President Donald Trump said Saturday he had taken a coronavirus test, after days of dismissing concerns at his recent exposure to a disease that has paralyzed the globe and could affect millions of Americans.
Appearing at a White House news conference where he attempted again to provide guidance and assurance to a worried population, Trump said he had gone ahead with the test — which he had repeatedly claimed not to need.
“I also took the test last night,” said Trump, who is not showing symptoms of the virus according to White House doctors, but has rubbed shoulders with several people who since tested positive.
The 73-year-old president said results were expected in a day or two.
Addressing the same briefing, Vice President Mike Pence announced a further restriction on travel to the United States, saying a travel ban imposed on European nations over the pandemic would be extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland Tuesday.
The twin developments reflected a growing sense of urgency in Washington as the spreading virus has dramatically affected life across the United States, leading to countless closures and cancellations with millions working from home for fear of infection, and school districts closing one after the other.
Trump declared a national emergency on Friday in what critics say was a long-delayed admission of the gravity of the crisis, freeing up some $40 billion in disaster relief funds for local authorities.
Late on Friday night, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill — crafted by Democrats in consultation with the Trump administration — to provide billions of dollars for free virus testing, emergency paid sick leave and family leave related to the epidemic.
Supported by Trump, it is expected to easily pass the Republican-controlled Senate next week.
News of Trump’s test marked a further turning point, after days of resistance to the suggestion.
Prior to the briefing, the White House also announced it had begun protectively checking the temperature of anyone coming into close contact with Vice President Mike Pence or Trump — who said his own temperature was checked before entering too.
Before Saturday’s briefing, a member of the White House medical team took the temperature of all journalists wishing to attend. One of them was excluded after a high reading.
An end to hand-shaking
Fifty-one Americans have died from the novel coronavirus, according to a tally by John Hopkins University, as the pandemic has claimed more than 5,700 lives in some 137 countries.
Repeatedly attacked for sending out mixed signals on the health crisis, the president raised eyebrows on Friday when, contrary to medical advice, he was seen shaking hands all round as he gathered his large coronavirus response team at the White House.
At the briefing Saturday, he attributed that practice to long-time habit as a politician — “people put their hand out… you don’t think about it” — but said it would have to change.
“Maybe people shouldn’t be shaking hands for the long term,” said Trump, a self-declared germophobe, “because it does transmit flu and other things.”
Trump had told reporters a day earlier he would “most likely” get tested as he was grilled on his contacts with several members of a Brazilian presidential delegation visiting his Florida resort, who have since tested positive for the virus.
A White House doctor later walked that back, saying the president had no symptoms and did not need to be tested.
But on Saturday, Trump settled the matter, saying said he did indeed take the test late Friday.
A broader travel ban
The announcement came the same day a 30-day US ban took effect on all travel from the EU’s Schengen border-free zone, part of a global clamping down on travel in an effort to curtail the virus’ spread.
Pence said the ban — which notably excluded Britain and Ireland — would include both countries as of midnight EST on Monday (0400 GMT on Tuesday).
“Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal residents can come home,” Pence said.
Trump also aimed a new jab at the US Federal Reserve, saying he wanted it to be “much more proactive” in moving to protect Americans from the widespread economic dislocation caused by the pandemic.
But the president — wearing a navy blue USA cap — seemed otherwise subdued during Saturday’s briefing, uncharacteristically offering praise to Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi said she was “proud” to have reached an agreement on the relief package after days of tense talks with the White House.