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Epidemiologist: Trump has a chance to change his public health rhetoric on COVID-19 after virus spreads in his administration

  • President Donald Trump has tested positive for COVID-19
  • One of the president's advisors, Hope Hicks, tested positive. 
  • Hicks accompanied Trump on trips on Tuesday and Wednesday. 
  • The White House learned she was positive on Wednesday. 
  • An epidemiologist said there needs to be widespread testing and quarantining to ensure the virus doesn't spread further. 
  • Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at the University of California Los Angeles, Fielding School of Public Health also said it could be a chance for Trump to change course on his pandemic rhetoric. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 after one of his counselor Hope Hicks tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

Earlier on Thursday night, Trump said he and his wife would quarantine as they await results. 

This is the first time Trump would be quarantining following contact with someone who had the virus.

Trump and Hicks both attended a number of large gatherings in the past few days. 

Hicks accompanied Trump aboard Air Force One to and from the first presidential debate on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Hicks also traveled with Trump and attended a Trump rally in Minnesota, CNN reported. 

"I just went for a test and we'll see what happens, I mean, who knows. I spent a lot of time with Hope and so does the first lady, and she's tremendous," Trump said prior to getting the positive test result. 

White House officials have been aware since Wednesday evening that Hicks had the virus, according to The New York Times. Hicks also told people close to her that she is experiencing some of the symptoms of COVID-19, Bloomberg News reported. 

Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at the University of California Los Angeles, Fielding School of Public Health told Insider that the White House should have disclosed the positive result sooner. 

"I think that this is a perfect example of the sooner that you have information, the sooner that you can act on the information of course. People should know immediately. I mean the sooner the people who have been in contact with Hope Hicks, can isolate themselves and protect their families and their communities, their coworkers, the better. So if they knew last night, they should have let people know immediately," Rimoin said. "She's been in a lot of places with a lot of people."

Contact tracing is critical to make sure the virus doesn't spread

She said it's especially critical to contact trace all those who have been within six feet of Hicks for more than 15 minutes for at least two days prior to the positive test. 

Rimoin said it's not exactly clear yet when Hicks took the test, or what kind of test was used but added that people are potentially infectious within  "a couple of days, two days before they start showing symptoms. "

She added that those who came in contact with her would have quarantine, even if the initial test came back negative especially because testing is sensitive and it may not pick up on the virus until a few days following infection. 

"She's been on a helicopter. She's been on Air Force One. So there's certainly potential for a lot of exposure here," Rimoin said. "When she actually tested positive is going to be important."

Rimoin added that if the Abbott rapid tests were used, it may be likely that Hicks tested negative in a previous screening while actually being positive. That fact that she's now symptomatic means it's very unlikely that there was a false positive. 

She said that if she was in control, she would have everyone who had any contact with Hicks or those who had contact with Hicks be tested and quarantined, including Joe Biden and his team who were at the debate on Tuesday.

Rimoin said those who came in contact should remain under quarantine for up to 14 days even if they initially test negative because it may take a few days for the results to show. 

She added that she's concerned because Hicks and those around her in the Trump administration were not wearing masks and that means its more likely the virus spread. She's not just worried about the officials, but also the staff that was exposed that could potentially take the virus home with them. 

Mask use could have limited the spread

"Donald Trump has fostered a culture that doesn't encourage mask-wearing. I'm looking at the television right now with Hope Hicks walking with Jared Kushner and other people on his team – nobody's wearing a mask," she said. 

She added: "Masks are important, and so by the president not setting a good example it is actually helping the virus to spread. This is where it becomes so important to have good leadership and good examples from the very top because this culture of not wearing a mask is certainly putting many people in danger. It's very irresponsible. It's not just him. It's not just his family, It's the staff. It's secret service. It's the people on planes. It's their families, and they're going to be going home to their families who may have people who are vulnerable and at greater risk.

"So I think there are many opportunities for people on this team to be in close quarters, it's certainly a situation where it demonstrates how quickly this virus can potentially spread and how easily this can keep going from one person to the other." 

"This is a situation where they're tempting fate. We know this virus is out there. We know it's spreading, we know that the things that we have available to stop it are wearing a mask and social distancing. Wearing a mask being of primary importance here," she added. "As my late father-in-law used to say 'it's much easier to stay out of trouble than it is to get out of trouble,' and when we could definitely be seeing the scenario where people had been wearing masks and social distancing appropriately it wouldn't be as worrisome of a situation as it is."

Rimoin added that this a great opportunity for Trump to get the rhetoric on this pandemic, which has infected more than 7.2 million people and killed over 200,000 in the US, right. 

"This is a critical moment. It's better to learn sooner than later. And the example that Donald Trump and the entire White House should be setting is one of social responsibility and good public health guidance," Rimoin said. 

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