White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said officials learned of Hicks’ positive test as Marine One was taking off for the trip to Bedminster, New Jersey, where Trump had scheduled a fundraiser and a roundtable discussion with supporters at his golf resort.
Meadows would not provide other details, telling reporters, “I’m not going to get into the tick-tock.” He did say contract tracing already had begun and that some staff members who had been in close contact with Hicks were pulled from the New Jersey trip.
The White House announced early Friday that Trump and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus, a stunning development that came just hours after Trump confirmed that Hicks had tested for the virus.
Trump said he would begin an immediate quarantine. A campaign trip to Florida that was scheduled for Friday was canceled.
It’s not known whether Trump contracted the virus from Hicks, one of his top aides. But she had traveled to Minnesota with Trump for a campaign event on Wednesday.
Hicks boarded Air Force One for the Wednesday night flight to Minnesota because she had tested negative for COVID-19 that morning, a person familiar with the situation said.
She showed symptoms on the flight back from Minnesota, was put in isolation aboard the plane and received a second test that came back positive.
Trump went ahead with the trip to New Jersey the next day.
The events in New Jersey were closed to the press. But GOP fund-raiser John Sette attended the events and said Trump did not appear to be ill.
“He was 100 percent normal,” Sette said. “He looked perfect. He looked 100 percent normal and he spoke 100 percent normal. He wasn’t yelling, but that’s because he wasn’t debating anybody.”
Trump spoke for about 15 minutes and then took questions from the crowd for about an hour, Sette said. He estimated about 300 people attended.
As for his own health, “I’m fine, and I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sette said. “I wasn’t near the president and I didn’t shake hands with anybody, so I’m assuming I’m fine.”
Comedian Joe Piscopo, who was also at Bedminster, said Trump “looked stronger than ever – top of his game.”
“He was charming, he was funny, he was warm,” Piscopo said. “The tenor of his voice was strong.”
Rich Roberts, a physician who attended the Bedminster events, also said Trump showed no COVID symptoms.
“For the entire hour he did not cough once, he did not sneeze once, he didn’t clear his throat once, he didn’t use a tissue, his eyes were not watering … his energy level looked good,” Roberts said. “There was a lot of spunk in him.”
The New York Times reported, however, that some attendees said Trump had “cold-like symptoms” and seemed lethargic.
Reporters who watched Trump as he landed back at the White House shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday said he did not appear to be visibly ill.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statement Friday morning saying that the contact-tracing process is under way and urging anyone who attended Trump’s events in Bedminster to take full precautions, including self-quarantining and getting tested.
“If there is one thing we have learned in New Jersey over these months, it’s that we pull together and support everyone fighting this virus,” said Murphy, a Democrat.
The White House also issued a statement stressing that precautions are taken whenever the president travels.
“The president takes the health and safety of himself and everyone who works in support of him and the American people very seriously,” spokesman Judd Deere said. “White House Operations collaborates with the physician to the president and the White House Military Office to ensure all plans and procedures incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on complex and when the president is traveling.”
Critics, however, accused the president of putting his staff at risk.
“Praying for the health of the many people that the President and his staff carelessly and in some cases knowingly exposed to a deadly virus,” tweeted former President Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau.
Former Bill Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart tweeted: “None of this adds up. If they found out about Hicks before leaving for NJ, they should have had the President tested before leaving and waited for the rapid results. There is no justification for him going.”
Several administration officials have tested positive before, including National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Vice President Mike Pence press secretary Katie Miller, and one of the president’s personal valets.
Contributing: Dustin Racioppi of The Bergen Record