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Trump tested positive for Covid three days before debating Biden, subsequently tested negative

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows revealed the pre-debate positive test in a new book, which Trump said was “fake news.”
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WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19 three days before his first presidential debate against Joe Biden, with a subsequent pre-debate test coming back negative, three sources familiar with the matter confirmed Wednesday.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows revealed Trump's positive test in a new book, first reported by The Guardian, which cited an excerpt. In the book, Meadows said Trump seemed “a little tired” and suspected that he might have a “slight cold” before he found out about the positive result on his way to a rally in Pennsylvania.

Trump tested positive again on Oct. 1 and was hospitalized the next day, when he announced the results on Twitter. The debate was held Sept. 29.

In a statement Wednesday, Trump denied that he was sick at the time of the first positive result.

“The story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News," Trump said. "In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.”

Image: President Donald Trump walks off Marine One while arriving at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. on Oct. 2, 2020.
President Donald Trump walks off Marine One at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Oct. 2, 2020.Brandan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

Two sources familiar with the matter characterized Trump's initial test on Sept. 26 as a "false positive" because of the subsequent negative test. One source said that the negative test came just hours after the positive one and that Trump tested negative again on Sept. 30, a day after the debate.

Trump’s first positive result, Meadows wrote, came the same day he held an event in the Rose Garden to announce that he would nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, according to The Guardian. More than 150 people attended the event, many of whom did not wear masks or practice social distancing. A number of people who attended later tested positive.

Meadows said Trump had a second test while he was still en route to Pennsylvania, which came back negative, the newspaper reported. NBC News has not seen a copy of the memoir. An attorney for Meadows did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meadows wrote that while the rules for the Sept. 29 debate said each candidate was required “to test negative for the virus” within 72 hours before the debate, “nothing was going to stop [Trump] from going out there,” according to The Guardian.

It was a few days later, on Oct. 2, that Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive. Aides initially said Trump was experiencing “mild symptoms,” but then he was moved to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that evening.

Trump was questioned about the timeline of his Covid test at an NBC News town hall on Oct. 15. He told moderator Savannah Guthrie that his first positive Covid test was on Oct. 1. "That's when I first found out about it," he said.

When he was pressed further, Trump gave vague answers about whether he had been tested before he took the debate stage, given that the rules requested that he and Biden come with negative results.

Asked whether he took a Covid test on the day of the debate, Trump said, “I probably did, and I took a test the day before, and the day before, and I was always in great shape, and I was in great shape for the debate.”

The evening of the debate, city and clinic officials in Cleveland said at least 11 positive coronavirus tests could be traced to members of the media or organizers of the event. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway also tested positive, on Oct. 2. A day later, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who attended the Rose Garden event and prepped Trump for his debate, said he was in the hospital after having tested positive earlier in the day.

On Oct. 3, Meadows said in an interview that Trump’s condition took a turn for the worse when his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly, indicating that his condition was worse than he and his aides had made public.

Trump returned to the White House on Oct. 5 after he received the experimental monoclonal antibody treatment at Walter Reed. That day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and two of her deputies tested positive. In addition to 11 people tied to Trump who contracted Covid during that time period, three Republican senators also tested positive.

In an interview Oct. 8 with Fox Business, Trump suggested that he might have become infected at a meeting with Gold Star families at the White House on Sept. 27, a day after the newly disclosed positive test.

Asked Wednesday by reporters at the White House whether he thought Trump put him at risk at the debate, Biden responded: “I don't think about the former president.”