CLEVELAND — President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced Friday they tested positive for COVID-19, and for the second time this week the world’s focus has shifted to Cleveland, where the timeline of the president’s actions included most of Trump’s family members not wearing masks during the presidential debate, even though they were required indoors for audience members, per the protocols established by the Cleveland Clinic.
Although the first lady and the president’s children Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric and Tiffany walked into the debate venue wearing a mask, they sat down and watched the debate without them, in spite of rules mandating everyone in the room wear a surgical blue mask, according to media reports from the night of the debate.
Based on notes from the pool of journalists with Joe Biden in the debate hall, a Cleveland Clinic doctor in a white lab coat attempted to get some of the president's guests to wear a mask. The doctor started to approach Trump family guests and offered them one in case they didn't have one. Based on the TV pool notes from journalists inside the debate room, "the doctor never approached the family but as she got closer to them, someone shook their head and no one she reminded to put on a mask ended up putting one on."
Dr. Jill Biden, Sen. Chris Coons and others in the Democratic section began to look over, press pool notes state. "Trump family members began to ask their guests what had happened. When the doctor, who refused to comment to the press, walked off the floor, a debate hall staffer told her 'That’s all you can do.'"
Ivanka posted a photo before the event wearing a mask, which came off during the debate.
The debate was held at the Health Education Campus, a facility established for both Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. The clinic is serving as the health security adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which guides the commission on safety matters for all four 2020 general election debates.
The Cleveland Clinic released a statement Friday confirming that masking was one of the requirements in place for the debate, and that the candidates and those traveling with them all tested negative for coronavirus before entering the debate hall.
An updated statement released Friday afternoon reads:
“Our thoughts are with the President, First Lady and all of our guests. As health advisor to the Commission on Presidential Debates and the host site, we had requirements to maintain a safe environment that align with CDC guidelines- including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking. Most importantly, everyone permitted inside the debate hall tested negative for COVID-19 prior to entry. Individuals traveling with both candidates, including the candidates themselves, had been tested and tested negative by their respective campaigns.
"Based on what we know about the virus and the safety measures we had in place, we believe there is low risk of exposure to our guests. Out of an abundance of caution we are reaching out to our guests to address any questions and concerns. We will continue to monitor the information being released by the White House.”
City of Cleveland aware of new cases from debate
The City of Cleveland is aware of 11 COVID-19 cases “stemming from pre-debate planning and set-up,” according to a news release from the city sent Friday afternoon.
The city said the majority of cases occurred among out-of-state residents, and at this time, no Cleveland residents have contracted the virus as a result of the debate.
Cleveland City Councilman reacts after attending debate
Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin was one of 70 people who were in the audience for the debate. He said all attendees had to pass COVID-19 tests and temperature checks.
While everyone was required to wear a mask, not everyone did.
"I witnessed and watched a doctor about as close as you and I are, that went literally down the aisle and offered everybody in their entourage a mask and they all waved it off. All waved the young lady off. That was egregious," he said.
Griffin, who is a supporter of Biden, said he is upset and disappointed by the news the president and first lady tested positive for COVID-19. He hopes everyone recovers but remains concerned about the health of others in the debate hall.
"Especially a lot of the elderly people who were in the room witnessing history. They came to witness history and now may become a part of history in the wrong way which is what I’m so upset about," he said.
Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones said he saw the same thing.
“I’ve been so disappointed I think my disappointed nerve is numb to President Trump," he said.
Jones said it appeared the group put politics above public health.
"People like to stand and where I think we have to be careful when it comes to taking a stand is that can affect somebody’s health," Jones said.
Trump mocks Biden for wearing a mask
During the debate, Trump mocked Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing a mask.
"I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask," he said Tuesday. "He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen."
Pres. Trump mocks Joe Biden on the issue of masks: "I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen." https://t.co/5Bl4Ob3O2t #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/OA3ffVcrkg— ABC News (@ABC) September 30, 2020
Where Trump traveled before testing positive
On Tuesday, Trump and Biden faced off for the first time at Cleveland Clinic’s and Case Western Reserve University’s Health Education Campus.
Following a rally that Trump cut short on Wednesday, ABC News reported top aides observed the president not feeling his best, as he appeared exhausted and fatigued. Multiple sources told ABC News that some believed his fatigue stemmed from the intensity of his rally schedule while others began to think it could be coronavirus.
Hope Hicks, one of the president's closest advisers, was also on Marine One, the president’s helicopter, when it left the White House to fly to Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday. She was seen walking to the helicopter with other top presidential advisers. None of them were wearing masks.
On Thursday, Hicks tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump later flew to New Jersey for a fundraiser.
On Friday, Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. that he and the first lady tested positive for COVID-19.
Some Ohio leaders call for stronger mask mandate enforcement at future Trump rallies
Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement following a tweet from Trump that he and the first lady have tested positive for COVID-19.
Leader Sykes attended the debate in Cleveland on Tuesday and was in the same room as the president and his team, including Hicks. Sykes also said many in the president’s entourage were not wearing masks.
Sykes said she hopes the president and the first lady make a quick recovery from the virus, but believes the president's illness indicates that Ohio needs to more strongly enforce its mask mandate during political rallies.
“Completely ignoring these risks and putting people at risk himself, it’s just not other people, himself, that really means something,” Strong Sykes said. “I would hope that not only the governor, but people from the Republican party are willing to step up and stand up to the president, enforcing the mask mandate as strongly as we possibly can.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine responded to health concerns at Trump rallies during a news conference on Friday, and said he was unaware of COVID-19 cases reported by county health departments due to presidential rallies.
News 5 reached out to the Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chairman to get his input on mask enforcement at future Trump rallies. We were referred to the press secretary for the Trump campaign in Ohio, but we're still waiting for a response.