At times, there has been a jarring split screen between the president’s nonchalance and the sober warnings of the nation’s top health officials, who have been more aggressive about warning certain vulnerable populations not to travel.
Asked on Wednesday at the White House what he had to say to those concerned he is not taking the situation seriously enough, Mr. Trump offered a tart, terse reply: “Fake news,” the president snapped, before dismissing reporters from the room.
The fallout from the president’s handling of the crisis might have been more easily dismissed as liberal, anti-Trump paranoia if not for an improbable twist of events. A person infected with the coronavirus attended one of the conservative world’s biggest annual gatherings last week, the Conservative Political Action Conference, leading some politicians like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to voluntarily quarantine themselves.
Before this person’s status was made public — he was a V.I.P. attendee who purchased a $5,750 “gold” package that granted him access to backstage reception rooms where members of Congress and other high-profile figures mingled — conservatives at the conference were accusing the president’s enemies of inflating the seriousness of the outbreak.
The former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, speaking from the conference stage last Friday, insisted falsely that the media had only just started paying attention to the coronavirus after the impeachment trial ended. And the reason, he added, was “they think this is going to be what brings down the president.”
But over the next few days, CPAC’s organizers were pelted with questions from fellow conservatives, some of whom said they shook the infected guest’s hand, about why they had been left in the dark.
Suddenly the “hoax,” as Mr. Hannity and others have called the response to the virus, hit home.
Raheem Kassam, a former Breitbart News editor, was one of several conservative activists who attended CPAC and expressed frustration about how the group handled the incident. Mr. Kassam, who said he felt sick over the weekend and on social media chronicled his frustrated attempts to obtain a coronavirus test, knew that he might have been exposed only after someone who works in the office of a member of Congress who was also exposed contacted him.