Trump, still contagious, returns to White House without a mask

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BETHESDA, MD. – US President Donald Trump staged a dramatic return to the White House on Monday evening after leaving the military hospital where he was receiving an unprecedented level of care for COVID-19. He immediately sparked new controversy by declaring that despite his illness, the nation should not fear the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans – then he entered the White House without a face mask. Trump’s post alarmed infectious disease experts and suggested that the president’s own illness had not caused him to rethink his often cavalier attitude towards the disease, which also infected the first lady and several White House aides , including new cases revealed on Monday.

Landing at the White House on Marine One, Trump carefully climbed the steps of the South Portico, removed his mask and said, “I feel great.” He gave a double boost to the helicopter departing from the porch terrace, where assistants had placed American flags for the sunset. He entered the White House, where assistants were seen walking around the Blue Room, without covering their faces.

The president left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where his physician, Navy Cdr. Sean Conley said earlier Monday that the president remained contagious and wouldn’t be completely “out of the woods” for another week, but that Trump had met or exceeded hospital discharge standards. Trump is expected to continue his recovery in the White House, where the scope of the epidemic that has infected the highest levels of the US government is still being discovered.

Yet barely a month before the election and anxious to project his strength, Trump tweeted before leaving the hospital: “Will be back on the campaign trail soon !!! And in case anyone missed his message not to worry earlier, he released a new White House video.

“Don’t be afraid,” Trump said of the virus. “You’re going to beat him. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best drugs. His remarks were strong, but he was taking deeper breaths than usual as he said them.

Trump’s nonchalant message not to fear the virus comes as his own administration has urged Americans to be extra careful and take precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the disease as cases continue to climb in across the country. For more than eight months, Trump’s efforts to downplay the threat of the virus in the hope of supporting the economy ahead of the election drew bipartisan criticism.

“We have to be realistic in this regard: COVID is a total threat to the American population,” Dr. David Nace of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said of Trump’s comment.

“Most people aren’t as lucky as the president,” with an internal medical unit and access to experimental treatments, added Nace, an expert on infections in the elderly.

“This is an unreasonable message,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “I would go so far as to say that it can precipitate or worsen the spread. ”

Likewise, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Trump last week, told an NBC town hall on Monday night that he was happy Trump looked okay. recover, “but there is much to fear. approximately – 210,000 people died. I hope no one comes away with the message that this is not a problem. ”

Biden, who tested negative for the virus on Sunday, said in an interview with WPLG Local 10 News in Miami: “I saw a tweet he made, they showed me, he said: ‘Ne don’t let COVID control your life. This to all the “families who have lost someone”.

A prominent Trump political supporter was also pushed back.

Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that Trump has “let his guard down” in his effort to show the country is going beyond the virus and created “confusion” over how to stay safe.

Dr Conley said that due to Trump’s unusual level of treatment so soon after discovering his illness, he was in “uncharted territory.” But the doctor was also optimistic during an afternoon briefing and said the president could resume his normal schedule once “there is no evidence of a living virus still present”.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can be contagious for as many people – and must self-isolate for at least – 10 days.

Trump’s arrival in the White House raised new questions about how the administration would protect others responsible for a disease that remains endemic in the president’s body. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced that she had tested positive for the virus on Monday morning and was in quarantine.

There were also lingering questions about the potential long-term effects for the president – and even when he first caught the virus.

Conley has repeatedly refused to share the results of medical tests of Trump’s lungs, saying he was not free to discuss the information because Trump had not waived doctor-patient confidentiality on the matter. COVID-19 is known to cause significant damage to the lungs of some patients. Conley also declined to share the date of Trump’s last negative test for the virus – a critical point for contact tracing and understanding Trump’s situation during the illness.

Only a day earlier, Trump suggested he had finally grasped the true nature of the virus, saying in a video, “I understand.” But on Sunday afternoon, he ventured out of hospital as contagious to greet supporters cheered by a procession – an outing that ignored precautions to contain the virus.

At the hospital, doctors revealed that her blood oxygen levels had dropped suddenly twice in the past few days and that they had given her a steroid generally recommended only for the very sick.

Trump’s experience with the disease has been radically different from that of most Americans, who lack access to the same kind of surveillance and care. While most have to deal with their symptoms – and fear to see if they will turn out badly – at home and on their own, Trump has remained in the presidential suite at one of the country’s top hospitals and received experimental drugs. . not easily accessible to the public. He returns to the White House where there is a team of doctors on call with 24-hour follow-up.

Trump was leaving the hospital after receiving a fourth dose of the antiviral drug remdesivir on Monday evening, Conley said. He will receive the fifth and final dose on Tuesday at the White House.

Vice President Mike Pence returned to the campaign trail moments after Trump announced he would be discharged from hospital soon. The vice president boarded Air Force Two for Salt Lake City, where he is scheduled to face Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday.

Trump, in his new video, has defended his decision to repeatedly flout his own administration’s guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, including organizing rallies with thousands of largely maskless supporters.

Apparently referring to any potential danger to himself rather than to others, he said, “I stood in the lead. I directed. No one who is a leader would do what I did. He added: “And I know there is a risk, there is a danger. But that’s OK. And now I’m better. And maybe I’m immune, I don’t know. ”

Even before Trump’s motorcade exited on Sunday, some Secret Service agents had expressed concern about 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. .

Trump’s aggressive treatment included the steroid dexamethasone and the single dose he received on Friday of an experimental drug from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. that supplies antibodies to help the immune system fight off 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.

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Miller and Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press editors Lauran Neergaard and Jonathan Lemire in Washington, and Bill Barrow in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed to this report.

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