BETHESDA, Md. (AP) – President Donald Trump was hoping for a Monday discharge from the military hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19, a day after briefly venturing outside while it was contagious to greet supporters cheered by a procession in a movement that neglected precautions to contain the deadly virus that has killed more than 209,000 Americans.
White House officials said Trump was anxious to be released after three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where medics revealed on Sunday that his blood oxygen levels had dropped suddenly twice in recent days. and that they had given him a steroid generally recommended only for the very ill. Still, doctors said Trump’s health was improving and volunteered so he could be released as early as Monday to continue the rest of his treatment at the White House.
“This is an important day as the president continues to improve and is ready to return to a normal work schedule,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Fox News on Monday. He said the decision to leave the hospital would not be made until later today after the president’s assessment by his medical team, but Trump was “optimistic” he could be released on Monday.
Less than a month before polling day, Trump was eager to project his strength despite his illness. The still contagious president surprised supporters who had gathered outside the hospital, passing in a black SUV with the windows rolled up. Secret service agents inside the vehicle could be seen in masks and other protective gear.
The move capped a weekend of contradictions that fueled confusion over Trump’s health, jeopardized the leadership of the U.S. government and upended the final stages of the presidential campaign. While Trump’s doctor offered an optimistic prognosis for his condition, his briefings lacked basic information, including lung scan results, or were quickly clouded by more serious assessments of the president’s health by others. responsible.
In a short video released by the White House on Sunday, Trump insisted he understands the gravity of the moment. But his actions moments later, leaving the hospital and sitting inside the SUV with others, suggested otherwise.
“It’s madness,” Dr. James P. Phillips, attending physician at Walter Reed who criticizes Trump and his handling of the pandemic. “Everyone in the vehicle during this completely unnecessary presidential drive-by must now be quarantined for 14 days. They could get sick. They can die.
“For political theater,” added the doctor. “Ordered by Trump to put their lives in danger for the theater. “
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White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump’s trip out of the hospital “had been cleared by the medical team as safe to do.” He added that precautions had been taken, including the use of personal protective equipment, to protect Trump as well as White House officials and Secret Service agents.
Joe Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, said the Democratic presidential candidate tested negative for coronavirus again on Sunday. The results come five days after Biden spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Trump. Biden, who took a much more cautious approach to in-person events, suffered two negative tests on Friday.
For his part, Trump still faces questions about his health.
On Sunday, his doctors avoided questions about exactly when Trump’s blood oxygen plummeted – an episode they neglected to mention in several statements the day before – or whether lung scans showed damage.
It was the second consecutive day of obscuring a White House already in the grip of a credibility crisis. And it has raised further doubts as to whether the doctors treating the president were sharing accurate and timely information with the American public about the severity of his condition.
Pressed over conflicting information he and the White House released on Saturday, Navy Cmdr. Dr Sean Conley admitted that he had tried to present a sunnier description of the President’s condition.
“I was trying to reflect the optimistic attitude that the team, the president, had in his illness. I didn’t want to give out any information that might point the course of the disease in another direction, ”said Conley. “And in doing so, you know, it turned out that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The point is, he’s doing very well.
Medical experts said Conley’s revelations were difficult to reconcile with his positive assessment and talk of a discharge.
“There’s a little disconnect,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, medical and scientific director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
It was not clear how long Trump’s recovery would continue in the White House once he was demobilized.
According to CDC guidelines, “In general, transportation and movement of a patient with a suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection outside of their room should be limited to essential medical purposes.”
Even before Trump’s motorcade exited on Sunday, some Secret Service agents expressed concern over the nonchalant attitude towards masks and social distancing in the White House, but there is little they can do, agents say. and officials who spoke to the Associated Press. . As the election approaches, thousands of officers are engaged in a duty of protection so that they can be replaced quickly if someone tests positive.
The revelations about Trump’s oxygen levels and steroid treatment suggest the president is experiencing more than a mild case of COVID-19.
Blood oxygen saturation is a key health marker for patients with COVID-19. A normal reading is between 95 and 100. Conley said the president had a “high fever” and blood oxygen levels below 94% on Friday and during “another episode” on Saturday.
He was elusive about the timing of Trump’s oxygen drops. (“It was during the day, yes, yesterday morning,” he said) and asked if Trump’s level had fallen below 90%, in territory of concern. (“We don’t have any records here on that.”) But he did reveal that Trump was given a dose of the steroid dexamethasone in response.
At the time of the briefing, Trump’s blood oxygen level was 98% – in normal rabies, Trump’s medical team said.
Signs of pneumonia or other lung damage could be detected in scans before a patient feels short of breath, but the president’s medics declined to say what those scans revealed.
“There are expected results, but nothing of any major clinical problem,” Conley said. He declined to describe these “expected conclusions”.
Asked about Conley’s lack of transparency, White House Assistant Alyssa Farah suggested that doctors talk to the President as much as they do to the American public, “When you treat a patient, you want to project confidence, you want to pump them up. morale, and that was the intention.
In all, nearly 7.4 million people have been infected in the United States, and few have access to the kind of 24-hour experimental attention and treatment like Trump.
Trump’s treatment with the steroid dexamethasone comes in addition to the single dose he was given on Friday of an experimental drug from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. that supplies antibodies to help the immune system fight the virus. Trump also began a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug currently used for moderately and critically ill patients, on Friday. Medicines work in different ways: Antibodies help the immune system rid the body of the virus, and remdesivir slows down the virus’s ability to multiply.
Garibaldi, a specialist in critical lung care, said the president was not showing any side effects from the drugs “we can tell.”
The National Institutes of Health COVID-19 treatment guidelines recommend not using dexamethasone in patients who do not need oxygen. It has only been proven in more severe cases. One of the concerns with previous use is that steroids crowd out certain immune cells, hampering the body’s ability to fight infections.
Trump is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at a higher risk of serious complications.
First Lady Melania Trump has remained in the White House as she recovers from her own battle with the virus.
Several White House officials over the weekend expressed frustration with the level of transparency and public disclosure since the president announced his diagnosis early Friday.
They were particularly upset by the boost between Conley’s optimistic assessment on Saturday and the more concerned outlook from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. They privately admit that the administration has little credibility on COVID-19 and that they have needlessly wasted what is left with the lack of clear and precise updates on Trump’s status.
Many in the White House are also shaken and scared – nervous about being exposed to the virus and faced with the reality that what looked like a security bubble has become a COVID-19 hotspot. It wasn’t until late Sunday that the White House sent a generic note to staff members suggesting they don’t come into the building if they’re not feeling well.
People reported from New York. Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press editors Lauran Neergaard, Jonathan Lemire and Aamer Madhani in Washington, and Bill Barrow in Wilmington, Del., And Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee contributed to this report.