(AP)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany may have exposed reporters and White House staff to the coronavirus during a contentious briefing on Thursday after Hope Hicks, a senior aide to the president, reported feeling ill the day before.

Donald Trump announced that Ms Hicks tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday night.

Two hours later, he announced that he also tested positive, along with first lady Melania Trump, hours after the president held an event at his New Jersey golf club with more than 100 people and travelled to Minnesota for a fundraiser and a rally on Wednesday.

The press secretary told reporters on Friday that she did not know Ms Hicks had tested positive for the disease when she briefed reporters on Thursday.

She said she learned about her diagnosis after the briefing.

Ms Hicks, who joined White House staff during the president’s campaigning to Minnesota, reported not feeling well before returning to Washington DC and isolated herself aboard Air Force One. She tested positive the following day.

Ms McEnany did not travel with the group. She held a briefing at 11.22am on Thursday.

On Friday, MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were outraged that the White House held the briefing following Ms Hicks’ illness.

Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire told the hosts that the press secretary was aware of Ms Hicks’ positive diagnosis, though administration officials disputed that assertion.

“Are you kidding me?” Mr Scarborough said.

“Oh my god,” Ms Brzezinski added. “Stop right there.”

Ms McEnany and other White House staff did not wear masks during Thursday’s briefing.

During the briefing, she was asked whether it was appropriate that the president continue to hold rallies to thousands of supporters despite risks of infections in so-called “red zones” where infection rates remain high.

She said: “The president believes that people have a First Amendment right to political speech.  He is having a rally.  People can choose whether or not to come.”

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Ms McEnany added that the measures are in place to protect attendees, including encouraging masks and use of hand sanitizer.

“Is there really seems to be two standards of health in this country, one for Trump supporters and one for everyone else,” she said.  “So it’s vital if you’re protesting, but somehow political speech is no longer vital when it comes to a Trump supporter.”

Ms Hicks’ diagnosis was known to only a small circle of senior White House staff, according to reports, before the president announced that she had tested positive late on Thursday, after Bloomberg correspondent Jennifer Jacobs reported that a senior official had tested positive.

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