President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an early Friday morning tweet by Trump. The announcement that a world leader has contracted this serious illness is shocking — but is not surprising: Since the early days of the pandemic, the president has been downplaying the risk of contracting coronavirus, refusing to wear a mask, and holding in-person fund-raisers and campaign rallies.
The news, just a month before the November election, and while more than a million people already cast a ballot, adds more doubt and confusion to an already uncertain moment — creating a cascade of new hypothetical scenarios, depending on the course the disease takes, about his role as a leader, and his role as a candidate. Trump, 74 and obese, is at higher risk for a severe illness. As of Friday morning, the White House reports that Trump is experiencing only mild symptoms.
While we hope both the president and first lady complete a full recovery, it is impossible to ignore the risk in which the man who controls the nuclear codes has put himself and others. On the morning before his positive test, Trump met supporters and donors in New Jersey — unmasked. Earlier that week, Trump mocked Joe Biden in the debate for wearing a mask. Now it is because of his reckless behavior that the commander in chief needs to run the executive branch from his quarantine room in the White House, and contract tracers all over the country face the Herculean task of tracking down all those with whom he came into contact.
It is also hard to ignore how different the experience of COVID-19 will be for Trump compared with many people who are less privileged:
The Trumps have access to the best health care available: Before the pandemic hit, nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians did not have health insurance. Many others could have lost their employer-based insurance when they lost their job due to the pandemic.
The Trumps will have the means to keep their insurance after the coronavirus: For some people, the health consequences of COVID-19 are long-lasting and become a new preexisting condition. The Trump administration is currently fighting in court to repeal the Affordable Care Act, allowing health insurance companies to kick more than five million Pennsylvanians with preexisting conditions from their plans.
The Trumps have a home: It is impossible to quarantine safely without a safe and stable home. About one in four Pennsylvania adults say they are at risk of eviction or foreclosure.
The Trumps won’t get fired because they are sick: Not everyone can work from home, and not everyone can take time off from work to quarantine.
If every American had these basic rights for testing, health care, home, and job security when ill, it is unlikely that more than 200,000 would have died in the U.S.
The president had the tools to prevent COVID-19 infections, including his own. He chose not to.