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White House steps up safeguards as Trump awaits COVID-19 test results

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By Associated Press
Donald Trump
Donald Trump   -   Copyright  Alex Brandon/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

After days of resistance, President Donald Trump said Saturday that he was tested for the coronavirus and is awaiting his results as the White House stepped up precautions around him following his repeated direct and indirect exposures to COVID-19.

Trump also told reporters at a White House briefing that he had his temperature taken and it was “totally normal" before stepping into the room to discuss the government's efforts to halt the spread of the virus. The pandemic has now infected more than 2,200 people in the U.S. and caused at least 50 deaths.

Trump had held out on testing for days — concerned that it would make him appear weak — despite his interactions with at least three people who have since tested positive for COVID-19. Trump had said Friday that he would “most likely” submit to testing “fairly soon,” but the White House doctor said in a memo released shortly before midnight that no test was called for, despite the contact, because he wasn't exhibiting symptoms like a fever or cough.

The president said he'd gone ahead with it anyway after repeated questions from reporters at a news conference Friday and would have the results in “a day or two days, whatever it is.” Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the same briefing, said he and his wife, Karen Pence, would also "be more than happy to be tested," despite the doctors' guidance, and would be contacting White House medical staff to arrange it.

Multiple lawmakers and countless citizens across the country who have had the same degree of exposure have not only tried to get tested, but also chosen to quarantine themselves as a precaution and to avoid potentially infecting others.

The president, according to two people close to the White House, had been reluctant to take the test for fear it would project weakness or worry. Trump has wanted to appear in full control during the crisis and had expressed concerns that taking personal steps could undermine that appearance.

But as the White House grapples with repeated exposures by Trump and multiple senior aides, it has tightened precautions. On Saturday, the White House announced that it is now conducting temperature checks on anyone who is in close contact with Trump and Pence, including reporters who attended the Saturday White House briefing and anyone entering the Oval Office.

Additional precautions are expected to be rolled out over the weekend.

To that end, a representative from the White House physician's office took the temperature of members of the media at the briefing, going around and putting the device to their heads. One reporter with a suspected elevated temperature was not allowed in.

Trump, 73, is considered to be at higher risk of complications from the disease because of his age. He has long tried to minimize the threat posed by the virus and continued to engage in behaviours that health officials are warning the public against.

On Friday, Trump shook the hands of multiple officials at his Rose Garden news conference and he has continued to appear at large gatherings despite tweeting Saturday morning that Americans should be practising “SOCIAL DISTANCING!”

"It almost becomes a habit," Trump said when asked why he continues to shake hands contrary to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“People come up to me, they shake hands, they put their hand out, it's sort of a natural reflex.," he said. “We're all getting out of it. All of us have that problem.” He added: “Shaking hands is not a great thing to be doing right now, I agree.”

Trump has now had multiple direct and indirect contacts with people who have since tested positive for the virus, including three people he spent time with last weekend at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

The Brazilian Embassy in Washington said late Friday that the country's chargé d'affaires, Nestor Forster, tested positive after sitting at Trump's dinner table. So, too, have a top aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who took a photo with Trump and attended a party with him, and another person who attended a campaign fundraiser with the president that Sunday, according to two Republican officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private health matters.

Republican chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is awaiting her own test results after experiencing a fever and flu-like symptoms. She and her family are quarantining at home, the RNC said Saturday.

Several top administration officials, including Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, also met last week with an Australian Cabinet minister who on Friday was confirmed positive.

A handful of other White House staffers have been tested for the virus after exhibiting flu-like symptoms, but have all tested negative, according to a senior White House official. Flu activity in the country is currently high.

The White House has been saying, citing CDC guidelines, that the president and other White House officials don't need to be tested or isolate themselves unless they are exhibiting symptoms, even though that advice is contradicted by many health professionals who note that the virus can be spread even by people who are asymptomatic.

The reporter who was not allowed into the White House briefing Saturday had a temperature above the 100.4-degree guidelines in three checks over 15 minutes, tweeted Pence's spokeswoman, Katie Miller, citing the White House Medical Unit.

Public health officials say that people with a cough and elevated temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher are deemed concerning.