President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the dangerous disease COVID-19. Some of the president’s staff and individuals he has met recently have also tested positive for the virus, and results on a long list of White House and campaign staff are pending. Trump was taken to Walter Reed Military Medical Center Friday afternoon, where he will remain, White House officials say, for a few days. But what awaits him—and the country he still leads—as he deals with this virus?
Despite his 74 years and overweight frame, Trump has always tried to portray himself as vigorous, healthy, and even athletic. While depicting his thinner 77-year-old opponent Joe Biden as doddering, slow, and senile, Trump has tried to give the impression that he is Biden’s junior by far, more than the three chronological years that separate them.
He has similarly, and repeatedly, depicted the COVID-19 risk as somebody else’s problem. Older people with heart conditions might have to be concerned—certainly not Trump.
On Sept. 21, Trump looked out over a mostly mask-free crowd in Swanton, Ohio, and beamed, “Wow, this is a big crowd. This is a big crowd.” The crowd roared. And Trump brushed off concern about masks and COVID-19, saying: “It affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects. That’s it. … But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing.”
The federal government defines “seniors and elderly,” for most medical, retirement, and tax purposes, as individuals over 65 years of age, which clearly puts Trump in the category he dismissed in Swanton as “virtually nobody.” Does he suffer from any underlying conditions, other than his weight, that may put him at additional risk? We don’t really know, because in his constant struggle to appear youthful, covering up his thinning hair and playing record-breaking hours of presidential golf, Trump has made sure that no genuine medical work-up reaches the public.
His Manhattan physician, Harold Bornstein—a wild-haired, colorful figure who looks more like a hippie than a board-certified gastroenterologist—in August 2016 certified, “His health is excellent, especially his mental health.” And in a December 2015 statement he said was dictated to him by a Trump aide and written hastily while a limousine waited outside, he wrote that then-candidate Trump’s physical strength and stamina were “extraordinary.”
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