An election year already defined by a cascade of national crises descended further into chaos Friday, with President Donald Trump declaring that he’s tested positive for the coronavirus.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who spent 90 minutes on stage with Trump in their Tuesday debate, tested negative and moved forward with plans to attend a campaign event in Michigan Friday afternoon.
No one knows exactly what comes next.
Much depends on the extent of Trump’s symptoms, but, at the least, it’s grounded Trump in a quarantine, denying him the large public rallies that fuel his campaign just a month before the election.
More broadly, the stunning development injected even greater uncertainty into an election already plagued by crises: the pandemic, devastating economic fallout and sweeping civil unrest. With millions of Americans already voting, the country on Friday entered uncharted territory.
“It’s a reminder that the American presidency is bigger than any one person, given the reach and depth this news has,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant and top adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
The White House reported that Trump was experiencing mild symptoms and was in quarantine. His campaign announced Friday afternoon that all of Trump’s scheduled campaign events were being moved online or temporarily postponed. Trump’s family, a steady presence on the campaign trail, was also grounded.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has tested positive for the virus as well. But Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative, will attend his campaign events as planned.
Other world leaders, including Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have contracted the virus and made full recoveries. But strategists in both parties acknowledged the timing is bad.
Millions of Americans have already begun voting in several key states, and tens of millions more will receive absentee mail-in ballots or begin in-person early voting in the coming weeks.
Biden, meanwhile, is not expected to alter his plans significantly.
The Democratic nominee spent much of the spring and summer avoiding crowds, holding far fewer public events since returning to the campaign trail last month — all of them with small crowds, if any. Only on Thursday did Biden’s campaign announce that it would resume door-to-door canvassing in addition to its phone and digital outreach to voters.
Biden was traveling from Delaware to Michigan on Friday afternoon for a campaign event, while Jill Biden was attending a separate event in New Hampshire. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, was making her previously scheduled trip to Las Vegas as well.
The campaign confirmed Biden, his wife and Harris all tested negative for the virus.
“I’m happy to report that Jill and I have tested negative for COVID,” Biden tweeted. “Thank you to everyone for your messages of concern. I hope this serves as a reminder: wear a mask, keep social distance, and wash your hands.”
Two additional debates are scheduled for Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. The Commission on Presidential Debates has not yet commented on any changes in the debate schedule or health protocols.
The debate commission said next week’s vice presidential debate is on as scheduled.
Trump and Biden are in high-risk categories for COVID-19 complications. Trump is 74 years old and clinically obese. Biden is 77 years old.
Should Trump emerge with no visible effects, he could declare a speedy recovery as proof that he’s been right about COVID-19.