The US government was facing chaos last night after Covid-19 swept through the White House and the senate halted legislative work for two weeks. The decision to partially shut down the senate came after three Republican senators tested positive.
At the White House the focus turned to a possible “superspreading” event – the rose garden ceremony on September 26 to announce the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court.
A week after that event at least eight people present, including Trump, tested positive for Covid-19. The White House had relied on rapid testing to create a virus-free “bubble”. Before the event all guests were given the quick nasal swab test, which takes less than 15 minutes to produce a result.
Anthony Scaramucci, the president’s former communications director, said: “This is a wake-up call for the president and staff. You are going to come to a situation where the West Wing and the members of Congress are going to have more Covid-19 than the entire country of New Zealand due to this laxity.”
Among the latest to announce being infected were Bill Stepien, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, and Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor. Scaramucci added: “It’s sad for me because a lot of these people are my friends. Hope [Hicks] is my friend, I wish her well. But it’s also sad for the country because we put the country now in this dilemma where we’ve politicised the science, politicised the masks, politicised the health and wellbeing of the people in the country.”
It came as reports suggest virus cases have risen in 33 US states since late August and more than a dozen states have seen an increase in sufferers taken to hospital over the last several days. On Friday, Trump was one of around 40,000 Americans who learned they had tested positive that day.
Trump’s diagnosis sparked an explosion of rumours, misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media.
Facebook said it immediately began monitoring misinformation around the president’s diagnosis and had started applying fact checks.
Authorities in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, where the president and Joe Biden held their televised debate on Tuesday, said they were aware of 11 Covid cases reported of people involved in the “pre-debate planning and set-up”.
Trump was unable to receive a Covid-19 test ahead of the debate because he arrived at the venue too late, according to the debate moderator.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace was the moderator at the event, which was widely described as one of the ugliest debates in US history as the candidates traded insults throughout the spectacle.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon sought to quell speculation that the US was sending warning signals to its enemies after “doomsday” planes were dispatched following the Trumps’ virus diagnosis.
Minutes before the president tweeted that he and Melania had tested positive, two Boeing E-6B Mercury planes took off from both US coasts.
The planes can be used to send ballistic missile commands and are a key part of the US defence system, hence their ominous nickname.
But officials were quick to dismiss any speculation that the planes were a warning to enemies not try to take advantage of the political turmoil.
On Friday, as Trump was airlifted to hospital, his “nuclear football” was loaded alongside him. The football is the nickname for his briefcase that carries the codes used by the president to authorise a nuclear attack while away from a fixed command centre.