President Donald Trump announced early Friday that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for coronavirus, a development that Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Brown University’s School of Public Health, is calling a “failure” on the part of the White House team to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“This is a nightmare,” Jha wrote on Twitter immediately after the president’s announcement. “COVID19 is a serious infection, especially for someone who is older like Mr. Trump. I can’t believe he was infected.”

News of the president’s positive test came just hours after he confirmed that his senior aide Hope Hicks had contracted COVID-19.

Jha said Friday it is essential now that contact tracing get underway to determine who else has been infected in the outbreak within the White House, noting that while it is not clear how Trump contracted the virus he was likely infected between Saturday and Monday, meaning he has likely been infectious to others since Tuesday. 

Tuesday night Trump participated in the first presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden.

“You need to think about anybody who came in contact with the president and the traditional metric that CDC uses is within six feet for 15 minutes,” Jha told NPR on Friday morning. “The truth is anybody who was on the airplane with him, anybody who was in the White House with him … somebody who attended a rally who was a 100 yards away doesn’t need to worry, but anybody who was in close contact with him for any extended period of time needs to be identified and quarantined and probably tested.”

Everyone who has been near the President since at least Saturday needs to be identified, Jha said. 

“If someone was in an enclosed space with him or Ms Hicks during their contagious period and not wearing a mask, they are at risk,” the public health expert wrote on Twitter. “This is why I call this a nightmare.”

During an appearance on Good Morning America, Jha said the president, who is 74 years old, testing positive is “very concerning” given his age group is at high risk for serious complications from the illness. 

“I don’t know his exact weight, but he may be overweight, and it stands to reason he could have other co-morbidities like high blood pressure or diabetes, we don’t know all the details,” Jha told the program. “But the bottom line is his age alone puts him at high risk of complications.”

During his interview with NPR, Jha noted that the White House has been utilizing testing as a means of preventing the spread of the virus. 

But testing alone is not enough, he said. 

“Anybody who is in close proximity to the president should absolutely be wearing a mask, and that has not been happening,” the doctor said. “The point of other people wearing a mask is to protect him, and unfortunately that has not happened and we don’t know how he was infected. I don’t want to blame anybody at this moment. But it’s very distressing to see the President of the United States get infected — from a disease that we know how to largely prevent spread of.”

The Brown University dean said the hope is that the president has a very mild course of the illness, but warned the concern is that it may take several days before Trump develops any symptoms. 

“It can take five, 10 days before the real severe symptoms come on,” Jha told NPR. “So we’re going to hope that this goes smoothly, but I’m worried about the next week ahead.”


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