The White House learned of Hope Hicks' positive coronavirus test -- and exposure to the virus by President Donald Trump and others -- before Trump arrived in New Jersey for an indoor fundraiser on Thursday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, but allowed the event to go forward anyway.
Hours after the fundraiser at Trump's Bedminster golf club, the president was diagnosed with COVID-19.
"Hope Hicks, we discovered (her positive test) as Marine One was taking off yesterday," Meadows said. "We pulled some of the people traveling in close contact."
Hicks, a senior advisor to Trump, traveled with the president on Air Force One and Marine One on Tuesday and Wednesday — however it is not known where, how or from whom President Trump and the First Lady contracted the virus. CDC guidelines recommend anyone in close contact with an infected person to quarantine, but Trump traveled to New Jersey and held the indoor fundraiser. Meadows did not explain why.
"It was deemed safe for the president to go," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. "He socially distanced, it was an outdoor event and it was deemed safe by White House operations."
The state of New Jersey has started contact tracing on Friday for people who attended the fundraiser at Trump's Bedminster golf club.
"The contact-tracing process is underway. We urge everyone who attended yesterday's event in Bedminster to take full precautions, including self-quarantining and getting tested," Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement that also wished the president a speedy recovery.
Some people who live in the area of Bedminster expressed their frustration at what happened, including one mother who lives just a few miles from the golf course.
"I'm filled with anger and emotion," said Larua Whalen. "As a leader, you're supposed to have good behavior. He didn't wear a mask, he didn't social distance. He's encouraged others not to. He's been holding all these rallies."
Coronavirus hit very close to home for Whalen: She lost her husband to the virus, and she wound up in the hospital and on oxygen herself.
The mayor of Bedminster Township said in a statement that the town "has initiated contact tracing and is looking to identify close contacts and potential exposures at the the fundraising event."
"Bedminster anticipates full cooperation from the Trump Organization and from all those who attended the event. The information disclosed during contact tracing remains confidential," said Mayor Larry Jacobs. "Bedminster Township wishes the President and the First Lady, and all who are affected with COVID-19, a full and speedy recovery."
The Republican National Committee, in a statement Friday morning, said everyone who attended Thursday's Bedminster event was tested for COVID-19, passed a temperature screening and was six feet or more from the president at all times. (The RNC also confirmed Friday morning that chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tested positive earlier this week.)
A CNBC review of social media accounts connected to a number of Trump donors who documented their attendance at the fundraiser revealed significant travel by some after the Bedminster event. Two attendees documented their travel to Arizona after the fundraiser, which was verified by flight tracking site Flight Aware. Two others, CNBC reported, drove into New York City and posted images of themselves throughout the financial district without masks.
It was not immediately clear how many people in total were on-site for the event at the president's golf club, in Somerset County about 35 miles west of New York City.
Two people who were at the gathering, comedian Joe Piscopo and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta, told the AP that President Trump seemed normal and healthy while at the event, going as far as calling Trump "energetic." Piscopo, of "Saturday Night Live" fame, said that he’s never seen the president "more on top of his game" than the night before. Mehta, who is running against Sen. Cory Booker, called Trump "charismatic, energetic and jovial" at the event that he said had about 100 people in attendance. He added that he did not come in close contact with the president.
Piscopo said Trump came out of the portico to talk to guests seated at tables yards away. Both men said everyone was socially distanced. The president gave a 30-minute speech and answered several questions from supporters.
Mehta said that Trump spoke about voter fraud, the debate, his Supreme Court justice choice, and the coronavirus.
"He talked about a therapeutic development," Mehta said, and that he underscored the need to get a vaccine out as soon as possible.
Rich Roberts, a pharmaceutical executive and major Republican donor who attended the event, told The Lakewood Scoop that about 19 people met with the president for 45 minutes to an hour.
Another person who spent time with the president earlier in the week, Gov. Murphy's predecessor Chris Christie, said Friday he had been tested and was feeling fine after spending time with the president earlier in the week preparing for last Tuesday's debate.
White House officials said Friday evening that Trump will spend a few days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center out of precaution. The president had been injected with an experimental antibody cocktail by the White House physician.