The claim: The ‘left’ exposed President Trump to COVID-19 during the Sept. 29 presidential debate
Speculation about when and how President Donald Trump contracted COVID-19 began shortly after Trump tweeted early Friday morning that he and wife Melania tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump was transported to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, later that day as a precaution, USA TODAY reported.
Social media has been inundated with conspiracy theories. Some accused the president of lying about his illness while others blamed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s camp for the president’s exposure to the virus. Trump and Biden met on the debate stage in Cleveland on Tuesday, Sept. 29.
A claim posted to Facebook on Oct. 3 features a screenshot of an Oct. 2 tweet by former congressional candidate Deanna Lorraine. Lorraine, a noted Trump supporter, lost to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in an open primary challenge earlier this year, USA TODAY reported.
“I’m just going to say what we’re all thinking,” Lorraine tweeted. “Trump was fine until the debate, where they set up microphones & podiums for him. Incubation period is usually 2-3 days. He tests positive a couple of days after the debate. I put nothing past the left. NOTHING.”
Lorraine ended the tweet with “#TrumpHasCOVID.”
The Facebook user shared Lorraine’s skepticism, captioning the post “Anyone else think it’s pretty coincidental?”
USA TODAY reached out to the user for comment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states the time between exposure and the development of symptoms – or the incubation period – for SARS CoV-2 and other coronaviruses is 2-14 days based on existing literature.
Trump tweeted that he had tested positive for COVID-19 in the early hours of Oct. 2, approximately three days after the Sept. 29 presidential debate.
But comments from a doctor treating the president at Walter Reed led to more questions than answers about when the president may have contracted COVID-19.
The president’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, told reporters Saturday that Trump was 72 hours into his diagnosis, indicating he may have been diagnosed as early as Wednesday, according to USA TODAY. Trump traveled to Minnesota and New Jersey in the days leading up to the announcement from The White House.
Conley later released an official statement to clarify the timeline, saying “I incorrectly used the term ‘seventy two hours’ instead of ‘day two’ with regards to (President Trump’s) diagnosis and the administration of the polyclonal antibody therapy. The President was first diagnosed with COVID-19 on the evening of Thursday, October 1st and had received Regeron’s antibody cocktail on Friday, October 2nd.”
Local NBC affiliate KWWL News posted a copy of the statement on its website.
Debate organizers ordered testing, masks
During an Oct. 2 interview on Fox News, debate moderator Chris Wallace said everyone attending the debate had to take a test administered by the Cleveland Clinic. In a later interview with Fox News’ Bill Hemmer, Wallace said members of Biden’s and Trump’s camps arrived too late to get tested.
“I arrived on Sunday, I think you arrived on Monday,” Wallace told Hemmer. “They didn’t arrive ’til Tuesday afternoon. So for them to get tested, there wouldn’t have been enough time to have the test and have the debate that night. They didn’t show up until 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 that afternoon. So yeah, there was an honor system when it came to the people who came into the hall from the two campaigns.”
Trump’s family also declined to wear masks throughout the debate, as mandated by the event’s organizers. USA TODAY reported the family waved away masks when they were offered.
COVID-19 exposure before and during the debate
At least seven people who attended an event at The White House Rose Garden Sept. 26 where Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee have tested positive for COVID-19, according to USA TODAY.
Among those are: first lady Melania Trump, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Rev. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame University, and a White House reporter.
Given the incubation period, the president, along with several others in his circle, could have been exposed to the virus prior to Tuesday’s debate.
Of note, Trump and Biden were greeted by their spouses on stage after the debate ended. Wallace told Fox News “Mrs. Trump came up to go on the stage, as I think everybody saw. She was not wearing a mask. Mrs. Biden did come up, and she was wearing a mask and she came up past me and went up to her husband.”
“There was no sign during the debate of any problems with the president in terms of his health,” Wallace added.
Our rating: False
We rate this claim FALSE, because it is not supported by our research. The claim that “the left” exposed Trump to the coronavirus during the Sept. 29 presidential debate is little more than a conspiracy theory without any basis in fact. The claim presents an implausible conclusion in light of what is known about Trump’s travels and potential exposure in the days and weeks prior to his diagnosis. Measures were taken during the debate to ensure the safety of all attendees, but while most in the audience wore masks as instructed, Trump’s family did not. It is also possible the president was exposed to COVID-19 prior to the debate. He attended a Sept. 26 event at the White House Rose Garden with several others who have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, Oct. 3, “Dr. Sean Conley says Trump’s health is ‘improving’: Who is the president’s physician?”
- USA TODAY, Oct. 3, “Rose Garden announcement of Supreme Court nominee potential ‘super spreader’ event, with Trump plus seven others getting COVID”
- KWWL News 7, Oct. 3, “UPDATE: White House doctor clarifies timeline for president’s diagnosis”
- The Hill, Oct. 2, “Chris Wallace: Trump arrived too late to be tested in Ohio before debate, relied on ‘honor system'”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Oct. 3, “Clinical Questions about COVID-19: Questions and Answers”
- Fox News on YouTube, Oct. 2, “Chris Wallace: Trump family refused masks at the debate”
- USA TODAY, April 13, “Anthony Fauci says he used a ‘poor choice of words’ in discussing Trump administration’s coronavirus response”
- USA TODAY, Oct. 3, “President Trump hospitalized at Walter Reed after testing positive for COVID-19”
- CNBC on YouTube, Oct. 2, “Chris Wallace on Fox News: President Trump arrived late, was not tested for Covid-19 at debate”
- MeidasTouch, Oct. 2, tweet
- USA TODAY, Oct. 2, “Social media teems with conspiracy theories from QAnon and Trump critics after president’s positive COVID-19 test”
- USA TODAY, Oct. 3, “Fact check: Claim that Trump’s positive COVID-19 test result is a ‘con’ has no basis in fact”
- USA TODAY, Oct. 4, “‘Ups and downs’: Doctors say Donald Trump is improving while still hospitalized; aides project image of calm”
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