Senior Department of the Air Force leaders have repeatedly tested negative for the coronavirus within the past several days, as news emerged early Oct. 2 that President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump contracted COVID-19.
Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond attended a White House event on Sept. 27 to recognize Gold Star families. The officials all tested negative before that event, Air Force spokesperson Brooke Brzozowske said Oct. 2.
Brown and Raymond continued their in-person schedules and again tested negative on Oct. 1 before meetings at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Barrett tested negative on Oct. 2 as well, Brzozowske said.
Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper also attended the White House event and tested negative beforehand. Milley again proved negative Oct. 2, as did Esper on Sept. 28 and Sept. 30. Esper will be tested again as he travels through Africa.
The Defense Department indicated the military’s posture has not changed in response to the commander-in-chief’s news. Amateur plane spotters using flight-tracking websites spotted Navy E-6B Mercury aircraft—used as airborne nuclear command posts and to relay communications among the nation’s leaders—flying near the mid-Atlantic coast. U.S. Strategic Command said the “Looking Glass” aircraft were conducting regular training, and the timing was coincidental.
“There’s been no change to DOD alert levels,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a release. “The U.S. military stands ready to defend our country and interests. There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command structure is in no way affected by this announcement.”
Trump announced on Twitter early Oct. 2 that he and the First Lady had contracted the coronavirus and would quarantine, though the president’s physician indicated the positive result may have come as early as Sept. 30.
They traveled on Air Force aircraft multiple times in the past several days, including on Air Force One with presidential adviser Hope Hicks, who showed symptoms of the virus on Sept. 30 and has tested positive. Multiple Republican lawmakers, advisers, and other political figures in the president’s orbit also confirmed in the past few days that they have contracted COVID-19, though it’s unclear whether they were infected by Trump staffers or elsewhere.
Trump moved from the White House to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for treatment on Oct. 2. His fever broke that morning, though his oxygen levels dropped over the weekend and he received supplemental oxygen, according to national news reports. Doctors are trying multiple treatments, including the antiviral drug remdesivir, an experimental combination of antibodies, and the steroid dexamethasone.
Walter Reed may release the president as early as Oct. 5.
It’s unclear if executive travel has sickened the team of Airmen responsible for ferrying those VIPs around the world.
The Air Force said Oct. 2 the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews has “established safety procedures for day-to-day operations” that incorporate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance, along with frequent testing of Air Force One flight crew members.
“In the event any Air Force One personnel are exposed, become symptomatic, or test positive, the 89th Airlift Wing would follow the guidelines established by the CDC,” the wing said in a statement. “The 89th Airlift Wing is committed to providing the president with safe, comfortable, and reliable transportation and protecting the health of our Airmen.”