US President Donald Trump remained in a military hospital on Sunday for a third day amid conflicting reports about his condition even as doctors reported steady progress adding that he could be released as soon as Monday.
In a late morning press conference, White House doctor Sean Conley said Trump had not had a fever for two days. “If everything continues to go well, we're going to start discharge plans back to the White House,” Conley added.
Doctors added that Trump was on the second day of a planned five-day course of Remdesivir, an antiviral medicine, and is being treated with the powerful steroid dexamethasone amid indications that his lungs may have suffered some damage.
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But they also indicated that his condition has been more serious than they let on after a memo from Conley on Saturday night had noted that the president “is not yet out of the woods”.
Doctors said Trump received supplemental oxygen on Saturday, which had not been previously disclosed; that his blood oxygen level dropped twice in recent days into the low 90s before returning to a healthy 99 per cent level; and that all kidney, liver and heart functions appeared normal.
Since Trump announced his illness in a tweet early Friday morning, his illness has been the subject of confusion over when exactly he contracted the disease, how sick he was and what treatment he was receiving.
In an apparent effort to counter reports that he was worse off than some of the rosy portrayals, a pale Trump took to video on Saturday evening saying he was starting to feel well but “we’ll have to see what happens the next few days”.
“We’re working hard to get me all the way back,” he added.
The damage-control efforts are coming from a White House that has not been particularly transparent at the best of times.
On Sunday, Conley sought to clarify his at-times cagey and evasive responses a day earlier over whether Trump had ever used oxygen and when Trump first got sick.
At issue is whether the illness was initially covered up and how many people were potentially exposed by a White House that has discouraged mask wearing and repeatedly played down the pandemic.
Conley said he was trying to be upbeat. “And in doing so, you know, came off that we're trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”
A few hours later, White House communications director Alyssa Farah told reporters she could not confirm reports that two White House residence staff members have tested positive. She added, without wearing a mask, that the administration was committed to regular updates and that Trump’s doctor was only trying to "project confidence" and lift the president's spirits when he appeared to give questionable information.
If Conley has sought to reassure the world, he’s “botched it”, said Tim Naftali, a presidential historian with New York University, speaking on CNN.
Adding to the confusion, a source later identified as Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows told White House pool reporters on Saturday that things were more serious than Conley suggested.
“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,” he said.
A few hours later, Meadows told Fox News that Trump had a fever on Friday morning and his oxygen level “dropped rapidly” before adding that Trump had made “unbelievable improvements”.
Several news media outlets reported, citing sources, that Trump was unhappy with coverage that made him look weak and suggested his condition might be worse than portrayed. That led to a string of videos and tweets meant to portray him as in control and well on his way to recovery.
In an echo of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s praise for the National Health Service after his serious bout with Covid-19 in April, Trump praised the medical staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, even as he tried to justify his administration’s slow and disjointed pandemic response.
A Trump tweet read: “Doctors, Nurses and ALL at the GREAT Walter Reed Medical Center, and others from likewise incredible institutions who have joined them, are AMAZING!!!Tremendous progress has been made over the last 6 months in fighting this PLAGUE. With their help, I am feeling well!”
But the numbers hardly suggest tremendous progress, an embarrassment for one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Trump joins over 7.3 million Americans now infected as the death toll approaches 210,000 and only three US states are improving while 21 are getting worse.
Concerned that people were becoming numb to the death toll as politicians deflect attention or downplay the pandemic, a non-partisan group organized a memorial in Washington on Sunday with 20,000 empty chairs, hosted by Grammy Award winner and former US Ambassador for Health Dionne Warwick.
Organizers said the chairs were meant to represent a fraction of the US loss of life Covid-19 has exacted in just six months.
The administration’s credibility crisis deepened after the president was called out online over the weekend for apparently signing a blank piece of paper at Walter Reed in an attempt to show he was hard at work while fighting the virus.
Zooming in on photos released by the administration, White House reporter Andrew Feinberg wrote on Twitter that Trump “appears to be signing his name to a blank sheet of paper”. This led to a number of mocking posts and saw the word “staged” start trending on Twitter on Sunday morning.
Trump’s illness, after months of downplaying the disease and calling it a “hoax”, comes at a particularly inopportune time. His support is sliding before the presidential election amid partisan fights over Covid-19 economic relief and his Supreme Court pick.
Strategists have huddled even as several Trump’s aides, and three Republican senators needed to vote for Amy Coney Barrett’s high court confirmation, have also tested positive.
Early indications suggest Vice-President Mike Pence, who tested negative, could pick up some of the campaign slack in Trump’s place.
“I have to be back, because we still have to make America great again,” Trump said.
At 74, clinically obese, male and suffering from high cholesterol, Trump is at greater risk than many others infected by the disease.
On the political front, analysts have sought to predict the political impact of his illness, even as Trump vows to return quickly to the campaign trail with the help of “miracle” therapeutics as Trump faces off against Democrat rival Joe Biden.
“In one outcome, Trump doesn't get better, and the undecided flock to the physically healthier Biden,” said Jeremy Zogby with polling firm Zogby Strategies. “In the other scenario - and as of now, this appears to be more likely - Trump recovers and touts the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, as well as the necessity to keep the economy open. But stay tuned.”
Hydroxychloroquine is a malaria drug that Trump has promoted as a cure for the virus, despite the skepticism of many health experts.
“We have things happening that look like they're miracles coming down from God,” said Trump of the medicine he was taking on Saturday.
Biden’s team has pulled its attack ads off the air during Trump’s hospitalization – it’s not clear that the Trump campaign has followed suit -- and on Sunday sought to deliver a largely friendly message. This came in the wake of the chaotic debate last Tuesday when Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and criticized him for wearing surgical masks.
“We are sincerely hoping that the president makes a very quick recovery, and we can see him back out on the campaign trail very soon,“ Biden adviser Symone Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union” before adding: “This is a glaring reminder that the virus is real.”
Trump also gave a shout out to his base, re-posting a video of fans //mostly not wearing masks// honking, shouting and waving large blue “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” banners just outside the hospital.
First lady Melania Trump has remained at the White House to recover from her more mild bout with the virus, a choice Trump said he rejected.
“Stay in the White House, lock yourself in, don't ever leave, don't even go to the Oval Office,” he said in his video. “I can't do that. We have to confront problems, as a leader you have to confront problems. There's never been a great leader that would have done that.”
Trump said Melania was “really handling it very nicely,” noting with a touch of humor that she was “just a little tiny bit younger” when in fact she is nearly 25 years younger.
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