Health experts forecast that COVID-19 fatalities in the US could reach 378,000 by the end of 2020.
US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he and his wife Melania had tested positive for COVID-19 and were in quarantine, after Hope Hicks, one of his closest advisers, tested positive for the disease, and after months of downplaying the severity of a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States.
In a Tweet, Trump said he and Melania would “get through this together”. The First Lady said they were both “feeling good” and quarantining at home.
Trump himself confirmed Hicks’ diagnosis in an earlier Tweet when he revealed that he and Melania were awaiting the outcome of their own tests.
At 74 years old, Trump is seen as being at higher risk from the virus not only because of his age, but because he is considered overweight. He has remained in good health during his time in office although, aside from regular rounds of golf, he is not known to exercise regularly or to follow a healthy diet.
“Everybody has a different reaction to the virus, but in general the older age group is more risky,” Dr Jason Wang, Stanford University’s Director of Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention, told Al Jazeera. “It really depends on the person.”
Hicks travelled regularly with the president on Air Force One and, along with other senior aides, accompanied him to Cleveland for the first presidential debate with Democrat Joe Biden on Tuesday.
She was also with Trump at a campaign event in Minnesota on Wednesday and flew back to the White House with him on the Marine One helicopter after the rally. A source familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency that Hicks was suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus, which usually include a fever and a cough.
Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett, speaking from the US, said the issue now was how many other people in the administration could have been exposed to the virus.
Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
As too many Americans have done this year, @potus & I are quarantining at home after testing positive for COVID-19. We are feeling good & I have postponed all upcoming engagements. Please be sure you are staying safe & we will all get through this together.
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) October 2, 2020
Trump, whose preferred method of campaigning is to speak at rallies in front of thousands of people, is being forced into quarantine with just 33 days to go before Americans go to the polls on November 3.
Trump hopes to hopes to beat Democratic rival Joe Biden to secure a second term in office, but is lagging behind his challenger in the opinion polls.
The White House has already cancelled all events on the president’s schedule including a planned trip to Florida and it is not clear how long he will remain in quarantine.
Halkett said the diagnosis, especially given the unpredictability of COVID-19, could be a “cataclysmic” event for Trump given the proximity of the polls.
“For a candidate trying to win re-election, it is devastating,” she said. “For example on the president’s schedule on Friday, there are plans to travel to Florida, there are plans for rallies – there really is no plan to pause for 14 days before a US election for any candidate.
More than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and Trump has been heavily criticised about his response to the pandemic. He and his aides rarely wear masks, and nor do many of the thousands of supporters who attend his election rallies.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House takes care to follow procedures “for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on complex and when the president is travelling.”
While Trump has denigrated people who wear masks, health professionals say mask wearing is one of the key things people can do to help prevent the spread of the virus.
The president and his aides are tested regularly for the virus, as are some of those who are in the White House frequently, including some reporters.
But the White House stopped regular temperature checks for everyone who enters the complex months ago and people who are tested for the virus interact with others who have not been tested.
Trump is not the first world leader to test positive for COVID-19. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro also got the virus and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a few days in intensive care with the disease. Both men have now recovered.