US President Donald Trump poses atop the Truman Balcony of the White House after taking off his mask as he returns to the White House after being hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for COVID-19 on October 5 2020. Picture: REUTERS/Erin Scott
US President Donald Trump poses atop the Truman Balcony of the White House after taking off his mask as he returns to the White House after being hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for COVID-19 on October 5 2020. Picture: REUTERS/Erin Scott

Washington DC — US President Donald Trump returned to the White House on Monday evening after three days of treatment for Covid-19 at a military hospital, and officials plan to significantly restrict physical access to him as he continues his recovery.

“The White House is taking every precaution necessary to protect not only him and the first family, but every staff member working on the complex,” spokesperson Judd Deere said in a statement on Monday night. He said that anyone who comes close to Trump would wear personal protective equipment.

Trump only said “thank you very much” to those gathered at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before boarding the presidential helicopter for his return flight to the White House. Back at the residence, he walked up the South Portico stairs to the balcony, where he removed his mask, flashed thumbs-up with both hands and saluted for several seconds.

He did not appear to put his mask back on before walking into the residence. The show of defiance towards both the virus and public health measures to combat its spread was in keeping with the president’s tone earlier when he announced he would leave the Bethesda, Maryland, hospital.

In a video released shortly afterward, Trump said of the virus: “Don’t let it dominate you.”

“I knew there’s danger to it. But I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did. I know there’s a risk. I know there’s a danger. But that’s OK. And now I’m better. Maybe I’m immune, I don’t know,” he said.

“Get out there, be careful,” Trump added. “The vaccines are coming momentarily.”

The president has received medical care unavailable to most people, including three powerful medicines and an airlift to and from the hospital. The virus has infected more than 7.4-million Americans and has killed more than 210,000 since February, including 475 on Sunday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Trump will continue to get round-the-clock medical attention from his doctor and other health personnel at the White House, Deere said. The president’s aides hope to keep him at the White House residence and away from the Oval Office but are uncertain how long that will last, according to people familiar with the matter. “We’ll be back on the campaign trail soon!!!” Trump tweeted before leaving the hospital.

“Over the past 24 hours, the president has continued to improve. He’s met or exceeded all hospital discharge criteria,” White House doctor Sean Conley said at a briefing after Trump’s announcement.

Trump “may not entirely be out of the woods” but the rest of his care can safely be performed at the White House, Conley said.

The president received a fourth dose of an antiviral drug, Remdesivir, at Walter Reed before he was discharged and will get a fifth dose at the White House, his medical team said.

“He’s returning to a facility, the White House medical unit, that’s staffed 24-7,” Conley said. “Every day a patient stays in the hospital unnecessarily is a risk to themselves.”

Conley said coronavirus patients could stop shedding the virus in as few as five days after diagnosis, and that Trump would be monitored to determine when he was no longer infectious. The White House plans for Trump to stay in the residence for a few days before returning to normal, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

The White House is creating additional room for Trump to work in the residence, and avoid heading into the Oval Office, by converting the Map Room and Diplomatic Reception Room into office space, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Conley conceded that the course of Trump’s illness could still take a turn. “We all remain cautiously optimistic and on guard because we’re in a bit of uncharted territory when it comes to a patient that received the therapies he has so early in the course,” he said.

“We’re looking to this weekend,” Conley added. “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.”

Trump has received doses of two other medicines, including an experimental “antibody cocktail” and a steroid, dexamethasone, usually used to combat inflammation in people with more severe cases of Covid-19.

During the news conference, one of Trump’s doctors read off a list of the president’s vital signs as of this morning, including his temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate and blood-oxygen saturation level. His medical team has not previously released that data to the public.

But Conley declined to discuss the results of scans of Trump’s lungs, citing federal health privacy law.

Trump went to the hospital Friday evening, after announcing early that morning he’d tested positive for the virus. He was briefly administered supplemental oxygen at the White House before travelling to Walter Reed, Conley said on Sunday.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Monday she tested positive for the novel coronavirus, adding her to a growing list of infected Trump associates that includes First Lady Melania Trump, at least two White House aides who travel with the president and three Republican senators.

With less than a month until Election Day, Trump’s hospitalisation has jolted the presidential campaign, forcing him to scrap rallies and other events as polls show him trailing Joe Biden nationally and in swing states. His campaign has launched “Operation Maga,” referring to his Make America Great Again slogan, to flood the campaign trail with top surrogates such as vice-president Mike Pence, Trump’s family and others.

Among the aides who were with the president on Monday evening as he was preparing to leave were Max Miller, the deputy campaign manager for presidential operations, and Bobby Peede, the White House director of advance. They arrived at the hospital just before 3pm, heading to the presidential suite.

Peede had the coronavirus earlier in 2020, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Trump’s release comes after a weekend of mixed signals from Conley, who on Sunday disclosed for the first time that the president had been given supplemental oxygen and received a medication that’s typically used in more severe Covid-19 patients.

Asked why he didn’t disclose during Saturday’s briefing that Trump had received oxygen despite repeated questions about it, Conley said, “I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude” of the team and the president.

Trump was diagnosed with the disease late on Thursday, after a close aide, Hope Hicks, also tested positive for the virus.

The president first tested positive after he returned from a fundraiser at his New Jersey golf resort on Thursday, McEnany told reporters on Sunday evening. Trump made an appearance on Fox News on Thursday night before disclosing on Twitter shortly after midnight on Friday that he had tested positive.

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy on Monday criticised Trump’s travel to the fundraiser at his Bedminster golf resort in the state, saying it ought to have been cancelled. The president went to the event despite knowing Hicks had tested positive.

Biden, speaking in Miami, wished Trump and the first lady well and said he hoped the president would take mask-wearing seriously.

“I was glad to see the president speaking and recording videos over the weekend,” Biden said. “Now that he’s busy tweeting campaign messages, I would ask him to do this: listen to the scientists, support masks.”

He pointed out that the Trump administration has rejected a mask mandate as recently as Friday, the day Trump was hospitalised.

“I saw a tweet he did, they showed me, he said ‘don’t let Covid control your life.’ Tell that to the 205,000 families that lost someone,” Biden said in an interview with WPLG, the Miami ABC affiliate.

The Trump campaign is not expected to require people who attend rallies to wear masks, but will continue to distribute them, along with hand sanitiser, a person familiar with the matter said.

Bloomberg

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.