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Why Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis is ‘very concerning’

As President Trump relocates to Walter Reed National Medical Center following his COVID-19 diagnosis, there are many questions about his medical condition -- and about who else might have been exposed amid his busy schedule of events and travel. Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University School of Public Health joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what we know about Trump’s health -- and what we don’t.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are many other questions about the president's personal health, the duration of the quarantine, whom else might have been exposed in recent days.

    Dr. Ashish Jha is the dean of the Brown University School of Public health. And he joins me now.

    Dr. Jha, so, given what we have seen now, the president is about to leave the White House to go to Walter Reed, they say, for several days.

    You have heard, I think, what we have about the president's symptoms. What does this add up to for you?

  • Ashish Jha:

    Yes, so, Judy, thank you for having me on.

    This is all, of course, very concerning for both the president and for the country.

    In terms of the president and his health, we don't have a lot of information. We don't — we do know he received this experimental therapy, but it seems like it's moving pretty quickly. And he was diagnosed last night, and he is heading to the hospital tonight.

    It concerns me. I don't want to overstate it. I don't have a lot of details — obviously, none of us do — about his clinical condition. But this is a concerning and, I think, worrying development. It feels like more than just an abundance of caution. But let's keep our — let's pray and hope that, indeed, he's doing OK and that he will turn around quickly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Worrying because they went ahead and gave him this infusion of this what they call polyclonal antibody cocktail? Worrying because of his age? He's 74? Worrying because we're told he's overweight for his height?

    What makes you worry?

  • Ashish Jha:

    It's a bit of all of those things.

    He is clearly high-risk because of his age and his weight. And we don't know much about his comorbid conditions, but also worrying because it feels like he's — his clinical situation has gotten worse since yesterday.

    A typical course for somebody with this virus may be several days of feeling relatively OK before they start getting worse. This does feel like it's moving a little faster than usual, again, not — not — we don't know a lot here, so I don't want to really overstate what we know and what level of worry.

    But he is the president of the United States, and we just have to have a heightened level of concern.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I have to ask you this, Dr. Jha.

    How much how much confidence do you have in the information we're getting from the White House about this?

  • Ashish Jha:

    So, this has been a challenge out of this White House.

    And one of the reasons why it's so important for political leaders and for the White House to build credibility with the American people is exactly for moments like this.

    In a moment of crisis, we need to trust what's coming from there, and we haven't always gotten straight information. So, I am worried. My hope is that, in this moment of crisis, the White House does level with the American people, is transparent and shares information. But we will have to see what comes out of the White House in terms of what's going on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I will just repeat what I said a moment ago in talking with Yamiche and Lisa.

    And that is, the picture the White House is allow — normally, they allow the press to take pictures, video of the president leaving the White House and getting into the helicopter. So far this evening, they're not allowing that picture. We're continuing to watch to see if that changes.

    But, Dr. Jha, we know the president has been traveling a lot. We just heard Yamiche report on his schedule for the last few weeks, visiting different states, holding these rallies, very little mask-wearing, very little social distancing.

    How much could all that have contributed?

  • Ashish Jha:

    Yes, so, there are two sets of issues in my mind.

    First of all, it's very clear the White House has not been doing an adequate job of protecting the president. And the results are now in front of us. The idea that people could go up and be next to him without wearing a mask, that people weren't doing social distancing, all of these really put the president at risk.

    And the fact that that was allowed, and maybe even in some ways encouraged, really strikes me as very problematic.

    But here we are. And now the big challenge in front of us is to figure out who has been in contact with the president, with the first lady, with Ms. Hicks, and try to identify who needs to be quarantined, who needs to be tested.

    And, given his schedule, we're probably talking about dozens, but more likely hundreds of people. So, there is a very large effort in front of us in terms of tracking everybody down and figuring out what to do with them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what would you say, Dr. Jha, about Joe Biden at this point?

    He was in Michigan today. He flew there from Delaware. He did an event. He was wearing a mask. We have just seen him within the last few hours.

    Is it a good idea for him to be out on the road, even staying socially distanced, wearing a mask?

  • Ashish Jha:


    So, another concerning part of this, I think we don't know exactly when the president was infected. But it is reasonable to guess that the president was likely infectious on Tuesday night during the night of the debate.

    Now, Mr. Biden would not count as an official contact, because they didn't get within six feet. But they did share a stage for 90 minutes.

    So, clearly, the vice president is at some risk. It's been good to hear that he's tested negative. My sense is, that's got to continue. He's got to continue getting daily tests.

    If he continues to be negative into early next week, I will feel better.

    But I think Mr. Biden really does need to be extra careful at this moment, because he has been around somebody who was infected and infectious.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you very much.

    And I want to add that I am told right now that there are video, pictures being permitted at the White House right now for the press to see the president leaving the residence.

    I'm told he's walking from the residence to the White House — to the helicopter. And we will attempt to bring those pictures, of course, to our audience as soon as we have them.

    Dr. Jha, thank you very much.

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