Trump plans return to campaign trail, awaits 'negative' COVID-19 test

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican President Donald Trump prepared on Friday to return to the campaign trail with two potential rallies at the weekend after his COVID-19 diagnosis sidelined him for a week in the White House race against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

But questions remained about whether he was still contagious and whether his campaign, whose leadership has also been hit hard by the coronavirus, could put on the events at short notice.

Trump, who announced on Oct 2 he had the virus and spent three nights in a military hospital, said late on Thursday he was feeling “really good” and aimed to campaign in Florida on Saturday and in Pennsylvania on Sunday.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said on Friday the president was hard at work and ready to go as soon as he got the OK from his doctor.

“He wants to talk to the American people, and he wants to be out there. Logistically, whether tomorrow’s possible, it would be tough. It’d be a decision up to the campaign,” she told Fox News.

Representatives from the campaign did not respond immediately to a request for comment on its plans.

Opinion polls show Trump lagging Biden ahead of the Nov. 3 election and the president’s illness has kept him from crisscrossing the country to rally support and raise cash. A return to in-person events would aim to show voters he is healthy enough to campaign and to govern.

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Trump and his administration have faced criticism for their broad handling of the pandemic, as well as for a lax approach to mask-wearing and social distancing in the White House and – in recent days – confusing messages about how ill the president has been.

White House physician Sean Conley said in a memo released on Thursday that Trump had completed his course of therapy for COVID-19, remained stable since returning home from the Walter Reed medical facility on Monday and could resume public engagements on Saturday.

“There are medical tests underway that will ensure that when the president is back out he will not be able to transmit the virus,” McEnany said, adding Conley would lay out the details later. “He won’t be out there if he can transmit the virus.”

McEnany is one of a string of Trump aides, including his campaign manager, who have tested positive in an outbreak of the virus in the last week within the White House and Trump campaign.

ON-AIR EVALUATION

Trump was scheduled to do an on-camera interview with Fox News on Friday night, his first since being diagnosed. Fittingly given he is a former reality television star, Fox said in a press release that Dr. Marc Siegel “will conduct a medical evaluation and interview during the program.”

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Trump told the network late on Thursday he was likely to be tested for the virus on Friday. The White House has declined to say when he last tested negative for the disease.

Guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say people who are severely ill with COVID-19 might need to stay home for up to 20 days after symptoms first appear.

Trump, who has not appeared in public since his return from the hospital, worked from the Oval Office on Wednesday. The White House said officials with whom he came into contact, such as chief of staff Mark Meadows, wore personal protective gear.

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Biden has continued to campaign during Trump’s illness, with events scheduled on Friday in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The former vice president, who has sharply criticized Trump’s handling of the pandemic, is leading in national polls although with a narrower advantage in some of the swing states that may determine the election outcome.

Sounding hoarse and occasionally pausing and clearing his throat, Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in an interview on Thursday night that he was doing well.

The president is expected to host a “virtual rally” on Friday by taking part in conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s radio program.

The Trump and Biden campaigns sparred on Thursday over a televised debate that had been planned for next week. Trump pulled out of the scheduled Oct. 15 event after the nonpartisan debate commission said it would be held virtually, with the candidates in separate locations, because of safety concerns after Trump contracted COVID-19.

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