Conflicting reports Friday about whether Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus since he met with U.S. President Donald Trump last weekend—and in the wake of both world leaders downplaying the pandemic—fueled concerns that Trump either has not sought testing or not disclosed doing so, despite being exposed to multiple infected individuals in recent weeks.
Reporting that Bolsonaro's first test came back positive and he was awaiting the results of a more reliable test came after the 64-year-old Brazilian president said Wednesday that "other flus kill more than this" and called concern over the coronavirus "oversized." If Bolsonaro tested positive, he would be the highest ranking government official in the world to come down with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that began in Wuhan, China late last year and has infected well over 100,000 people worldwide.
Bolsonaro and Trump met over the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, the 73-year-old U.S. president's resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Bolsonaro Press Secretary Fabio Wajngarten—who attended the Florida summit and posted a photo on Instagram Saturday of him standing next to Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence—tested positive for coronavirus after the trip.
The guy standing to Trump’s left just tested positive for coronavirus, according to Brazilian media. Fabio Wajngarten posted this photo, taken during meetings at Mar-a-Lago, five days ago. pic.twitter.com/qioU4qIlxl
— Gabriel Stargardter (@gabstargardter) March 12, 2020
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Thursday that "both the president and vice president had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time."
"The White House Medical Unit and the United States Secret Service has been working closely with various agencies to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the First and Second Families, and all White House staff, healthy," Grisham added. The U.S. president's daughter Ivanka Trump, an advisor to her father, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr recently met with an Australian politician who has since been diagnosed with the virus.
The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, addressed the reporting out of Brazil in a series of tweets Friday and urged fellow journalists to proceed cautiously.
In response to a photo of Bolsonaro and Trump shaking hands over the weekend, Greenwald said: "If Trump really hasn't been tested since this, it's extreme medial recklessness and political irresponsibility. If he has, then it's a scandalous that we don't know the results."
In a Friday appearance on the Fox News program "America's Newsroom," the Brazilian president's son Eduardo Bolsonaro challenged the reporting about his father's COVID-19 testing results.
According to Fox:
Host Sandra Smith asked Bolsonaro if he could confirm his father had first tested positive for the virus and what had happened in between then.
"I don't have this information," he replied. "The information I have is the results that just came up telling that he is negative for coronavirus. I never listened that it was positive in the first exam. This is something that I don't know. But, uh, everything's good now."
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Bolsonaro then told Smith, to his knowledge, this was his first test for the virus.
"I have to get more information about what is going on because together with Bolsonaro, there were other guys, other people in the same team that went to the U.S.. So, we are also waiting for the exams about the other guys. He denied his father was showing any symptoms. "He is okay," he confirmed.
Fox News and the network's chief White House correspondent John Roberts deleted tweets from earlier Friday that claimed the Brazilian president tested positive for the virus, which Greenwald said "should be a lesson in how much caution is required for this kind of reporting."
So bizarre what’s happening in Brazil. The Bolsonaro movement - including his sons - are screaming FAKE NEWS LIARS! at media reports that Bolsonaro’s son confirmed the test was positive.
The problem? The report came from Fox, who they worship. And Fox still insists he said it: https://t.co/7C2WUMMeaS
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 13, 2020
Jair Bolsonaro took to Twitter Friday morning to lash out at "Fake News," though his tweet did not explicitly address the coronavirus testing reports.
After Wajngarten—Bolsonaro's press secretary—tested positive for the virus, Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday, "Let's put it this way: I'm not concerned." Addressing his interactions with Wajngarten, Trump added: "We did nothing very unusual. We sat next to each other for a period of time and had a great conversation... He's doing a terrific job in Brazil. We'll find out what happens."
By late Thursday, the Miami Herald reported, members of the Miami Police Department's motorcycle unit that escorted Bolsonaro, the mayors of Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, and U.S. Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were all self-quarantining in response to Wajngarten's diagnosis.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has tested positive for the COVID-19 while Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez tested negative for the virus, a local NBC affiliate reported Friday.
Scott and Graham aren't the only federal lawmakers taking precautions. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced Friday that he was extending his self-quarantine after interacting with a Spanish government official who has the virus. Cruz was among the congressional Republicans who went into self-quarantine after coming into contact with someone at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) who later tested positive for the virus. Trump and Pence also attended CPAC.
"Why isn't Trump in quarantine?" American journalist Eric Levitz asked Friday in a piece for Intelligencer that detailed the U.S. leader's interactions with people who have confirmed or suspected cases.
"Regardless of Bolsonaro's status, his aide Fabio Wajngarten's diagnosis is beyond dispute," wrote Levitz. He continued:
And yet, as of this writing, Trump has not announced plans to quarantine himself. Instead, he ostensibly intends to carry on with his normal duties, which include making regular, in-person contact with the Republican Party's congressional leadership and the highest ranking officials in his own cabinet—a great many of whom are over 65, and thus, face a substantial risk of death if they become infected with the virus.
Even if the president feels no obligation to model socially responsible behavior to his fellow Americans (who are currently being asked to quarantine themselves if they've had direct contact with a confirmed carrier of the virus), one would think that he'd at least like to avoid potentially poisoning his entire administration.
But Trump's sphere of concern apparently does not extend beyond the bounds of his own body.
Levitz was far from alone in pointing out Friday that if Trump does not go into quarantine immediately, he risks possibly spreading the virus widely across the United States government.