U.S. congressmen from Pa. tested for COVID-19 after flying with Trump to Harrisburg rally
President Donald Trump said early Friday that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus. (Oct. 2) AP Domestic
Jeffrey Lord was sitting in the front row Saturday night as President Donald J. Trump took the stage for a campaign rally at the Harrisburg International Airport.
"You're the best," Trump said as he pointed at Lord, just as he had at other Pennsylvania campaign stops during the last four years.
Lord, a political analyst from Camp Hill who served as an associate political director in the Reagan White House, was one of thousands of supporters who was there to see the president on a rainy evening.
Now there's concern that crowd of thousands may have been at risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
The president, staffers and a White House pool reporter who traveled on Air Force One to Harrisburg have tested positive for COVID-19, shaking up the 2020 presidential campaign and marking the biggest health threat to a president since former President Ronald Reagan was shot.
The pandemic has sickened more than 7 million Americans and killed more than 208,000. That includes more than 166,000 positive cases in Pennsylvania and more than 8,200 deaths.
But Lord and other supporters, and the congressmen who are now awaiting test results, are less concerned about themselves and focusing their prayers and well wishes on the president.
Trump on Friday evening was taken by Marine One to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he will be for the next few days, the White House said.
This time, Lord watched the president from his living room.
"It's the right thing to do," Lord said about the president going to the hospital. "Keep in mind Water Reed is a military hospital and there is an enormous presidential suite for the commander-in-chief."
The president has "mild symptoms" that include a fever and fatigue, according to the White House.
Lord said it's encouraging that the president, who in a suit walked to Marine One on his own, saluted the military and with his right hand "tapped the railing as if things are fine."
"He's very much like Reagan in the way he stays upbeat and has a lot of energy," Lord said.
Lord said he doesn't have any concerns about his own health and, by chance, recently had a great report on a routine physical.
'He'll beat this'
Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, a retired sheriff from Chester County, also watched the Trump rally Saturday from one of the first rows.
She didn’t wear a mask because the event was held in the open air. Welsh and Republican politicians from around the state who attended were in close proximity in the reserved seats, she said, but felt safe being outside, as she did on Tuesday in Lancaster for the debate watch party with Vice President Mike Pence.
“I do wear a mask though,” Welsh said.
She was feeling fine Friday, but very disappointed to hear about the Trumps.
“The president is strong. The first lady is strong. I have every hope that he’ll beat this like he has beaten everything else,” Welsh said. “This is a terrible disease. This shows just how pervasive it is.”
Rich Baehrle sat in the seventh row at Trump’s rally in Harrisburg Saturday, and despite being in a sea of people mostly unmasked, he was wearing one.
The New Jersey real estate agent traveled to Harrisburg International Airport alone that day, decked out in patriotic gear for the event, carrying a Trump flag. He’s a big supporter of the president, so Baerhle is a little worried for Trump’s health.
“Given his age, obviously there’s a concern,” Baehrle said Friday morning. “There’s a concern with anybody that has it.”
The 59-year-old hasn’t been tested and won’t be at this time. He understands the gravity of the virus, but he hasn’t known anyone who has contracted it.
Baehrle also believes the president has taken COVID-19 seriously from the outset, specifically sending a Navy medical ship into New York Harbor for overflow patients.
“I think he did whatever he could for places like New York and Pennsylvania,” Baehrle said.
Several Pa. Republican leaders waiting for COVID-19 test results
Some Pennsylvania congressmen said they were waiting on covid test results after attending the rally, and others say they had previously tested positive and consider themselves immune for now.
Congressman Lloyd Smucker, a Republican who represents Lancaster County and southern York County, issued a statement on Twitter Friday afternoon, saying he has tested negative for the virus.
"My thoughts and prayers for a swift recovery are with the President, First Lady, and all impacted by COVID-19," he said in the statement.
Smucker said he tested negative twice for the virus — on Sept. 26 prior to boarding Air Force One with the president and again on Sept. 29 prior to boarding Air Force Two with Vice President Mike Pence.
After the president's positive test result, Smucker said he met with the Office of the Attending Physician this morning, was administered a COVID-19 test, and advised that his interactions with the president last Saturday do not meet their definition of exposure.
The Attending Physician's office did not recommend that Smucker quarantine and he was cleared to vote on the House floor Friday.
"At no point have I experienced any symptoms of COVID-19," he said.
Smucker said it is important "we all remain vigilant in our fight against COVID-19 and that we continue to follow the CDC guidelines, like wearing a mask, regularly washing our hands and maintaining social distancing."
U.S. Rep. John Joyce, a Republican from Blair County, tested negative after attending the rally Saturday.
Joyce's spokeswoman Emma Thomson said in a statement that the congressman rode on Air Force One and met briefly with the president.
"Out of an abundance of caution, he consulted with the Office of the Attending Physician at the U.S. Capitol, and in accordance with their guidance he will continue to follow CDC guidelines of wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing. He wishes President Trump and the First Lady well as they recover," she said in the statement.
Congressman Scott Perry, a Republican from York County in a reelection fight with Democrat Eugene DePasquale, was getting tested after attending the rally Saturday.
“While Congressman Perry has no symptoms and had no recent exposure to President Trump or his team, he’s taken a COVID test out of an abundance of caution," a spokesperson for Perry said.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, a Republican from Selinsgrove who was with Trump in Middletown, said the congressman was taking “all the necessary precautions.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican from Butler County who recovered from having the coronavirus in the spring, also accompanied Trump to Middletown. A Kelly spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Congressman Dan Meuser, a Republican from Pottsville who previously tested positive for COVID-19, said he was on Air Force One with the president.
"The doctors have informed me that I have immunity for at least 90 days from my diagnosis," Meuser said. "Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, I have been tested several times, including today, and continue to social distance, wear a mask and follow all CDC guidelines.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to questions about whether state campaign chair Bernie Comfort or former Congressman Lou Barletta had been tested after attending the rally.
State GOP Chairman Lawrence Tabas was also at the rally and said his "thoughts and prayers" are with the first family.
“We are praying for a swift recovery for President Trump and all those battling COVID-19," Tabas said.
His spokesman said in a statement the state party is "100% confident the Chairman does not have COVID-19, nor has he been in close contact with anyone who does. Chairman Tabas wears a mask, social distances when possible, follows CDC recommendations and expects attendees at our events to do the same."
“We take every precaution to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and continue to campaign for our candidates on the ballot this November,” said Vonne Andring, PAGOP Executive Director. “We pray that President Trump recovers from the virus quickly and look forward to welcoming him back to Pennsylvania again soon.”
In the meantime, Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Health are encouraging anyone who attended the rally or other large events to download the state’s new COVID Alert PA app.
“If you test positive, you can alert those you came in close contact with anonymously through the app,” the health department said in a statement.
Wolf also said that “anybody who has been in any crowd of any sort … you need to be very, very careful.”
Case in the Capitol
Trump's diagnosis came hours after House Democrats yesterday blasted House Republicans for having two positive infections and continuing to not wear masks.
Rep. Paul Schemel, a Republican from Franklin County, in a statement said he began to feel sick on Wednesday and received the positive test result Thursday.
He was most recently in the Capitol on Tuesday and started to self-quarantine when he experienced symptoms Wednesday.
"My symptoms are relatively mild," Schemel told the USA TODAY Network on Friday. "Slight fever yesterday, some muscle aches and, today, I have a sore throat and cannot talk."
Schemel said he did not attend the Trump rally.
"I have no idea where or when I may have been exposed," he said.
Schemel is on a 10-day quarantine and the state House has canceled floor voting sessions until Oct. 19.
The lawmaker from Franklin County said he has been careful about washing his hands and social distancing.
"I wear a mask when visiting stores and other indoor places," he said. "I tried to be careful but did not allow personal concern about infection to prevent me from doing my job. For example, I have been working in my office throughout the pandemic."
Schemel said he wears a mask at stores and indoor events.
"Masks are helpful in containing spread," he said. "However, this is a virus which will be with us for some time and not everyone responds well to faceless, expressionless interactions. As a public figure I interact with people in a variety of ways. When a constituent comes to talk to me wearing a mask, I accommodate that in kind. If they are uncomfortable with a mask, I accommodate that as well. These are human interactions. I don't believe that my having had the virus will change they way I interact with people."
As the president receives treatment at Walter Reed and will remain quarantined for at least 10 days, a rush of visits to battleground Pennsylvania has come to a halt for the Trump campaign.
"This could really shake up the race," Lord said. "Looking back, people rallied to Reagan on the spot when he was shot or had bouts of cancer."
Whenever a poll came out that showed Reagan's popularity plunging, the former president would jokingly say, "Maybe I should go get a few more inches of my colon snipped," Lord said.
When former first lady Nancy Reagan had a mastectomy, her husband was at her side as she recovered. When the former president returned to the South Lawn, all the West Wing staffers were there to greet him outside, Lord said.
Trump's COVID-19 could become a unifying moment for a country that has been so divided, he said.
"Instinctively, we rally to people who are suffering," Lord said. "I imagine this can help President Trump in a political sense. How he handles it will determine if it helps him."
USA Today Network staff Mike Argento, Teresa Boeckel, Carly Bonk and Amber South contributed to this report.
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.