Donald Trump could be discharged from hospital on Monday, his doctors said, after a weekend of obfuscation from the White House about the president’s health following his admission to Walter Reed with Covid-19 on Friday.
Sean Conley, the White House doctor overseeing the medical team treating Mr Trump, on Sunday said the president “continued to improve”.
But he sparked fresh questions about whether he was giving a full picture after acknowledging that Mr Trump’s oxygen levels had dropped twice over three days, requiring him to receive supplementary oxygen once.
Brian Garibaldi, another of his doctors, said the medical team hoped to discharge him on Monday if he continued to feel as good as he did on Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, Mr Trump posted a video on Twitter showing himself up and about in the hospital. He then proceeded to drive past the hundreds of supporters gathered outside the military hospital in Maryland in a black SUV with a driver and at least one other person in the vehicle.
“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential “drive-by” just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” tweeted Dr James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Emergency Medicine, who is an attending physician at Walter Reed.
“They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”
While Mr Trump looked healthier in Sunday’s video than in one he tweeted out on Saturday, his doctors revealed that he was being administered an anti-inflammatory steroid called dexamethasone to help him breathe.
The WHO recommends the steroid for patients with “severe” Covid-19. The US National Institutes of Health recommends it only be given to patients who need ventilation machines to breathe or supplemental oxygen.
Derek Angus, chair of the critical care medicine department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said it was a “bad idea” to give dexamethasone to Covid-19 patients who did not require “significant oxygen support” given the safety concerns associated with steroids.
But he said it was hard to evaluate the situation as the president’s doctors had given him “several therapies for which there is no proof of benefit”.
“It could be he is now quite sick, or it could mean that his medical team has reached once more for an unproven therapy,” said Dr Angus.
Asked on Sunday why he had painted an overly rosy picture the previous day, Dr Conley said he was reflecting the “upbeat attitude” of the president.
“I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” he added. “And in doing so . . . came off like we were trying to hide something which wasn’t necessarily true.”
At his briefing on Saturday, Dr Conley had repeatedly evaded questions about whether Mr Trump had received oxygen.
After the briefing, Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, told reporters that the situation had been more severe than Dr Conley had described. “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,” Mr Meadows said.
Asked on Sunday who to believe, Dr Conley said Mr Meadows had been misunderstood. He said the chief of staff was referring to a “transient” moment on Friday when Mr Trump had a high fever and required oxygen.
Critics have asked why Dr Conley has refused to say when Mr Trump got his last negative test, before testing positive. On Saturday, he suggested Mr Trump had first tested positive on Wednesday, not late on Thursday as claimed. He later issued a clarification that failed to quell the speculation.
The Wall Street Journal on Sunday said Mr Trump had already tested positive on Thursday when he appeared on Fox television and said he was waiting for a test result after Hope Hicks, an aide, tested positive. The second test showed the same result — that he had contracted Covid-19.
Mr Trump has been put on several medications, including an experimental antibody cocktail manufactured by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. He is also taking a five-day course of remdesivir, an antiviral treatment manufactured by Gilead Sciences that has not yet been given full regulatory approval.
Jonathan Reiner, a George Washington University doctor and cardiologist for former vice-president Dick Cheney, raised questions on Twitter about the implications of Mr Trump getting the combination of drugs.
“His condition was felt to be so ominous as to require compassionate use of monoclonal antibodies, the antiviral remdesivir, as well as dexamethasone,” wrote Dr Reiner wrote, who added that Mr Trump may be the only patient ever to receive that combination of drugs.
Mr Trump’s illness comes at a critical point for his re-election campaign. He had started ramping up campaigning in swing states as he tries to catch up with Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, in the polls.
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A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll gave Mr Biden a 14-point lead, up 6 points from several weeks ago. Mr Biden also leads in every swing state, underscoring the tough battle the president faces over the next 30 days.
His re-election effort suffered further blows at the weekend as a number of campaign aides were revealed to have also contracted Covid-19, including Bill Stepien, his campaign manager.
Kellyanne Conway, a former top White House aide, and Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, both also tested positive. The pair were involved in helping Mr Trump prepare for his debate against Mr Biden.
Earlier on Sunday, Robert O’Brien, US national security adviser, said Mr Trump wanted to return to the White House, but would stay at the hospital as he neared a critical phase. “Day seven and eight are the critical days, so I think the doctors want to make sure they’re there for the president.”
Just hours later, the medical team at Walter Reed suggested that Mr Trump could be discharged as early as Monday.
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