In his new book "The Chief’s Chief," which will be released next week, Donald Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows reveals that the former president tested positive for Covid-19 on Sept. 26, 2020, three days before the first presidential debate in Cleveland. The debate was a joint production by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic and the Commission on Presidential Debates. It continues to make headlines for its flimsy health protocols.
Trump announced on social media on Oct. 2 that he'd contracted Covid-19, but never revealed that he tested positive in the days preceding the event. The Guardian broke the story of the positive test Tuesday
, having reviewed an advance copy of Meadows manuscript. The news is the first public indication that Trump might have had Covid on the debate stage he shared with Joe Biden.
Though both Trump and Biden were required to test negative for Covid-19 72 hours before the debate, there was no formal testing protocols in place at the event itself. Moderator Chris Wallace admitted to a number of national outlets in the aftermath that they relied on the "honor system," and that Trump probably could not have been tested anyway, as he arrived late.
Trump's family members flouted the safety guidelines during the debate as well, refusing to wear masks even after being asked to do so by event personnel.
The Cleveland Clinic has not yet responded to requests for comment about Trump's positive test, but said previously that while they advised on safety protocols, the Commission on Presidential Debates was responsible for enforcement during the debate itself.
"We had requirements to maintain a safe environment that align with CDC guidelines — including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking," the Clinic said in a statement last October. "Most importantly, everyone permitted inside the debate hall tested negative for COVID-19 prior to entry. Individuals traveling with both candidates, including the candidates themselves, had been tested and tested negative by their respective campaigns."
The above is true in the case of Trump. Meadows writes that Trump tested negative, using the more accurate Binax texting system, shortly after his positive test. Meadows calls Trump a "germophope" and says Trump believed he may have been exposed at the ceremony to celebrate Supreme Court nominee Amy Comey Barrett, now roundly regarded as a Super Spreader event.
Trump evidently interpreted his negative test as “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened.” In the days between his positive test and the debate, Trump played golf in Virginia, staged an event for military families, held an indoor press conference and one in the Rose Garden, and participated in an event with business leaders. He never told the Cleveland debate organizers about his positive test.
Both the Clinic and CWRU leaped at the chance to host a nationally televised debate after the University of Notre Dame bowed out, citing "constraints" imposed by the pandemic. Destination Cleveland President David Gilbert considered the relocation a boon for the region.
“Hundreds of journalists worked on the main campus of Cleveland Clinic leading up to the event — establishing or reinforcing for those journalists the vibrancy of Cleveland’s healthcare economy and health education expertise,” Gilbert told BuzzFeed. “Finding ways to continue to tell the story of how Cleveland hosted a successful event during a global pandemic will help the city to further benefit from the opportunity.”
Alas. More than a year later, it's the fundamental failures of the event that are still being talked about.
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