Trump tests positive for COVID-19 days after Pa. rally with thousands in Harrisburg
Watch: President Trump speaks about his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett at a rally in Harrisburg, Pa. shortly after announcing his pick. York Daily Record
President Donald J. Trump and first lady Melania Trump are in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
"Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!" the president said in a tweet at about 1 a.m. Friday.
Trump and a mostly unmasked crowd of thousands gathered at Harrisburg International Airport Saturday evening against the request of Gov. Tom Wolf to honor outdoor gathering limits of 250 people.
“It is gravely concerning that the president would insist on holding this event with blatant disregard for social distancing and masking requirements," Wolf said in a statement Friday. "His decision to bring thousands of people together in a tight space in the midst of a global pandemic caused by an airborne virus is flat-out wrong."
Several Republican leaders were among Trump's crowd at the Harrisburg airport Saturday, including Congressmen Scott Perry, Dan Meuser, Lloyd Smucker, Fred Keller, John Joyce and Mike Kelly; congressional candidate Jim Bognet; former Congressman Lou Barletta, state GOP chairman Lawrence Tabas and Trump's Pennsylvania campaign chair Bernie Comfort.
It was not immediately clear early Friday morning if they will also quarantine after potential risk of exposure.
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Trump's diagnosis comes 32 days before a contentious presidential election in which Pennsylvania is a key battleground and just hours after the president said Thursday the "end of the pandemic is in sight."
His illness is the biggest health threat to a sitting president in decades, and it wasn't immediately clear early Friday morning how many people around him may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Trump during his speech Saturday night said he had about 17,000 people in his southcentral Pennsylvania crowd and said his crowd in Newport News, Virginia, the day before had reached 35,000.
The president is known to exaggerate his crowd size at rallies far beyond capacity at the venues where they've been held. For example, he has said he's had crowds of more than 20,000 at Giant Center in Hershey, where the capacity is 10,500.
The campaign said 2,000 chairs were placed at the Harrisburg International Airport hangar where the rally was held Saturday evening, and it appeared as though thousands more were there to support the president, including multiple elected officials.
Whatever the final tally was, it was much larger than the state's limit of 250 outdoors, which on Sept. 14 was ruled unconstitutional by a Trump-appointed federal judge and upheld Wednesday by a federal appeals judge.
Wolf on Friday said in a statement that a Trump rally in Latrobe on Sept. 3 violated the commonwealth's public health guidelines "by disregarding gathering limits, mask orders and social distancing guidelines."
"My administration did not make an exception for that rally, and is still awaiting a response to a letter sent to the Trump campaign on September 10, 2020, asking them to abide by the commonwealth’s COVID-19 mitigation measures in order to keep our residents safe," Wolf said in the statement.
The governor noted that Trump on Sept. 22 "held a large rally in close quarters" in Pittsburgh.
Trump's crowd Saturday night at the airport was even larger, where he said his administration would "crush the virus."
The president has repeatedly downplayed the coronavirus, saying in the spring he wanted the country reopened by Easter on April 12, which is about the time positive COVID-19 cases were peaking in Pennsylvania and other states.
He said the virus would go away on its own in the summer, but that's when southern and western states saw a significant spike in cases and Pennsylvania reported a surge in July.
Trump for months did not advocate for masks or publicly wear one, but under public pressure reversed course in the summer. He frequently makes fun of Democratic challenger Joe Biden for wearing masks.
“Did you ever see a man who likes a mask as much as him?” Trump said during his Latrobe visit on Sept. 3. “It gives him a feeling of security. If I were a psychiatrist, right, you know I’d say, 'This guy’s got some big issues.'"
State and federal health officials, as well as an overwhelming majority of medical providers in Pennsylvania and across the country, have advocated for masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing to fight the spread of the virus.
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COVID-19 in the Capitol
Trump's diagnosis comes 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.
“As soon as I received a positive test result on Thursday, I informed the appropriate House offices," said Schemel, a Greencastle lawyer. "I am following the advice of medical professionals and the protocols of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to ensure the safety of my family, staff, and fellow members.”
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is postponing all voting for nearly three weeks after a lawmaker tested positive for COVID-19.
Work before the Legislature, including election reform and financial relief for renters and landlords, will not advance until at least Oct. 19, when the House reconvenes about two weeks before Election Day.
Schemel is working with human resources to do contact tracing in line with recommendations from the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Those who may have been exposed are being contacted," said House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster County.
A significant number of House Republicans have continued to forgo masks inside the Capitol, and some have ridiculed wearing masks as an overreaction or ineffective.
During a gun-rights rally on the Capitol steps on Tuesday, several House GOP members were not wearing masks amid the crowd of a few hundred at the outdoor event. Others weren't wearing masks in the Capitol Rotunda and hallways.
Rep. Russ Diamond, a Republican from Lebanon County who takes credit for starting the mask debate in Pennsylvania, said Schemel's test result would not change his own behavior or belief that masks do not help spread infection.
"I've seen him wearing a mask," Diamond said. "So you know, it is what it is."
Diamond has previously said a better solution than masks is for symptomatic people to quarantine, and asymptomatic people "don't really need to."
The House chamber, meeting rooms and staff work areas are being professionally sanitized as they have been during the pandemic.
“First and foremost we are concerned about people’s safety," House Minority Leader Frank Dermody said. "This is yet another reminder that the virus is not going away and all of us need to keep following the simple steps such as washing hands, watching our distance from others, wearing masks and staying alert."
There were recently multiple COVID-19 cases in Senate offices and other parts of the Capitol.
Dermody, a Democrat from Allegheny County, said news of another case at the Capitol was "very disheartening, especially when some inside the Capitol still resist taking proper precautions.”
The House minority leader said he hopes Schemel recovers quickly and criticized Republicans for not taking the virus seriously.
“Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending the virus isn’t real will only lead to increased sickness and more deaths while hurting our economy," Dermody said Thursday afternoon. "We see it from President Trump at the national level and it’s unfortunate that his reckless approach has seeped into the House Republican Caucus."
This morning, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who has not appeared at recent rallies with the president in Pennsylvania, issued this statement on news of Trump's infection with COVID-19: "Sending along best wishes to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on a full and speedy recovery.”
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., said, "I wish the president and first lady well and pray they quickly recover. I trust the White House medical staff will work diligently to identify and contain any further spread within the highest levels of our government. Right now, let's remember that COVID-19 can affect anyone. It's up to all of us to wear masks, maintain a safe distance from others when in public, and promptly get tested if symptoms arise.”
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.