President Trump, whose progress in recovering from Covid-19 remains unclear, plans to host hundreds of people on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday afternoon for his first in-person event since announcing that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, three people familiar with the plans said.
The president is expected to address the crowd from a White House balcony, one of the people familiar with the plans said. His campaign also said that he would hold a rally in Florida on Monday.
Outside medical experts cautioned over the possible spread of the coronavirus at the event, saying that an inappropriately expedited return to the public for Mr. Trump could risk infecting others. It remains unclear how serious Mr. Trump’s illness is, though he has said repeatedly that he feels “great.”
The White House has not been transparent about the severity of Mr. Trump’s illness, which makes it hard to know how long he should isolate. But Mr. Trump was hospitalized Oct. 2 and received treatments that are typically reserved for those who are severely ill. That suggests he may need to isolate until Oct. 21.
One person familiar with the planning for the White House event said that all attendees will be required to wear masks on the complex and would have to submit to temperature checks and a questionnaire in the morning.
But Saturday’s event will also be the first large-scale gathering held at the White House since the ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 26 to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, after which infections among White House staff and other attendees were announced almost daily. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, said the White House had held a “super spreader event,” an apparent reference to the nomination ceremony.
Both that event, and the one planned for Saturday, violate Washington, D.C.’s mandates prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people. But because the White House is on federal property, it is exempt from such rules.
In the week after the nomination ceremony for Judge Barrett, the White House also decided not to trace the contacts of guests and staff members.
During the outdoor portion of the ceremony last month, few people wore masks or kept their social distance. But experts say a reception held that day inside the White House was even more risky. There, President Trump mingled with Judge Barrett, her family and prominent Republicans. It is unclear whether the event on Saturday will include an indoor gathering.
On Friday, the Washington, D.C. government set up a new Covid-19 testing site just outside the White House, underscoring concerns by local officials that the administration’s actions were potentially compromising public health for the rest of the nation’s capitol.
“We recommend that if you have worked in the White House in the past two weeks, attended the Supreme Court announcement in the Rose Garden on Saturday, September 26, 2020, and/or have had close contact with others who work in those spaces, you should get a test for Covid,” said a sign at the testing site.
At least one testing site in Washington reported that those seeking a test doubled to 600 on Oct. 5 as residents responded with concern to the cases stemming from the White House and Capitol Hill.
Mr. Trump tends to reject anything that can be read as a sign of weakness or lack of control. At first, Mr. Trump would not wear a mask in public. Now, his behavior and comments after his own hospitalization, amid a widening outbreak within his circle, have also exposed a White House that flouted the basic precautions endorsed by its own health experts.