The White House and President Trump‘s doctors sought Sunday to project a positive message about the president’s battle against COVID-19 even as contradictory statements and limited information left a number of unanswered questions about his condition.
The team of doctors caring for President Trump on Sunday said he could return to the White House as soon as Monday while at the same time disclosing he had been on supplemental oxygen and that he was receiving a drug normally given to seriously ill patients.
And Trump himself sparked concern – and outrage – when he left his hospital room at Walter Reed Military Medical Center to wave to the supporters gathered outside from the back seat of an SUV.
The doctors also said Trump was given a steroid called dexamethasone that is generally given to people seriously ill with COVID-19, which has killed nearly 210,000 people in the U.S.
The White House physician admitted that officials had been intentionally vague a day earlier when pointedly asked when Trump had been administered supplemental oxygen in an attempt to be “upbeat” about the president’s prognosis.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, over his course of illness has had. I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction, and in doing so, came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true,” he told reporters in a Sunday morning news conference outside Walter Reed Medical Center, where Trump has been since Friday.
White House communications director Alyssa Farah after the medical briefing echoed that sentiment.
“The other point I would make, which is what [Conley] alluded to, is when you’re treating a patient, you want to project confidence. You want to lift their spirits, and that was the intent,” she said.
Asked whether Trump is being held in a negative pressure room, Conley declined to “get into the specifics of his care.”
Conley also said that he didn’t know whether Trump had received another dose of supplemental oxygen on Saturday, the second time he experienced a drop in his oxygen level, adding that he would need to check with the president’s nurses.
Trump himself appeared in a video later Sunday, promising a “surprise visit” to supporters gathered outside the hospital and saying that he had “learned a lot” about COVID-19 since his diagnosis.
Moments later, video showed Trump in the back of the presidential motorcade waving to supporters while mask-clad and safely behind a rolled-up window, an image that starkly contrasted with the maskless, barrier-free image the president has projected at campaign rallies and public appearances for months.
His foray outside the hospital raised a number of additional questions, however.
Deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement that “appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the President and all those supporting it, including PPE. The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.”
He declined to say though whether the president requested the motorcade, if the president met with anyone in-person on Sunday and why the press pool was not notified in advance.
“It is outrageous for the president to have left the hospital — even briefly — amid a health crisis without a protective pool present to ensure that the American people know where their president is and how he is doing,” the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) said in a statement.
“Now more than ever, the American public deserves independent coverage of the president so they can be reliably informed about his health,” added WHCA president Zeke Miller.
Meanwhile, allies of the president battled back assertions on Sunday from those who accused the president of falling victim to his own lack of preparedness and care regarding the virus’s spread at in-person events, such as his campaign rallies where attendees frequently go without masks and in violation of local social distancing guidelines.
“You can’t just stay locked up, whether it be in the attic or the basement,” Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller told CNN Sunday afternoon.
“I have no concerns at all [about Vice President Mike Pencecontinuing on the campaign trail,]” he said earlier on “Meet The Press.” “The vice president takes it very serious, all of these measures. Anyone around the vice president are tested. People are kept very safe. And again, we can’t hide from this virus forever, Chuck, we have to take it head on, and we have to reopen our economy.”
Numerous individuals in personal contact with the president or other administration officials have tested positive for the virus, while former Vice President Joe Biden (D) announced his own negative test Sunday evening.
The Trump campaign has also faced public criticism from the media as well as local officials for months over its lack of COVID-19 precautions at the campaign’s public events.
Democrats have long criticized the president for not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, particularly over the lack of a nationwide mask mandate and the frequent flaunting of COVID-19 guidelines by members of Trump’s inner circle, including at Tuesday’s debate where member of Trump’s own family were seen maskless, in defiance of local orders, just hours before the president would be diagnosed with the deadly virus.