President Donald Trump told Americans "to get out there" and not fear Covid-19 as he returned to the White House on Monday after a three-night hospital stay to be treated for the virus and removed his white surgical mask to pose for pictures.
Asked how he felt on arrival at the White House, where his staff has been hit by infections and his re-election campaign shadowed by the pandemic, Mr Trump said: "Real good," according to a pool report by a journalist covering his return on behalf of other media.
Mr Trump wore a mask as he walked out of the helicopter that flew him back from a military hospital outside Washington and climbed the stairs of the White House South Portico, where he removed it and posed for pictures, waving, saluting and giving thumbs-up signs.
He then turned to walk into the White House, his mask still in his pocket, TV footage showed.
The Republican president, running for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 US election, was admitted to the Walter Reed Medical Center on Friday after being diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
"Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it," Mr Trump said in a recorded video message. "We're going back, we're going back to work. We're going to be out front. ... Don't let it dominate your lives. Get out there, be careful."
Mr Trump's nonchalant message about not fearing the virus has alarmed infectious disease experts.
"We have to be realistic in this: Covid is a complete threat to the American population," Dr. David Nace of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said of Mr Trump's comment.
"Most of the people aren't so lucky as the president," with an in-house medical unit and access to experimental treatments, added Nace, an expert on infections in older adults.
"It's an unconscionable message," agreed Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "I would go so far as to say that it may precipitate or worsen spread."
Likewise, Mr Biden said during an NBC town hall on Monday night that he was glad Trump seemed to be recovering well, "but there's a lot to be concerned about - 210,000 people have died. I hope no one walks away with the message that it's not a problem."
More than 200,000 Americans have died. 50,000 Americans are getting the virus every day. 1,000 a day are dying. This is a national emergency.
The President should take responsibility. pic.twitter.com/RpEZCjjUhq
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 6, 2020
The disease has killed more than 1 million people worldwide and more than 210,000 in the United States alone - the highest death toll of any country.
Mr Trump, 74, has not had a fever in more than 72 hours and his oxygen levels are normal, his medical team told reporters in front of the hospital. The doctors declined, however, to discuss any toll the disease could have on the president's lungs or disclose when Mr Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus.
The team added that the president had received supplemental oxygen twice in recent days.
"He may not entirely be out of the woods yet," Dr. Sean. P. Conley, the White House physician, said. "If we can get through to Monday with him remaining the same or improving, better yet, then we will all take that final, deep sigh of relief."
But Dr Conley said the medical team believed Mr Trump was ready to leave the hospital, stressing he would have world-class medical care around the clock at the White House.
Mr Conley said doctors were in "uncharted territory" because Mr Trump had received certain therapies so early in the course of the illness.
The severity of Trump's illness has been the subject of intense speculation, with some medical experts noting that, as an overweight, elderly man, he was in a category more likely to develop severe complications or die from the disease.
Doctors also have been treating him with a steroid, dexmethasone, that is normally used only in the most severe cases.
Mr Trump has frequently downplayed the threat of the pandemic. In recent days, he released a series of videos to reassure the public he was recovering from Covid-19.
He was reluctant to go to the hospital last week and was eager to get out, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters earlier on Monday.
US House of Representatives Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped Mr Trump's decision to return to the White House was not politically motivated and she expressed concern that he could become a "long hauler", a term that refers to those who suffer Covid-19 complications over an extended period.
Mr Trump's medical team said he had not placed any pressure on the doctors treating him.
Even being discharged, Mr Trump will need to continue treatment as he is still undergoing a five-day course of an intravenous antiviral drug, remdesivir, and will have to isolate himself for a certain period of time.
The coronavirus outbreak around Mr Trump widened on Monday when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she had tested positive for the virus.
Ms McEnany, who is at the forefront of the White House's often combative dealings with the media, held a briefing for reporters on Thursday in which she did not wear a face mask.
Chad Gilmartin and Karoline Leavitt, who work in the White House's press office, also have tested positive, a source confirmed to Reuters.