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‘You’re Gonna Beat It.’ How Donald Trump’s COVID-19 Battle Has Only Fueled Misinformation

President Trump Recuperates Amid Questions About His Health And Campaign
President Trump Recuperates Amid Questions About His Health And Campaign

U.S. President Donald Trump salutes Marine One helicopter pilots on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5, 2020. Credit – Ken Cedeno—Polaris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Less than 24 hours after requiring supplemental oxygen and being hospitalized for COVID-19, President Donald Trump was already talking about the virus in the past tense.

“I learned a lot about COVID. I learned it by really going to school,” Trump said in a video filmed from his hospital suite on Saturday. “And I get it, and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing.”

It had been a rare and ominous sight to watch the President of the United States get airlifted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be treated for a disease that has killed more than 210,000 Americans and sickened millions more. Laid low by the very virus that he has consistently downplayed, and with more than a dozen White House and Republican officials around him also infected, Trump struck a rare note of uncertainty, tweeting “Going well, I think!” Messages of shock and sympathy came in from around the world.

But if public health officials, and even some of Trump’s own aides, had hoped the experience would chasten him to change his message after months of questioning the severity of the disease, it quickly became clear that they were mistaken. “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” the President, who has received the very best medical care in the U.S., repeatedly told Americans a mere 72 hours later.

By the time he was staging his triumphant return from the hospital on Monday evening — still infected and heavily medicated — the sentiment that the president’s experience proved the virus had been exaggerated had exploded in the conservative media ecosystem. Slickly produced White House videos depicted Trump as a returning war hero, in an aggressive campaign to paper over any seeming vulnerabilities in a president who has always valued the appearance of strength above all else. The implication was that Trump was over the disease, which he isn’t, and that the nation needed to be as well, which it is not.

Trump’s message — not only urging Americans not to be afraid of the deadly illness, but promising they are “gonna beat it” if they get infected — was met with disbelief by many doctors and health experts who have spent the past nine months watching patients fight for their lives and die alone. “What the president is saying is untrue and irresponsible,” said Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta, tells TIME. “He’s giving the impression: ’I’m strong, I made it, you’re the weak ones that didn’t make it.’ I think it shows a lack of compassion.”

On Tuesday morning, Trump continued to minimize the severity of the virus. “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu.

Use of Coronavirus Rapid Tests May Have Fueled White House Covid-19 Cluster, Experts Say

At least eight people who attended the White House’s recent Supreme Court nomination ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett have tested positive for the coronavirus, and public health experts say they expect more attendees to be diagnosed in coming days.

The White House says it has relied on rapid testing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 among officials and guests. Officials don’t wear masks or socially distance because they are tested daily. The president is also tested for the coronavirus every day, as is anyone who comes in close contact with him.

The administration relied on

Abbott Laboratories

’ ID Now rapid test at the Sept. 26 event for Judge Barrett. After guests tested negative, they were ushered to the Rose Garden, where few people were wearing masks. The White House didn’t comment on whether anyone screened at the event tested positive.

Public-health experts say the White House isn’t using the test appropriately, and that such tests are not meant to be used as one-time screeners. Regardless of the type or brand of test, any strategy that relies solely on testing is insufficient for protecting the public against the virus, epidemiologists and researchers say.

President Trump’s schedule in the week before he was diagnosed with Covid-19 included a Rose Garden event, a presidential debate, and visits to three states. Photo: Getty Images

“What seems to have been fundamentally misunderstood in all this was that they were using it almost like you would implement a metal detector,” said Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of public health.

All tests, including those processed in a lab, can produce false negatives, he and other experts say. Some studies have shown that the Abbott Now ID test, which can produce a result in minutes, has around a 91% sensitivity—meaning 9% of tests can produce false negatives.

“A metal detector that misses 10% of weapons—you’d never, ever say that’s our only layer of protection for the president,” said Dr. Jha.

Such rapid tests trade some accuracy for speed, and need to be administered multiple times to a person over a period of days or weeks to be useful for screening, he said. The idea is that if the test misses the virus one day for whatever reason, it will be more likely to catch it on another.

“No test detects the virus immediately after the person becomes infected,” said an Abbott spokesperson in a statement. “Today we have lab-based and rapid tests that help reduce the risk in society and slow the spread of the virus. The goal should be to test often—or if that’s not possible, to test if you’ve been exposed or have symptoms—and find out if you have it. If so, you’ll know to isolate to prevent spread.”

A multipronged approach is vital, epidemiologists and researchers say. That includes socially distancing, masks and avoiding crowds.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and other guests at the ceremony for Judge Barrett. Mr. Christie has tested positive for coronavirus.



Photo:

Rod Lamkey –