Former Vice President Joe Biden tested negative for COVID-19 on Friday, a moment of relief for those panicked that he’d been infected by President Donald Trump at Tuesday’s debate.
While one negative test does not mean Biden is entirely out of the woods due to the virus’ long incubation period, the relatively low exposure from debate night puts Biden in a fairly safe spot.
“The negative test in itself should not be reassuring,” Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, told TPM. According to the CDC, COVID-19’s incubation period is 14 days with an average of four to five days from infection to the onset of symptoms. Biden’s Friday negative test happened about two and a half days after he shared the stage with Trump Tuesday night.
Still, Wen said, the chance of Trump transmitting the virus to Biden at the debate is “very low.”
“Just looking at that setting: yes it was inside and yes they didn’t have masks on and were at many times speaking loudly — but they were separated by quite some distance, well over six feet,” she said. She added that the debate lacked the usual opening handshake, and that absent Biden and Trump “hugging or kissing,” the risk from the encounter was minimal.
The lecterns at the debate were 12 feet and eight inches apart, per CNN. In keeping with CDC guidelines, Biden would only have to quarantine if he was within six feet of the President.
Trump announced his positive test in a 1 a.m. tweet Friday, though it is not clear exactly when he was infected or when he got his results.
Dr. Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University, also classified the risk to Biden from the debate as “very low.”
“The distance is some protection for Biden, as is the size of the room,” she told TPM, though she added that “Trump was yelling a lot, creating aerosols, and they were in the same space for 90 minutes.”
Hassig said that her bigger concern is the possible spreading from those in Trump’s orbit not quarantining or even wearing masks. She pointed out that despite Vice President Mike Pence’s negative test, he too could be infected but still within the incubation period.
“Pence is not yet definitively uninfected, and should also be quarantining,” she said. “The debate with [Kamala] Harris may need to be virtual.”
She also said that the type of COVID-19 tests being used to test the government officials is critical, as rapid tests are known to produce both false positives and negatives.
Trump announced his infection the day after news broke that his close aide Hope Hicks had tested positive for the virus after traveling with him extensively this week. Soon after, it was revealed that Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel had tested positive on Wednesday. According to the New York Times, she and Trump were together in Michigan on Friday.
No one on the Trump campaign forewarned the Biden campaign about the President’s positive diagnosis, or risk of infection, before Trump tweeted on Friday according to an NBC News reporter.