One week after leaving Walter Reed hospital while still potentially contagious with Covid-19, President Donald Trump returned to in-person campaigning in earnest on Monday night, starting with a packed, non-socially distanced airport rally in Florida in which he repeated claims that he is “immune” and proposed to “kiss” everyone in the audience.
“I went through it now. They say I’m immune. I feel so powerful,” Trump told a crowd of fervent supporters at an outdoor rally in Sanford, Florida, repeating similar claims he made online over the weekend, before being flagged by Twitter for misinformation.
The rally is the first of six planned this week across the country, with Reuters reporting that while he threw out masks to the crowd, he did not wear one himself.
Trump, 74, returns to the campaign trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden, 77, by double digits, several polls show this week, including an ABC News/Washington Post showing Biden ahead by 12 points.
But Trump’s defiance marks a continuation of his strategy since being diagnosed with coronavirus, which has seen him flout public health advice, make a public appearance while sick, leave hospital despite concerns he could still be contagious, and subsequently tell the nation in a video: “Don’t be afraid” of a virus that has killed 215,000 people in the U.S.
On Monday, Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, said the president had tested negative for coronavirus for two straight days, however questions have been raised over when Trump was last tested, while it is not known whether or not Trump took a PCR test, which is considered more reliable in indicating how infectious someone is.
Trump appeared undeterred and unfazed by public health advice around the potentially deadly virus, telling the crowd at one point in his 65-minute speech on Monday night: “I will kiss everyone in that audience, I will kiss the guys and the beautiful women, I will give you a big fat kiss.”
With three weeks to go until Election Day, Trump, whose campaign plans were temporarily halted by his coronavirus diagnosis, is scrambling to catch up to Biden, whose lead in national polls was secured even before Trump fell ill. But despite being given a mixture of drugs and steroids that suggests he suffered severe symptoms, Trump appears to be sticking with his line of downplaying the virus—an approach that could jeopardise his reelection hopes. He made proclamations on Monday that included telling audience members “you gotta get out” as he criticised lockdowns, which have turned the economy he was boastful about upside down, and that he has repeatedly railed against. Meanwhile Biden, who has repeatedly tested negative since Trump fell ill, blasted Trump’s “reckless personal conduct” during campaign appearances in Ohio on Monday, a state considered paramount to Trump’s reelection chances.
Dr Anthony Fauci, a member of the coronavirus taskforce and the top infectious diseases official at the White House, warned of the danger of the new surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. going into the colder months. He said in an interview with CNBC: “We’re in a bad place. Now we’ve got to turn this around.” The expert added that he would not walk away from the outbreak “no matter who’s the president”.
34. That’s at least how many White House staff, aides and contacts are believed to have tested positive for coronavirus around the time Trump and First Lady Melania Trump fell ill. Several of those cases were traced back to the Rose Garden announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court on September 26, while the outbreak has revealed a lack of measures put in place in the White House to prevent the spread of the virus.