Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail Monday for the first time since contracting the coronavirus as he tries to stage a late comeback in the election’s final stretch.
Mr Trump, whose doctor said on Monday for the first time the president had received a negative test for Covid-19, faces a stubborn deficit in national and battleground state polling.
He left Washington to appear at a rally in Sanford, Florida — the first stop in a busy week that will include events in Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
The robust schedule underscores the work Mr Trump needs to do as he tries to win over voters just three weeks before Election Day.
And it comes amid still-unanswered questions about the impact so much travel so soon could have on the 74-year-old president’s health. The progression of Covid-19 is often unpredictable, and can bring long-term complications.
After Air Force One lifted off from Joint Base Andrews, the president’s doctor released an update on his health that said Mr Trump had tested negative for the virus — and had done so on consecutive days. His doctor, Navy Commander Scott Conley, said the test results – taken in conjunction with other data including viral load – had led him to conclude Mr Trump was not contagious.
For days, the White House had sidestepped questions as to whether Mr Trump had tested negative. Dr Conley over the weekend said the president met Centres for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for safely discontinuing isolation and that by “currently recognised standards,” Mr Trump was no longer considered a transmission risk.
Mr Trump, eager to return to campaigning, says he is now “immune” to the virus — a claim that is impossible to prove given limitations in what scientists know about the coronavirus.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said on Monday on CNN that those who recovered from Covid-19 were likely to be immune for a limited period of time, but there are cases emerging of people being reinfected weeks or months later.
Dr Fauci, speaking as Mr Trump was preparing to depart for his Florida rally, questioned the wisdom of holding such an event, noting test positivity rates were climbing in parts of the Sun Belt.
“We know that that is asking for trouble when you do that,” Dr Fauci said.
But some medical experts have voiced scepticism that Mr Trump could be declared contagion-free so soon. And it was unclear what — if any — added precautions and safety measures the campaign planned to take to prevent the trip from further spreading a virus that has already infected so many of the president’s closest aides and allies, including his campaign manager and the head of the Republican Party.
Florida is seen as critical to Mr Trump’s re-election chances. He narrowly beat his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton in the state by just over 112,000 votes. Some recent polls have suggested a close race in the state, while others have put Democrat Joe Biden ahead.
President Trump comes to Sanford today bringing nothing but reckless behaviour, divisive rhetoric, and fear mongeringJoe Biden
Mr Trump’s decision to so quickly return to the campaign trail drew criticism from Mr Biden and other Democrats.
“President Trump comes to Sanford today bringing nothing but reckless behaviour, divisive rhetoric, and fear mongering,” Mr Biden said in a statement.
“But, equally dangerous is what he fails to bring: no plan to get this virus that has taken the lives of over 15,000 Floridians under control.”
Florida state Representative Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who is running for state Senate and who recently recovered from his own Covid infection, said in a conference call with reporters that Mr Trump should not be visiting Florida.
“It’s reckless and irresponsible,” Mr Jones said.
Florida lawyer Dan Uhfelder, who has dressed as the Grim Reaper on beaches to highlight the coronavirus threat, filed a lawsuit on Monday trying to stop Mr Trump from holding his Sanford rally. It seeks to have the event classified as a public nuisance.
Mr Trump, for his part, is eager to show the world he is no longer sidelined by a virus he has consistently played down, and that has killed 215,000 people across the nation.
Since his release from a military hospital after three days of around-the-clock care that included access to experimental antibody treatments unavailable to the public, Mr Trump has used his personal experience to try to convince the public that he was right all along.
He has repeatedly told Americans who contract the virus that they’re “going to get better really fast,” although hundreds of people in the US die of the virus every day.