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14 lingering questions about President Donald Trump, coronavirus and the future of his presidency

And we know that at least eight people — including Trump and first lady Melania Trump — who attended last Saturday’s announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden have since tested positive.

But beyond that, there are still a LOT of unknowns — questions that the White House either refuses to answer or simply cannot provide good answers on. Below, a list of just some of those questions.

* How sick is Trump, really?: We don’t exactly know. Minutes after White House physician Sean Conley said on Saturday that “the President is doing very well,” a “source familiar with the President’s health” said this: “The President’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery.” On Sunday, Conley said that Trump had a “high fever” on Friday morning and was given supplemental oxygen despite his resistance to doing so. “The President has continued to improve,” said Conley, and Trump tweeted Monday that he’s leaving the hospital after three nights, declaring he is “feeling really good!” and that coronavirus is nothing to fear. Here’s what we do know about his stay: 1) Trump was having difficulty breathing on Friday and had a high fever 2) He was given supplemental oxygen at the White House 3) he was transported to Walter Reed Friday night 4) He had not required any additional oxygen since arriving at Walter Reed. And we also know that at 74 years old and obese, technically speaking, Trump is at a higher risk of having complications from Covid-19.
* When did Trump last test negative for the virus?: We know that Trump tested positive twice on Thursday for the coronavirus — once a rapid test, the other a more reliable PCR test. But neither the White House nor Trump’s doctor, Conley, have been willing to say when he last had a negative test. Which makes it hard to determine when Trump might have been contagious to others he was around.
* Why did Trump go to New Jersey and do a fundraiser?: The White House has made clear that Trump didn’t test positive until after he returned from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club where he held a donor event Thursday afternoon. (State health officials are seeking to contact more than 200 people who may have come into contact with Trump during the fundraiser.) Trump’s trip is all the more baffling given that some members of the White House knew senior Trump aide Hope Hicks had tested positive as early as Thursday morning. As New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in a tweet on Monday afternoon: “The President & his staff acted recklessly in coming to New Jersey knowing that they had been exposed to someone with a confirmed positive test.”
* Is the White House contact tracing?: Given how many people in and around the President have tested positive for the virus — White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany joined their ranks on Monday morning — you would think the White House would be engaged in a mass contact tracing effort to limit the spread. And they might be! But it does not appear to be all that thorough, given that The New York Times White House reporter Michael Shear, who tested positive for the virus on Friday, told CNN’s “New Day” Monday that he hadn’t heard from anyone in the White House yet.
* Is Trump the first world leader to have Covid-19?: No! A number of world leaders have contracted it, including Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in July and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in March. Johnson, like Trump, was hospitalized because of the virus but, unlike Trump, spent several days in an intensive care unit.
* What medications is Trump being given?: As I noted above, the White House physician has been somewhat cagey about the course of treatment for the President. But here’s what we do know the President has been given: 1) Regeneron’s dual antibody cocktail on Friday. The cocktail is considered an experimental drug because it has not been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. 2) A five-day course of remdesivir, an antiviral drug that has shown to speed recovery among some Covid-19 patients. 3) Dexamethasone, a steroid, was administered to Trump on Saturday due to transient episodes in which his oxygen level dropped, according to Conley. Conley said Monday that Trump has not taken fever-reducing medicine — but dexamethasone can mask fever. 4) Zinc and vitamin D, which can be aimed at boosting the immune system 5) Melatonin 6) A heartburn drug called famotidine and 7) a daily aspirin.
* What happens if Mike Pence gets Covid-19?: The vice president has tested negative for Covid-19 on at least four occasions since Friday — including on Monday morning. He is expected to head to Salt Lake City to prepare for Wednesday night’s debate with California Sen. Kamala Harris despite there being major questions about whether he should still be quarantining. If Pence did get sick and was unable to perform his duties, much would depend on Trump’s health. To date, Trump has not felt as though he needed to transfer power to Pence due to ongoing issues with the coronavirus. Assuming he continues to feel the same or better, Trump would carry on being president if Pence happened to be incapacitated due to Covid-19. If, for whatever reason, both Trump and Pence were incapacitated, the presidential line of succession would make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi president, although the law there is somewhat vague and such a move would likely be challenged.
* What is Joe Biden doing?: At the moment, the former vice president continues to keep a campaign schedule although he has taken down all negative TV ads while Trump continues to convalesce. Biden is set to participate in an NBC News town hall at 8 p.m. Eastern Monday. He will campaign in communities in and around near Miami before the townhall. Biden last tested negative for coronavirus on Sunday.
* Is the next presidential debate going to happen?: The short answer is we don’t know. The next presidential debate is set for October 15 in Miami. Based on the at-times confusing timeline offered by the White House, Trump tested positive for coronavirus at some point on Thursday, October 1. He was showing signs of illness that same day. Which means that he could, in theory, participate in the debate. According to the CDC’s guidelines, a person with Covid-19 can be around others 10 days after the onset of symptoms, assuming they have no fever and other coronavirus-related symptoms are improving. Biden, for his part, said Monday that he would participate “if scientists say that it’s safe,” adding: “I’ll do whatever the experts say is appropriate for me to do.”
* Will Amy Coney Barrett still be confirmed before Election Day?: That prospect looks much less likely today than it did even five days ago. The reason? Three Republican senators — Utah’s Mike Lee, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson — have all tested positive for Covid-19 since Friday, meaning that they are isolating for a period of time (the CDC recommendations are 14 days). That outbreak caused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to announce over the weekend that the Senate was not planning any votes until October 19. That said, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) is still planning to hold Barrett’s confirmation hearing the week of October 12 — a move that has created significant controversy, as Democrats insist that it’s not clear the Senate is safe at the moment. And then there’s the hard math: Two GOP senators (Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine) have said they oppose holding a vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice this close to the election. That means McConnell can afford to lose only one more vote and still be assured of confirmation. If any of the trio who have contracted coronavirus are unable to vote, that eliminates McConnell’s margin. (Much more on all of that here.)

* What happens if Barrett isn’t confirmed before Election Day?: The preference for the White House and Senate Republicans is to get Barrett on the Court before November 3. But as noted above, that is not a sure thing at the moment. If the votes aren’t there before the election, my guess is that Trump and Senate GOPers will try to confirm her in a lame-duck session — meaning one after the election but before the next Congress is sworn in. That’s no big deal if Trump wins and Republicans keep control of the Senate. But if Trump loses and Republicans lose control of the Senate in the November election; it’s not clear whether McConnell would be able to round up the 50 votes he needs to get Barrett confirmed and, even if he could, how that would play with a public who would watch Republican senators who had lost cast a hugely monumental vote to install a justice on the nation’s highest court for life.

* How much control does Trump have over his doctors?: This is a tough one to answer solely because a very small number of people know the actual answer — and they aren’t talking. But from all indications over the weekend, Trump’s medical team seems very, very mindful of their patient and his views. Conley, asked about his evasiveness-bordering-on-falsehood in a briefing on Trump’s condition on Saturday, said this on Sunday: “I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the President in his course of illness has had.” (Note: The President is not a medical doctor.) Then there was Trump’s drive-by of his supporters on Sunday night, which the White House insisted was OKed by his doctors. (One wonders whether the doctors considered the health of the two Secret Service agents tasked with parading Trump around.)

* If Trump is discharged, does that mean he is out of the woods?: I am not a doctor (sorry Mom!) but all indications are that if Trump is released by his medical team from Walter Reed that they believe is in out of immediate danger from the virus for now. Conley put it this way: “Though he may not be entirely out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations, and most importantly, his clinical status, support the President’s safe return home, where he’ll be surrounded by world class medical care.”

Of course, Covid-19 is still a very new disease — we didn’t even know it existed a year ago! — and infectious disease experts continue to learn more and more about its long-term effects on the body. There are already a number of documented cases of so-called “long haulers” — people who continue to struggle with Covid-19 complications weeks and months after the initial onset of symptoms.

“We’re in a bit of uncharted territory when it comes to a patient that received the therapies he has so early in the course,” Conley said on Monday. “So we’re looking to this weekend — if we can get through Monday with him remaining the same improvements — better yet, then we will all take that final deep sigh of relief.”

* How many more Trump aides will get Covid-19?: McEnany as well as two other junior White House press aides tested positive on Monday. That brings the number infected in this White House (and Trump campaign, as well as his GOP orbit) cluster to 14. (Full list here). As McEnany’s positive test — after several days of negative tests — proves, the virus may take several days to manifest in someone’s body. (The incubation period for Covid-19 is two to 14 days.) Given the number of people in Trump’s orbit who have already tested positive and the lackadaisical attitude the President and his top aides have taken to mask-wearing and social distancing, it seems likely that there will be more cases.

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