COVID-19 / U.S. President Donald Trump has COVID-19. Here are some public health explainers that can help you with your breaking news reporting
U.S. President Donald Trump has COVID-19. Here are some public health explainers that can help you with your breaking news reporting

On Thursday, Oct. 1, U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump reported positive diagnoses of COVID-19. The story is still developing, and a lot of information—both scientific and political—is still unknown. Meedan’s team of in-house public health experts at have explainers that can help support your reporting on this breaking news event. We’ll update this with more resources as more information becomes available and clear.

How many days after exposure should one be tested to yield the most accurate results, and with which test?

On Oct. 2, 2020 press reported that former Vice President and presidential hopeful Joe Biden tested negative for COVID-19 after his exposure to President Trump during the first 2020 presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020. Research suggests that diagnostic testing is more accurate a few days after symptoms start, or around a week after exposure to a person who is infected with COVID-19. Testing more than once can also confirm negative results. Testing Vice President Biden more than once would be the best way to ensure confirmation that he is COVID-19 free. The Biden campaign has said on record that Biden and his team are tested regularly for the virus.

When do we consider someone with COVID-19 to have recovered?

This is a question that will impact the final weeks of the presidential campaign. A review of COVID-19 recovery guidelines being used around the world show most doctors agree on the following criteria: 1) Clinical: The patient no longer has symptoms, and 2) Laboratory: The patient has negative test results (testing through swabs taken from the nose and throat) showing the virus is no longer present in the upper respiratory system. Both of these criteria should be considered in combination to determine recovery. Negative test results are important because people can still spread the virus even if they have no symptoms or their symptoms have stopped. It remains to be seen how these types of criteria will be implemented amid campaign efforts.

Can someone be infected with COVID-19 more than once?

Media report that Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in 2020 but then recovered. Barrett has met with senators and the president in recent days to discuss her nomination. Can Barrett be reinfected? Our scientists say that regardless of the anecdotal evidence, experts still do not know for sure if people can become infected with COVID-19 a second time, but it appears to be possible. More evidence is needed to determine whether or not reinfection can occur in patients, how common it is, and what kind of immunity to the virus people might obtain once they have been infected.

Are you as likely to die from a common cold as COVID-19?

The president is reported to have mild cold-like symptoms at the time of writing this roundup. While symptoms of the common cold can be similar to COVID-19, there are some clear differences in the potential severity of the two diseases. Namely, COVID-19 is far more lethal than the virus that causes the common cold, even though the vast majority of COVID-19 patients only experience mild or no symptoms. The president’s COVID-19 diagnosis does remain mild, according to White House reports.

What would successful contact tracing look like following the President of the United States’ COVID-19 infection?

Contact tracing is one of the most effective ways to control the spread of COVID-19. It’s a process that involves tracking down the contacts of any person that tests positive for the disease, so that those contacts can themselves get tested and/or isolate themselves to stop further spread. Many news reports are currently outlining the President’s many points of contact with individuals at rallies, events and interactions with supporters and donors. This entry outlines what will be involved in chasing down those contacts to ensure further spread can stop before it starts.

What does the science say about COVID-19 on surfaces?

Days before his diagnosis, President Trump was seen throwing hats into a crowd at a campaign event. Video footage of him doing that is now being reported by multiple major media outlets in light of his positive test result. What do we know so far about COVID-19 on surfaces, including hats? The virus that causes COVID-19 primarily spreads through close, person-to-person contact, not through surface contamination. However, if a person touches a contaminated surface with traces of the virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, they could become infected if the surface contains large amounts of the virus.

This is why it is important to clean and disinfect any surfaces that people might come into contact with, especially those like doorknobs, cell phones, light switches, handles, countertops, sinks, toilets, and more. If possible, people should try to avoid touching high-contact surfaces in public. Washing your hands for 20 seconds, avoiding touching your face, maintaining six feet (two meters) of distance and wearing a mask are key steps in combatting the spread of the virus.

What is the difference between exposure and infection to a virus?

The president and his aides shared rooms and outdoor spaces with many people in the days leading up to the announcement of his COVID-19 infection. There are key differences between being exposed to the virus, and being infected with it. In this entry, we outline where exposure stops, and infection begins. In short, when it comes to infectious diseases, “exposure” means coming into contact with a virus or bacteria. Infection happens when someone is exposed and actually becomes sick from the exposure.

What short and long-term effects does COVID-19 have on other body parts, including lungs, brain, heart and kidneys?

Some health experts are concerned that the president’s age and his weight put him in a category of people that are most likely to have severe symptoms of COVID-19. This is because the disease can attack not just a person’s respiratory system but also their heart, brain and other organs. This entry outlines some of the impacts, short-term and long, that COVID-19 patients experience. In more severe cases of the disease, symptoms can impact several organs. These include pulmonary embolisms (lungs), strokes (brain), and kidney damage due to a lack of oxygen or blood clots. Often the disease’s symptoms are mild and resolve within a couple of weeks, but sometimes they can be more severe.

What do we know about monoclonal antibodies as part of a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19?

While he was in the hospital, President Trump received an experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail from Regeneron as part of his COVID-19 treatment. What is a monoclonal antibody? Our scientists write that monoclonal antibodies (which means ‘one type of antibody’) are antibodies created in a lab that can act as a replacement for the antibodies the body normally creates. The difference between these lab-made antibodies and those created by the immune system is that the monoclonal types are uniquely designed to target a specific antigen, in this case the virus that causes COVID-19, so it can send it messages, try to destroy it, and even make it easier for the immune system to find the antigen and attack it.

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