Trump personal valet tests positive for coronavirus, but White House says president is negative

Key Points
  • A personal valet for President Trump, who among other things serves meals to the president, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • A White House spokesman said that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have since tested negative.
  • Trump denied having close contact with the valet, but said that he and Pence will now be tested daily for coronavirus, up from weekly tests.
US President Donald Trump speaks about COVID-19, known as coronavirus, after signing a Proclamation in honor of National Nurses Day in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, May 6, 2020.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

A personal valet for President Donald Trump, who among other things serves meals to the president, has tested positive for the coronavirus, but a White House spokesman said Thursday that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have since tested negative.

The valet, a member of the military, would have had very close contact with Trump, and assisted the president with his food, clothes and other personal needs.

Trump, however, denied having close contact with the sick valet. "I've had very little personal contact with this gentleman," Trump told reporters Thursday in the Oval Office. "I know who he is, good person, but I've had very little contact." 

Nonetheless, Trump said, starting today he and Pence will be tested for coronavirus daily, instead of weekly, as had previously been the standard practice in the West Wing.

A White House official who spoke to NBC News said the male valet, like other valets, does not wear a mask around the president.

The official said Trump was "not happy" when he learned Wednesday that his valet had tested positive for the virus, which has killed more than 73,000 Americans.

A source with knowledge of the situation described it to NBC News as an "operational failure," and said everyone who works in close proximity to the president should be wearing masks.

"We were recently notified by the White House Medical Unit that a member of the United States Military, who works on the White House campus, has tested positive for Coronavirus," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

"The President and the Vice President have since tested negative for the virus and they remain in great health."

Pence was en route to visit a health-care facility in Alexandria, Virginia as news broke about the valet.

The vice president did not wear a mask during his visit to the facility, which houses some patients with Covid-19. Pence did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about the valet being positive for coronavirus.

Vice President Mike Pence visiting health-care facility in Alexandria, Virginia on May 7th, 2020.

CNN first reported that the individual who tested positive is a personal valet for Trump.

A Defense Department spokesman said, "As with any other service member who tests positive, the individual will quarantine in their residence, and will receive medical care as needed."

The White House declined to say whether Trump planned to quarantine following news of his aide's diagnosis.

The White House also declined to comment on whether the president's wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, or the vice president's wife, Karen, had been tested after the valet tested positive.

As of noon ET Thursday, the president was still planning to meet with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at 2 p.m. Two hours after that, Trump is scheduled to speak at the White House for a National Day of Prayer Service.

It was unclear whether Abbott's visit would continue as planned, or whether the governor would wear a mask following news of the White House valet's diagnosis. Abbott's spokesman, John Wittman, told CNBC at about 1 p.m. ET that the Republican governor was heading to the White House for the meeting.

 Abbott appears to be in at least two higher-risk categories when it comes to coronavirus: He is 62 and uses a wheelchair after a 1984 accident left him partially paralyzed.

Older people are also believed to be at higher risk of more serious complications from Covid-19, and individuals with spinal cord injuries have weaker immunosuppression capabilities than the general population.

CNN reported that the individual who tested positive began displaying symptoms of the virus on Wednesday.

Based on what is currently known about coronavirus, the incubation period between when a person is exposed and when they exhibit symptoms is, on average, five or six days.

It is unclear how contagious people are during this period. But according to Harvard Medical School's coronavirus information center, "emerging research suggests that people may actually be most likely to spread the virus to others during the 48 hours before they start to experience symptoms."

Trump has refused to wear a mask as a precaution against the coronavirus despite federal health guidance that suggests all Americans do so when in public and when unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from other people.

Trump did not wear a mask Tuesday while touring the production area of a Honeywell factory in Phoenix, Arizona, which is manufacturing N95 masks for the Defense Department. Trump said Honeywell officials had told the White House that he did not need to wear a mask, despite signs at the factory reminding workers to do so at all times.

President Trump on masks and whether they should be mandatory

According to the White House Historical Society, few people work more closely, physically speaking, with the president and his family than the president's valet.

Every president, including George Washington, has had at least one valet who helps him to dress, maintains his clothes and sees to his personal needs within the residence. 

"In addition to caring for the presidential clothing, valets were personal assistants, messengers, confidants, nurses, barbers, bartenders, waiters, public relations agents, and companions. Some were considered unofficial members of the first family," the historical society writes on its page about valets.

Pence was criticized  last week when he toured the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota without wearing a mask despite a policy there requiring masks for all staff, patients and visitors.

Pence did wear a mask during a visit two days later to a General Motors plant in Indiana that is making ventilators to help meet demand from hospitals treating patients with Covid-19.

More than 1.2 million people in the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus, resulting in at least 73,431 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

— Additional reporting by CNBC's Amanda Macias and Melissa Repko