After US President Donald Trump announced early on Friday that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for COVID-19, the epidemiological inquiry into their chain of infection has come into focus, finding that Trump attended a series of campaign events in his New Jersey mere hours before his announced diagnosis, and after he had made contact with a known carrier of the virus.
Media reports have indicated that Trump likely contracted the virus after being exposed to aide Hope Hicks, who tested positive for the virus on Thursday after attending a campaign event with the president in Minnesota, self-isolating on the flight back after she began to feel unwell.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that US officials learned of Hicks' positive diagnosis as Marine One was taking off for a trip to a scheduled campaign event at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, adding that some staff members who had been in contact with Hicks were pulled from the trip in advance, as a precautionary measure.
During the event, Trump spoke for about 15 minutes and took questions from the audience for around an hour, Republican fundraiser John Sette told USA Today, adding that Trump looked and spoke "100% normal" throughout. Sette estimated the crowd size at around 300 people.
Rich Roberts, a physician and retired pharmaceutical executive who attended a much-smaller Bedminster fundraiser, also told USA Today that Trump showed no COVID-19 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.”
According to Roberts, while the president was "noticably separated" from the rest of the attendees, the remaining 18 attendees of the closed fundraiser were seated "relatively normally," - without masks or social distancing - explaining that it did not seem odd, as all the attendants had received COVID-19 tests prior to entering the event.
"He had 10 feet to the left and right of him before any guests were seated, and only one or two guests on his end of the table," he said.
Following Trump's announced infection, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) issued a statement on Friday morning saying that the contact-tracing process is under way and urging anyone who attended Trump's events in Bedminster should 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.
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."
In addition to Thursday's controversial campaign events, Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Friday that during debate preparation for Trump, none of the people present wore masks.
"No one was wearing masks in the room when we were prepping the president during that period of time," Christie said. "And the group was about five or six people, in total."
Christie said on ABC's Good Morning America that he visited the White House to help the president practice for the debate from Saturday through Tuesday.