President Donald Trump went through a “very concerning” period Friday and faces a “critical” next two days in his fight against COVID-19 at a military hospital, his chief of staff said Saturday — in contrast to a rosier assessment moments earlier by Trump doctors, who took pains not to reveal the president had received supplemental oxygen at the White House before his hospital admission.
Trump offered his own assessment Saturday evening in a video from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, saying he was beginning to feel better and hoped to “be back soon.”
Hours earlier, chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters outside the hospital, “We’re still not on a clear path yet to a full recovery.”
The changing, and at times contradictory, accounts created a credibility crisis for the White House at a crucial moment, with the president’s health and the nation’s leadership on the line. With Trump expected to remain hospitalized several more days and the presidential election looming, his condition is being anxiously watched by Americans.
Moreover, the president’s health represents a national security issue of paramount importance not only to the functions of the U.S. government but to countries around the world, friendly and otherwise.
Saturday’s briefing by Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley and other doctors raised more questions than it answered. Conley repeatedly refused to say whether the president ever needed supplemental oxygen, despite repeated questioning, and declined to share key details including how high a fever Trump had been running before it came back down to a normal range. Conley also revealed that Trump had begun exhibiting “clinical indications” of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, earlier than previously known.
Conley spent much of the briefing dodging reporters’ questions, as he was pressed for details.
“Thursday no oxygen. None at this moment. And yesterday with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen,” Conley said.
But according to a person familiar with Trump’s condition, Trump was administered oxygen at the White House on Friday morning, well before he was transported to the military hospital by helicopter that evening. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity,
Conley said that Trump’s symptoms, including a mild cough, nasal congestion and fatigue “are now resolving and improving,” and said the president had been fever-free for 24 hours. But Trump also is taking aspirin, which lowers body temperature and could mask or mitigate that symptom.
“He’s in exceptionally good spirits,” said another doctor, Sean Dooley, who said Trump’s heart, kidney, and liver functions were normal and that he was not having trouble breathing or walking around.
In an evening health update, Conley said Trump had been up and moving around his medical suite without difficulty and conducting business. “While not yet out of the woods, the team remains cautiously optimistic,” he said.
In the hospital video, Trump defended his decision to continue campaigning and holding large events in the midst of a pandemic.
“I had no choice,” said Trump, who refused to abide by basic public health recommendations, including mask-wearing. “I had to be out front … I can’t be locked up in a room upstairs and totally safe. … As a leader, you have to confront problems.”
Trump also thanked his medical team and hailed the state-of-the-art treatments he was receiving, comparing them to “miracles coming down from God.” Trump’s medical care is far superior to the average American’s, with around-the-clock attention and experimental treatments.
The president was angry at Meadows’ public assessment of his health and, in an effort to prove his vitality, Trump ordered up the video and authorized longtime confidant Rudy Giuliani to release a statement on his behalf that he was feeling well, according to a Republican close to the White House not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Trump is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has infected more than 7 million people nationwide and killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S.
First lady Melania Trump remained at the White House to recover from her own bout with the virus. She was “really handling it very nicely,” Trump said in the video, noting with a touch of humor that she was “just a little tiny bit younger” — in fact, 24 years younger.
Meadows himself had insisted Friday morning that Trump had only “mild symptoms” as the White House tried to project an image of normalcy. It was unclear whether Trump already had received oxygen when Meadows spoke.
“President Trump remains in good spirts, has mild symptoms and has been working throughout the day,” said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She said Trump had only been sent to Walter Reed as a precaution.
Trump’s administration has been less than transparent with the public throughout the pandemic, both about the president’s health and the virus’ spread inside the White House. The first word that a close aide to Trump had been infected came from the media, not the White House. And aides have repeatedly declined to share basic health information, including a full accounting of the president’s symptoms, what tests he’s undertaken and the results.
In a memo released late Friday, Conley did report that Trump had been treated at the hospital with remdesivir, an antiviral medication, after taking another experimental drug at the White House.
Conley declined to say when Trump had last been tested before he was confirmed to have COVID-19 late Thursday. He initially suggested that Trump was 72 hours into the diagnosis, putting the confirmation of the infection to Wednesday. Conley later clarified that Trump was administered an accurate test for the virus on Thursday afternoon, after White House aide Hope Hicks was confirmed to be positive and Trump exhibited unspecified “clinical indications” of the virus.
The White House said Trump was expected to stay at the hospital for “a few days” and he would continue to work from the hospital’s presidential suite, which is equipped to allow him to keep up his official duties. In addition to accessibility to tests and equipment, the decision was made, at least in part, with the understanding that moving him later, if he took a turn for the worse, could send a worrying signal.
On Saturday, Conley said Trump’s blood oxygen level is 96%, which is in the normal range. Trump has been treated with two experimental drugs, given through an IV, that have shown some promise against COVID-19. On Friday, he was given a single dose of a drug Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. is testing to supply antibodies to help his immune system fight the virus.
Friday night, he began a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug currently used for moderately and severely ill patients. The drugs work in different ways — the antibodies help the immune system rid the body of virus and remdesivir curbs the virus’ ability to multiply.
“We’re maximizing all aspects of his care,” attacking the virus in multiple ways, Conley said. “I didn’t want to hold anything back if there was any possibility it would add value to his care.”
As to whether hydroxychloroquine was being used, the doctor said they discussed it but “he was not on it now.”
“He had a little cough, he had a fever. More than anything, he is feeling a little run down,” Dr. Conley said.
“He’s up and active.”
At the same time, the White House has been working to trace a flurry of new infections of close Trump aides and allies. Attention is focused in particular on last Saturday’s White House event introducing Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. That day, Trump gathered more than 150 people in the Rose Garden, where they mingled, hugged and shook hands — overwhelmingly without masks. There were also several indoor receptions, where Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, her family, senators and others spent time in the close quarters of the White House, photographs show.
Former top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway tweeted she tested positive for COVID-19. It’s unknown where she contracted the virus, but she is the seventh person to attend a Saturday White House Rose Garden event and test positive for the virus.
Among those who attended who have now tested positive: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, the president of the University of Notre Dame, and at least three Republican lawmakers — Utah Sen. Mike Lee, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.
Despite its failure to protect the president and senior staff from infection, the White House still did not appear to be taking the highly infectious disease as seriously as possible.
Meadows, the chief of staff, accompanied the president to the hospital on Marine One, the kind of small, enclosed space where experts say the virus easily spreads.
And while Vice President Mike Pence is currently off the campaign trail preparing for the coming week’s vice presidential debate, he and his staff are operating under a “business as usual” approach. He’s still planning to travel to Arizona on Thursday, Indiana on Friday and Florida on Saturday for events instead of isolating himself after potential exposure and to protect himself from contracting the virus anywhere else.
The decision for the president to leave the White House for the hospital capped a day of whipsaw events in Washington Friday. The president, who has spent months playing down the threat of the virus, was forced to cancel all campaign events a month before the election.
Trump walked out of the White House on Friday evening wearing a mask and gave a thumbs-up to reporters but did not speak before boarding Marine One. Members of the aircrew, Secret Service agents and White House staff wore face coverings to protect themselves from the president onboard the helicopter.
In a video taped before leaving for Walter Reed, Trump said, “I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out.” He remained fully president, all authority intact.
President Donald Trump posted a brief video on social media on Friday evening before his departure to Walter Reed Medical Center, saying that he and first lady Melania Trump are “doing very well.”
“Going welI, I think! Thank you to all. LOVE!!!” he wrote in his first tweet from the hospital Friday night.
Trump first revealed that he had tested positive in a tweet about 1 a.m. Friday — hours after he returned from a Thursday afternoon political fundraiser. He had gone ahead to the event, saying nothing to the crowd though knowing he had been exposed to an aide with the disease.
First lady Melania Trump also tested positive and has said she has mild symptoms. She is believed to be isolating at the White House. On Saturday morning her Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham issued an update on her condition, saying the first lady is doing well.
“Her symptoms have not worsened and she continues to rest. She remains in touch with her husband. She is thinking of all who are ill and wishes them a speedy recovery,” the statement read.
Dr. Conley also restated that the first lady was doing great during Saturday’s morning press conference. “She has no indication for hospitalization or advanced therapy. She’s convalescing at home,” he said.
President Trump was taken to Walter Reed medical center Friday evening after developing symptoms of COVID-19 — raising concerns about his health and questions about the political fallout of his illness. Dr. Ugo Iroku and USA Today reporter David Jackson joined LX News to discuss his health risks and the political implications of his hospitalization.
Trump’s diagnosis came during an already turbulent period in Washington and around the world, with the U.S. gripped in a heated presidential election and the pandemic taking a heavy human and economic toll. Trump’s immediate campaign events were all canceled, and his next debate with Democrat Joe Biden, scheduled for Oct. 15, is now in question.
Trump has been trying all year — and as recently as Wednesday — to convince the American public that the worst of the pandemic is past, and he has consistently played down concerns about being personally vulnerable. He has mostly refused to abide by basic public health guidelines — including those issued by his own administration — such as wearing face coverings in public and practicing social distancing. Until he tested positive, he continued to hold campaign rallies that drew thousands of often maskless supporters.
“I felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” he told reporters back in May. With the election coming up in a month, he is urging states and cities to “reopen” and reduce or eliminate shutdown rules despite continuing virus outbreaks.
Both Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have tested negative, their campaign said. Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus Friday morning and “remains in good health,” his spokesman said. Pence was to resume his campaign schedule after his test.
A White House official told NBC News the Vice President and Second Lady Karen Pence were re-tested Saturday morning and received negative test results.
Barrett, who was with Trump and many others on Saturday and has been on a Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers, also tested negative, the White House said. It was confirmed that she had a mild case of COVID earlier this year and has now recovered.
Medical experts say President Trump’s age and weight increase his risk of severe complications as he battles COVID-19.
Many White House and senior administration officials were undergoing tests, but the full scale of the outbreak around the president may not be known for some time as it can take days for an infection to be detectable by a test. Officials with the White House Medical Unit were tracing the president’s contacts.
Trump’s handling of the pandemic has already been a flashpoint in his race against Biden, who spent much of the summer off the campaign trail and at his home in Delaware, citing concern about the virus. Biden has since resumed a more active campaign schedule, but with small, socially distanced crowds. He also regularly wears a mask in public, something Trump mocked him for at Tuesday night’s debate.
“I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from me, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”