Trump pays drive-by visit to supporters outside hospital after doctors confirm his blood oxygen dropped twice
Donald Trump paid “a little surprise to some of the great patrons” outside the military hospital on Sunday where he’s being treated for COVID-19. The U.S. president wore a mask as he waved from the back seat of a black SUV that crawled in a caravan of vehicles in front of the hospital, while supporters waving Trump 2020 flags chanted, “USA! USA!”
The spectacle came just hours after his doctors revealed that Trump’s blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days.
Speaking on the steps of the military hospital where Trump spent a third day, his doctors again sidestepped questions, including the timing of his second dip in oxygen, which they neglected to mention in multiple statements the day before, or whether lung scans showed any damage.
It was the second straight day of obfuscation from a White House already suffering from a credibility crisis. And it raised serious questions about whether the doctors treating the president can be trusted to share accurate, timely information with the American public.
Pressed about conflicting information he and the White House released on Saturday, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley acknowledged that he had tried to present a rosy description of the president’s condition.
WATCH | Trump’s medical team confirms president was given oxygen Friday:
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team, that the president, that his course of illness has had. Didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” Conley said. “And in doing so, came off like we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
The briefing earlier Sunday outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center lasted just 10 minutes.
Before his transfer to hospital late Friday, Trump’s oxygen levels dipped and he had a high fever and was given supplemental oxygen for about an hour — but was not short of breath and was soon “moving about” with “only mild symptoms,” said Conley.
Trump’s blood oxygen level currently stands at 98 per cent, the president’s medical team said.
Blood oxygen saturation is a key health marker for COVID-19 patients. A normal reading is between 95 and 100. A drop below 90 is concerning.
The doctors also declined to say what they had found in scans of the president’s lungs.
“There’s some expected findings but nothing of any major clinical concern,” Conley said. He declined to outline those “expected findings.” The virus can cause pneumonia and other damage that may be visible in scans before a patient is feeling very sick.
Trump has been eager to return home and hates the image of himself at the hospital, according to people familiar with his mood. He has also been struggling to come to grips with the uncertainty of how long his illness will last and when he might be able to return to the campaign, with just weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election.
On Sunday afternoon, Trump also released a video on Twitter thanking the doctors and nurses at the military hospital.
Trump receives Dexamethasone
Another physician on the team, Dr. Brian Garibaldi of Johns Hopkins University, said Trump completed a second dose of the antiviral remdesivir on Saturday evening and reported no side effects.
“In response to transient low oxygen levels, as Dr. Conley has discussed, we did initiate dexamethasone therapy, and he received his first dose of that yesterday, and our plan is to continue that for the time being,” Garibaldi said.
Dexamethasone, a steroid, is shown in studies to improve survival for patients hospitalized with critical COVID-19 who need extra oxygen. But it should not be given in mild cases, since it can limit the body’s own ability to combat the virus, according to guidelines from the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“The fact of the matter is, he’s doing really well,” Conley said at Sunday’s media briefing.
WATCH | What is dexamethasone?
Trump’s illness has upended the election campaign and cast a spotlight on the president’s handling of the pandemic. The Republican president is trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden in opinion polls.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday found that Biden had opened a 10-point lead over Trump nationally, slightly wider than it has been for the past two months. Some 65 per cent of Americans said Trump likely would not have been infected had he taken the virus more seriously — a view that half of registered Republicans polled supported. Some 55 per cent said they did not believe Trump had been telling the truth about the virus.
Trump has repeatedly played down the threat of the pandemic, even as it has killed more than 208,000 Americans and hammered the U.S. economy.
Differing assessments of Trump’s health from administration officials on Saturday left it unclear how ill the president had become since he tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday night.
A White House team of doctors said on Saturday morning that Trump’s condition was improving and that he was already talking about returning to the White House.
Within minutes, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gave reporters a less rosy assessment, saying, “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning, and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
Meadows, whose initial comments were delivered on condition that he not be identified, altered his tone hours later, telling Reuters that Trump was doing “very well” and that “doctors are very pleased with his vital signs.”
He did not clarify the discrepancy in his comments. A Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said the president was not happy to learn of Meadows’s initial remarks.
Administration officials have described the move to Walter Reed as precautionary and said Trump would stay for several days.
However, in an interview with Fox News broadcast Saturday night, Meadows revealed that Trump’s condition on Friday was far worse than officials had made public, saying doctors recommended the president go to the hospital after seeing he had a fever and his blood oxygen level dropped rapidly.
Conley told reporters outside the hospital on Saturday that Trump had not had trouble breathing and was not given oxygen at Walter Reed.
He declined to give a timetable for Trump’s possible release from the hospital and later had to issue a statement saying he misspoke after appearing to suggest Trump had been diagnosed as early as Wednesday.
In a statement on Saturday evening, Conley said the president was “not yet out of the woods,” but his team remained cautiously optimistic.
Trump offered his own assessment of his status the night before in a video from his hospital suite, saying he was beginning to feel better and hoped to “be back soon.” He was back on social media early Sunday morning, sharing a video of flag-waving supporters, most not wearing masks, gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“Today’s spectacle — doctors saying one thing, White House sources saying another thing and both later amending their statements — only reinforces the credibility problems of this administration,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
With Trump off the campaign trail indefinitely, his campaign announced “Operation MAGA,” based on his slogan “Make America Great Again,” which will see high-profile allies — including Vice-President Mike Pence and Trump’s elder sons, Donald Jr. and Eric — take over in-person campaigning this week.
Pence, who tested negative on Friday, is scheduled to debate Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Wednesday.
Biden, who largely avoided direct criticism of Trump during a campaign trip to Michigan on Friday, took a more aggressive tone on Saturday while speaking to a transit workers’ union, even as he wished the president well.
“I’m in a little bit of a spot here, because I don’t want to be attacking the president and the first lady now,” Biden said, adding he hoped Trump and his wife, Melania, who also has the illness, make a full recovery.
But he quickly turned to Trump’s response to the pandemic, calling it “unconscionable” and blasting the president’s comment in an interview this past summer that “it is what it is” when asked about the death toll.
Biden, who tested negative on Friday, told reporters he would next be tested on Sunday. His campaign will begin releasing the results of each test, a spokesperson said.
WATCH | Illness may make Trump more relatable to voters, Republican strategist says:
Conley said doctors plan to keep Trump on a five-day course of remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral drug sold by Gilead Sciences Inc that has been shown to shorten hospital stays.
He is also taking an experimental treatment, Regeneron’s REGN-COV2, as well as zinc, vitamin D, famotidine (sold under the brand name Pepcid), melatonin and Aspirin, Conley has said.
A number of other prominent Republicans have also tested positive for the coronavirus since Trump’s announcement, including Republican senators Mike Lee, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson, former White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie