the pandemic back to center stage in the race, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Trump’s subsequent nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill her seat shifted the campaign’s focus.
Trump, who has been criticized for questioning the efficacy of wearing a face covering, produced a mask from his pocket in his first debate against Biden on Tuesday and said, “I wear masks when needed. When needed, I wear masks.”
He then ridiculed the former vice president for putting one on regularly: “I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen,” Trump said.
Health professionals say that face coverings are key to preventing the virus from spreading.
The White House has had previous coronavirus scares. Vice President Mike Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, tested positive earlier this year and suffered symptoms before recovering. A military valet also came down with the virus.
But the White House lowered its precautions as Trump sought to project a return-to-normalcy message this summer. Temperature checks of everyone entering the White House complex stopped, and while coronavirus tests continued for people who came into close proximity to Trump, including some reporters, others on campus are not tested.
Trump held a large campaign rally with thousands of people in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June. Cases spiked in the area afterwards, and Herman Cain, a prominent businessman and Trump supporter who attended the event, later fell ill with COVID-19 and died.
Trump restarted large rallies later in the summer, seeking to drum up enthusiasm for his candidacy against Biden, who has eschewed campaign events with large numbers of people.
Trump takes pride in the big events with crowds of people who do not wear masks or maintain social distance and is likely to chafe at having to remain home with only weeks to go before the election.
Futures for the S&P 500 fell 1.8% in Asian trading after the news of Trump’s positive test, extending earlier losses, while barometers of risk sentiment, such as the Australian dollar and Treasury yields, dipped.
“Trump has been trailing behind Biden and he has clearly failed to narrow the gap after the first debate … I suspect markets will lean towards the view that Biden will likely win the election,” said Naoya Oshikubo, senior economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Asset Management. “What I am worried is that he will become even more aggressive against China after he caught the virus himself.”
Trump joins a roster of other world leaders who have contracted the virus.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson kept working in isolation for a little over a week after testing positive in late March, but then fell gravely ill and was rushed into intensive care. He spent several weeks recovering before returning to work.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went into quarantine in March after his wife was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro called it a “little flu” after being infected in July.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano and Aishwarya Nair; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by William Mallard, Michael Perry and Peter Graff)