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Trump Didn’t Disclose First Positive Covid-19 Test While Awaiting a Second Test on Thursday

An example of Presidential Mortification-no regard for anyone other than himself. MA

Michael C. Bender, Rebecca Ballhaus  11 hrs ago

WASHINGTON—President Trump didn’t disclose a positive result from a rapid test for Covid-19 on Thursday while awaiting the findings from a more thorough coronavirus screening, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Trump received a positive result on Thursday evening before making an appearance on Fox News in which he didn’t reveal those results. Instead, he confirmed earlier reports that one of his top aides had tested positive for coronavirus and mentioned the second test he had taken that night for which he was awaiting results.

“I’ll get my test back either tonight or tomorrow morning,” Mr. Trump said during the interview. At 1 a.m. on Friday, the president tweeted that he indeed had tested positive.

Under White House protocols, the more reliable test that screens a specimen from deeper in the nasal passage is administered only after a rapid test shows a positive reading. Based on people familiar with the matter, the president’s tests followed that protocol.

As the virus spread among the people closest to him, Mr. Trump also asked one adviser not to disclose results of their own positive test. “Don’t tell anyone,” Mr. Trump said, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Mr. Trump and his top advisers also aimed to keep such a close hold on the early positive results that his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, didn’t know that Hope Hicks, one of the president’s closest White House aides, had tested positive on Thursday morning until news reports later that evening, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Trump campaign said Friday evening that Mr. Stepien had tested positive.

The initial secrecy within Mr. Trump’s inner circle has created a sense of anxiety within the West Wing. Publicly, the White House has issued evolving and contradictory statements about the president’s health that has some officials worried about their own credibility.

“I’m glued to Twitter and TV because I have no official communication from anyone in the West Wing,” an administration official said.

The White House didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.

The lack of clear communication about who was getting the virus has extended to reports on the president’s status as he undergoes treatment.

At a press briefing Saturday, the president, who has been hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center since Friday, watched as the White House physician, Dr. Sean Conley, told reporters that his symptoms were improving. Minutes later, Mr. Trump grew alarmed when another person familiar with the situation warned reporters that Mr. Trump’s recent condition had been concerning. An angry president quickly dialed an adviser from his hospital room.

“Who the f— said that?” Mr. Trump demanded, according to a person familiar with the call. The Associated Press later identified the person as White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The president’s doctors said Sunday that his condition was improving and that he could be discharged from the hospital as soon as Monday, but also said he was taking a steroid typically recommended for serious cases.

That fast-moving revelations began Thursday evening when Mr. Trump confirmed on Fox News that one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, had tested positive that day, and said: “I just heard about this.” CBS News first reported that by that point, Mr. Trump had received his own positive result on a rapid test.

But Ms. Hicks had learned about her own positive test result that morning, and the information was kept to a tight circle of advisers, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Hicks’s positive test results were first reported by Bloomberg News later that evening. The White House offered no official statement on Ms. Hope’s positive test.

Mr. Stepien and the rest of the Trump campaign first learned of Ms. Hicks’ positive test from Bloomberg News, and weren’t consulted on whether to proceed with a Thursday trip to New Jersey, a campaign official said.

The White House has said the operations team deemed the trip safe. The president had tested negative on a rapid test that morning, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Meadows has said the White House learned of Ms. Hicks’ results right as Marine One was leaving for New Jersey, and said the administration pulled some advisers off the trip. The president left the White House just after 1 p.m. that day.

The decision not to cancel the New Jersey trip drew swift criticism from health experts. Lisa M. Lee, a public-health expert specializing in infectious-disease epidemiology and public-health ethics at Virginia Tech University, said “holding the [Bedminster] event in spite of knowing that one of the team was infected and had exposed others was a recipe for spreading disease.”

White House officials said their medical team is conducting contact tracing for staff that have tested positive, but uncertainty has also been infused into that process, people familiar with the matter said. Contact tracing is a crucial step, public health experts have said, to stem the spread of infectious disease.

That process is gaining importance since Mr. Trump and his senior advisers spent most of last week following their normal schedule rarely using other tools—safe distance and masks—to keep the virus at bay. In some instances, protocols were followed. At the New Jersey events, attendees had to test negative, complete a wellness questionnaire and pass a temperature screening. Guests were kept 6 feet from the president.

Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, said on Friday that he learned about the initial positive tests at the White House on Thursday through news reports. No one had contacted him even though he had spent much of the past week with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Christie tested positive for the virus on Saturday, he said on Twitter, and a few hours later checked himself into Morristown Medical Center.

Mr. Christie was part of a debate preparation team that met with Mr. Trump the morning of Sept. 26, which included Ms. Hicks, former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Mr. Stepien. All four have since tested positive. The White House typically administers a rapid test to anyone who will be close to the president.

Others who participated in the debate practices have reported negative Covid-19 tests, including former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Jason Miller, a senior campaign adviser. Mr. Giuliani said he learned of Ms. Hicks’ positive test from news reports, though he received a call from Mr. Meadows when the president tested positive.

Mr. Christie and Ms. Conway were among hundreds of guests later that afternoon at a White House event where Mr. Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his latest Supreme Court nominee. Few of the guests wore masks as they were seated shoulder-to-shoulder in the Rose Garden or congregated inside the White House, where an ad hoc reception line emerged at one point as guests waited to meet Judge Barrett or take pictures together. Several other guests have since tested positive.

Minnesota state Rep. Kurt Daudt said Saturday he was awaiting a Covid-19 test after greeting Mr. Trump at the Minneapolis airport on Wednesday. Mr. Daudt and other greeters had been tested before meeting the president, and were instructed not to shake hands with him or get close to him, but when the president came down the stairs from the plane, he offered to take photos.

“You’ve been tested, right?” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Daudt.

Several of the greeters posed for photos with the president, with some standing less than a foot away from him, according to photos from the event. None wore a mask. Mr. Trump then attended a fundraiser at the home of Mike Davis, owners of a quartz countertop company, according to his campaign schedule.

Ms. Hicks had fallen ill by the time Air Force One departed Minneapolis for a campaign rally in Duluth, a person familiar with the matter said. She isolated herself from other aides for the short flight and again on the return flight home to Washington that night.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany held a news conference with reporters Thursday morning, unaware that her colleague had tested positive earlier that day, a personal familiar with the matter said. She had traveled with Ms. Hicks on Wednesday and Tuesday.

After she finished the briefing, and around 45 minutes before the president left for New Jersey, she was told she was no longer included in White House entourage flying with the president that afternoon to a fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, but not given a reason why, according to the same person. She didn’t learn until later that afternoon that Ms. Hicks had tested positive, the person said.

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

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