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The day before President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19, he flew to Minnesota on Air Force One with senior staff, as well as pool reporters, including VOA’s White House bureau chief Steve Herman. The next day Herman traveled to Wilmington to prepare to cover a Joe Biden rally, the only reporter who attempted to switch between the Trump and Biden campaigns this week. He describes the experience following the president’s positive coronavirus test.
At the White House on Wednesday morning, a member of the medical office swabbed my nose to collect a sample for the routine COVID-19 rapid test administered daily to all members of the protective pool of reporters covering the president’s activities.
It was a brief and painless procedure. I had undergone it more than a dozen times in recent months — always with the same “negative” result. That has also been the case for my colleagues on the White House beat, Patsy Widakuswara and Carolyn Presutti, with whom I alternate campaign coverage when it is VOA’s turn in the rotation among radio networks.
As the day’s designated radio pooler for the Minnesota round trip on Air Force One, I was responsible for ensuring that all the networks would have broadcast quality audio whenever the president spoke — from the time we left Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to our post-midnight return on the same military tarmac.
The president’s first stop in Minnesota, known as “the Land of 10,000 Lakes,” was a massive multimillion-dollar estate on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. At a fundraiser at the home of wealthy Republican Party donor Martin Davis, during which the accompanying media waited outside in our vans, Trump mingled with an unannounced number of guests. Thus, we were not able to observe if the participants were wearing masks or engaged in social distancing.
Such recommended precautions were certainly not seen at the president’s next stop in Duluth, where an airport rally was held. Thousands of enthusiastic supporters turned out – crammed in bleachers, on the tarmac and in the hangar. Only about a fifth of the crowd wore any type of face covering.
Trump spoke for 45 minutes. His normal rally remarks usually stretch beyond an hour. This, I noted at the time, was unusual. But it was chilly and windy on the north shore of Lake Superior on the last day of September.
When we made the sprint back to the warm airplane, the group of reporters and photographers surmised the president did not want to spend any additional time exposed to such weather. Later we would learn from official sources and media reports that Trump was apparently already feeling unwell, that he fell asleep for part of the two-hour flight back to Maryland and an ill Hope Hicks, counselor to the president, had decided to isolate herself on the plane. She would test positive for the coronavirus the following morning, something the public did not know until Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs broke the story late Thursday.
Trump, during his travels Wednesday, did not make remarks before boarding or stepping off the plane and he did not come back to the press cabin at any time to speak to us. That was unusual but not unprecedented.
We also had no contact with Hicks that day.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows did chat for about 10 minutes with the poolers on the plane during the flight home from Minnesota. He said on Friday that he had tested negative for COVID-19.
Flight to New Jersey
In a decision that is being criticized by health officials, journalists and Democrats, Trump, on Thursday, following Hicks’ diagnosis, flew to his private club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for a round-table and fundraiser with supporters. Several White House aides who had been in close proximity to Hicks did not join the trip.
Asked why the president went ahead with the journey, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Friday afternoon that “it was deemed safe” by White House operations.
At that outdoor fundraiser, the president was kept more than 6 feet (2 meters) from a group of about 18 donors, who were not wearing masks, according to campaign sources.
While the president was in New Jersey, I was on an Amtrak train to the state of Delaware to prepare to resume coverage of the Joe Biden campaign. Although we would not be departing with the Democratic Party candidate to Michigan until Friday, the campaign requires all pool reporters traveling with the candidate to take a COVID-19 test the prior day. This was done at a Wilmington hotel by a pair of technicians from a chain pharmacy, and the antigen test is similar to the one conducted at the White House.
Unlike the procedure in the White House, where we are not informed of the results unless it is a “positive,” the reporters in Wilmington waited on the spot while their swabs are analyzed by the humming Abbott ID NOW machine, which, after about 15 minutes, spits out a piece of paper with the results.
“COVID-19: Negative. Procedural control valid,” mine read.
At that point, I assumed I was good to go and returned to my downtown hotel to rest for Friday morning, when we were scheduled to join the Biden motorcade near his residence and ride to the New Castle airport.
When word came of Hicks’ positive test and her presence on the Air Force One flights the previous day, I notified the Biden campaign, which consulted with medical advisers, and it was decided that out an abundance of caution I stay back on Friday.
It would be a few hours later, with a @realDonaldTrump tweet, that we learned one more passenger on Air Force One had tested positive for the coronavirus: the president himself.
Voice of America – English
An Iranian political prisoner suffering from a panic disorder has been sent against his will to a psychiatric clinic after prison interference with his medical treatment led to his partial paralysis, according to a friend and family member of the dissident.
In a Tuesday interview with VOA Persian from Iran, the friend of dissident Behnam Mahjoubi said authorities transferred Mahjoubi from Tehran’s Evin prison to the Razi Aminabad psychiatric hospital in southern Tehran’s Shahr-e-Rey district on Saturday. Ebrahim Allah Bakhshi said he learned of the transfer by speaking with Mahjoubi on the phone that day.
Allah Bakhshi, a former political prisoner, and Mahjoubi both are members of Iran’s Gonabadi Dervish religious minority. Members of the Sufi Muslim religious sect long have complained of harassment by Iran’s Shiite Islamist rulers, who view them as heretics.
Allah Bakhshi said he had been in regular phone contact with Mahjoubi in prison and learned that Evin authorities had been blocking Mahjoubi’s access to panic disorder medications provided by family members since August. He said Mahjoubi went on a hunger strike that month, not only to protest the denial of the medication, but also in solidarity with jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who began her own hunger strike at Evin on August 11.
Mahjoubi began suffering coronavirus symptoms while on the hunger strike and ended the protest after 10 days to take the necessary medication, Allah Bakhshi said. Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, told rights activists on September 26 that his wife ended her hunger strike due to worsening health.
Allah Bakhshi said a prison doctor also recently pressured Mahjoubi into taking sleeping pills to treat the jailed dissident’s panic disorder. He said Mahjoubi stopped taking the pills after feeling unwell and refused the doctor’s orders to take more, drawing a warning from prison authorities that a continued refusal would result in a transfer to the psychiatric clinic.
VOA could not independently confirm Allah Bakhshi’s account of Mahjoubi’s situation. Iranian state media have been silent on the matter.
من صالحه حسینی، همسر بهنام محجوبی، دومین نامه سرگشادهای است که درباره نگرانی از وضعیت همسرم، مینویسم. یک ماه پیش نوشتم که زندان در ارائه داروهای خاص همسرم کوتاهی میکند و هشدار داده بودم که عدم مصرف داروهای بهنام، باعث میشود که جسم او از کار بیفتد.#رشته_توییت#بهنام_محجوبی
— صالحه حسینی (@salehehosini) September 29, 2020
In a series of Tuesday tweets, Mahjoubi’s wife, Saleh Hosseini, said he suffered a fall in prison on Saturday, leaving him partially paralyzed. She said his transfer to the psychiatric clinic happened later that day.
Allah Bakhshi told VOA that he last spoke to Mahjoubi by phone on Monday. He said he learned that Mahjoubi received an unknown injection while being confined to a hospital bed and that a court had ordered Mahjoubi to remain at the psychiatric clinic until further notice.
“Mahjoubi wanted to be sent to a forensic medicine clinic, not a psychiatric hospital,” Allah Bakhshi said.
— ابراهیم اللهبخشی (@allahbakhshii) October 2, 2020
In a Friday tweet, Allah Bakhshi said five days had passed since what he called Mahjoubi’s forced transfer to the psychiatric clinic. “Behman’s life is in danger. Let’s be his voice,” he wrote.
Mahjoubi was among more than 300 Dervish community members arrested for involvement in anti-government protests in Tehran, February 19-20, 2018. The protests escalated into violent street confrontations between Iranian security forces and the activists. Five officers were killed.
Iranian rights activists have said Mahjoubi was released on bail later that year while also being sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.” He began serving the sentence at Evin in June.
The Dervishes involved in the 2018 protests in Tehran had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their elderly leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh. He died in December 2019.
Voice of America – English
Fake news about the coronavirus can do real harm. Polygraph.info is spotlighting fact-checks from other reliable sources here.
Claim: “[W]e never needed nursing home beds [for COVID-positive patients] because we always had hospital beds. So it just never happened in New York, where we needed to say to a nursing home, ‘We need you to take this person even though they’re COVID-positive’.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, September 30.
Read the full story at: CNN
Social Media Disinfo
Circulating on social media: Claim that increase in UK COVID-19 cases proves masks are ineffective.
Factual Reads on Coronavirus
Trump joins Johnson, Bolsonaro in club of leaders diagnosed with Covid
Britain’s Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro are among the figures to have tested positive.
— NBC News, October 2
Inside the Coronavirus
What scientists know about the inner workings of the pathogen that has infected the world
— Scientific American, October 1
Voice of America – English
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Friday that President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis shows the importance of taking the pandemic seriously, telling Americans that wearing masks is more important than being a “tough guy.”
The remarks, which came as Biden campaigned in the battleground state of Michigan hours after testing negative twice for the coronavirus, served as an implicit criticism of the Republican president. Trump has played down the deadliness of the virus for months, frequently eschews masks and has held huge campaign rallies with little social distancing.
Trump’s illness put even greater attention on the coronavirus a little more than four weeks before the November 3 election. Trump flew to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Friday, where he will work from a special suite for the next few days as a precautionary measure, the White House said.
At a union hall in Grand Rapids, Biden said he and his wife, Jill Biden, were praying that Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, had a swift and full recovery. He delivered the entire speech while wearing a blue medical mask, a departure from prior events where he typically took off his mask before speaking.
“This is not a matter of politics,” Biden said. “It’s a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously. It’s not going away automatically.”
Biden urged all Americans to follow scientific guidelines, including wearing masks, washing hands frequently and staying 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Health officials, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, have said masks are a crucial tool for slowing the spread of the virus.
“Be patriotic,” Biden said. “It’s not about being a tough guy. It’s about doing your part.”
During Tuesday’s chaotic presidential debate, Trump mocked Biden for wearing a mask at his events, even when he is far away from other people.
The disease caused by the coronavirus has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States. Polls show voters trust Biden to handle the coronavirus more than Trump.
Biden leads Trump in national opinion polls, although surveys in the battleground states that will decide the contest show a closer race. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed Biden leading Trump by 5 percentage points among likely voters in Michigan.
Voice of America – English