Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport, Sept. 30, 2020, in Duluth, Minn. (AP/Alex Brandon) President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport, Sept. 30, 2020, in Duluth, Minn. (AP/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump throws hats to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport, Sept. 30, 2020, in Duluth, Minn. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Noah Y. Kim
By Noah Y. Kim October 2, 2020

If Your Time is short

• A memo released by President Donald Trump’s personal physician confirms that he has tested positive. Legal experts told us that the physician could face drastic professional and legal penalties for lying about something this significant. 

• Members of Trump’s inner circle and people who have attended events with him have also tested positive.

• The news that Trump has contracted the virus clashes with his campaign messaging. ​

• Trump was heading to Walter Reed Medical Center.

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he and his wife tested positive for exposure to the coronavirus has already generated numerous conspiracy theories, and one of the most popular is that he’s faking it. 

Overnight, people across the political spectrum tweeted and posted on Facebook with doubt about Trump’s results. Some wondered why they should trust a president who has downplayed the danger of the virus, speculating that a forged positive COVID-19 test could somehow offer him a political advantage.

Some examples:

"He needed a ‘reset’ and to change the topic from the White Supremacist attacks (which even Republican sycophants were joining in)," reads one Facebook post, referencing Trump’s "stand back and stand by" comment at the Sept. 29 debate. 

"What if Trump is going to fake having covid because he doesn't wanna debate Biden again?" reads a tweet

"Watch Trump miraculously recover from COVID19 after taking a vaccine developed by his administration... It is a stunt people!" reads another. 

Supporters of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory claimed that Trump’s positive diagnosis was a hoax portending the imminent arrest of Hillary Clinton, saying "it’s a cover for the storm to happen." ("The storm" is a QAnon term referring to the mass arrest of people who Q followers believe belong to a powerful, cannibalistic pedophile ring.)

The speculation and unfounded theories are outweighed by the significant amount of evidence showing that Trump does, in fact, have COVID-19.

The memo from Trump’s personal physician 

Sean P. Conley, Trump’s personal physician, released a memo Oct. 2 confirming that Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the virus.

Lying about the health of a sitting president would subject him to enormous professional consequences and public backlash, said Arthur Caplan, the founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine.

"It would put your (medical) license on the line," Caplan said in an interview with PolitiFact. 

There were some instances of presidents, including Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, misleading the public about their health with the assistance of their physicians, said Teneille Brown, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

However, Brown noted, the legal consequences for doctors have grown stronger since the 1920s when Wilson was president (and ailing from disabling neurological symptoms after multiple strokes). If Conley were lying, it's possible that he could be charged with fraud.

"The Dow has tanked," Brown said. "If he knew that this was false, businesses across America that have been negatively affected could sue this physician."

Later Friday, Trump was being taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center "on the recommendation of his physician and medical experts," said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

People close to Trump have tested positive

Members of Trump’s inner circle and people who attended events with Trump have also tested positive for the virus. 

Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s senior advisers who traveled with him on Air Force One and Marine One this week, tested positive for the virus on Oct. 1, the morning before Trump announced his test results. (It wasn’t clear how Trump or Hicks contracted the disease caused by the virus.) Bloomberg reported that she began to show symptoms on Sep. 30 after a Trump rally in Minnesota and quarantined on the presidential plane on the flight back. 

In addition, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins tested positive for the coronavirus the same day of Trump’s announcement. Hicks, Lee, Jenkins and the first lady were all at the White House Sept. 26 to watch Trump introduce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame.

Jenkins had apologized to Notre Dame for not wearing a mask and shaking hands during the ceremony. 

Trump is experiencing symptoms

The New York Times reported that Trump is experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms, and that people who met with him this week thought that he seemed lethargic. 

The motives just don’t make sense

The news that Trump contracted the coronavirus clashes with his campaign messaging. Trump has minimized the symptoms and contagion of the virus throughout the pandemic. Shortly before his test announcement, he told an audience that "the end of the pandemic is in sight."

"It casts doubt on (the campaign’s) approach to minimize infections," Caplan said. "They don’t have any motive to make it up that makes much sense." 

In addition, cancelling rallies and political events in the month before the Nov. 3. election could hurt his campaign. Trump has said he will quarantine with Melania.

In a statement, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien wrote that all previously announced campaign events involving Trump or members of his family are being moved to digital events or postponed, including rallies planned in the battleground states of Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona.

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Noah Y. Kim

The evidence that Trump is telling the truth about his positive coronavirus test