Election 2020 What Happens If

April 1, 2021

What Happens If…

With the President testing positive for COVID-19, all sorts of questions surface about risk — for him and the presidency.

Here’s what to know.

“The President and First Lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”

The President’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, who says he will continue to update the American public. The President and First Lady tested positive after a busy week of the first presidential debate and travel. COVID-19 symptoms typically develop anytime from 2-14 days after first exposure.


  • The President is 74 years old.
  • Conditions highlighted in the President’s recent annual physical exams include heart disease, elevated blood pressure and obesity.
  • His age & conditions put him at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19.
  • Context: While a person’s risk increases with age and pre-existing conditions, the majority of people in all age groups recover from COVID-19.

Statistically Speaking

COVID-19 data evolves constantly but here’s some perspective on age from the CDC:

A person over the age of 65 is at least:

  • 5x likely to be hospitalized than a person under 29
  • 90x more likely to die than a person under 29

When A President Falls Ill…

The Constitution provides some guidance on what happens if a president falls seriously ill for a prolonged period, but …

  • In general, while a President can fulfill his role, he will continue to do so.
  • Presidents have handed over power temporarily even when not ill, i.e. when undergoing procedures that require anesthesia, like a colonoscopy.

If A President Can No Longer Serve…

A President can transfer power, or it can be “taken” if they’re unable / unwilling to “pass it.” Here’s the order of succession:

  • Vice President (VP Mike Pence)
  • House Speaker (Rep. Nancy Pelosi)
  • Senate president pro tempore – “president for a time” – traditionally the longest-serving Senator of the majority party (Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA)

Pres. Trump isn’t the first president to fall ill during a pandemic. During the last major global pandemic, Pres. Woodrow Wilson contracted Spanish flu in 1919. He continued serving, even holding peace talks during his illness. Months later he suffered a stroke, but remained in office until the end of his term in 1921.

READ the first letter from President Trump’s physician

READ the second update from President Trump’s physician

READ the third update from President Trump’s physician

by Jenna Lee,