Washington — Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who served as the head of the Food and Drug Administration, warned Sunday that those who were around President Trump in the early to mid part of last week, including Vice President Mike Pence, are “not in the clear” for contracting COVID-19.
In an interview with “Face the Nation,” Gottlieb said those who were with Mr. Trump on Tuesday or Wednesday and therefore exposed to COVID-19 could still test positive themselves. The president revealed early Friday he and first lady Melania Trump were diagnosed with the coronavirus. The president attended the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday and he traveled to Minnesota for a fundraiser and campaign rally on Wednesday.
Pence tested negative Sunday, according to a senior administration official.
“Anyone who is with any of the people who are currently infected earlier this week, they were probably at their peak contagion at that point,” Gottlieb said. “So typically, you’re most contagious about 24 hours before the onset of symptoms. So the debate prep on Tuesday is a source of potential third generation spread. The meeting of the Senate GOP on Wednesday is a source of third generation spread.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb on “Face the Nation”
Gottlieb warned that in the coming days, additional cases will likely emerge from those who are currently infected and went on to infect others.
“This is still very much an evolving situation,” he said. “Now, look, we hope not. And there are situations where there is no further propagation, but it’s more than likely that you will see additional cases of third generation spread.”
In addition to Mr. Trump, three Republican senators have also revealed they tested positive for COVID-19, as have several close to Mr. Trump, including his personal aide Nick Luna, his campaign manager Bill Stepien and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who helped the president prepare for last week’s debate with former Vice President Joe Biden.
Mr. Trump is being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center. While his medical team told reporters Sunday that the president could be released as early as Monday, Gottlieb warned it’s “early on in the course of his illness.”
“He’s not out of the woods,” he said. “Typically, what we see is in the first week, you have sort of the viral response phase of the infection, and it’s that second week when patients sometimes get into trouble.”
Gottlieb urged caution with the president.
“The president does appear to be, you know, about three to four days into sort of a symptomatic phase right now, if you believe he became symptomatic on Wednesday,” he said. “So he still has time to go until I think he’s out of the woods.”
Several of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, including Lee, Tillis, Christie, Luna and former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, all attended a White House event on September 26 where Mr. Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee.
While national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the White House medical unit is conducting contact tracing, the source of the infection remains unclear.
Gottlieb said the White House has “an obligation to understand how the infection was introduced” into an environment with high-ranking government officials.
“They might not be able to pinpoint it, but they should be very aggressive in a forensic analysis right now to try to find what the source of the infection was and see who brought it into that environment,” he said.
But Gottlieb added that there “doesn’t seem to be a very concerted effort underway” to identify the source.
“I’ve talked to a number of officials who are at that event on Saturday, and a lot of focus is around that event as one of the potential places where the introduction was made, and they haven’t been called yet by contact tracers,” he said. “So that’s concerning.”
Hours of grand jury recordings in Breonna Taylor case released
What Trump’s hospitalization means for his administration
President Trump undergoes aggressive and experimental coronavirus treatment