Officials report mixed messages on Trump’s health after COVID-19 hospitalization

The latest:

  • U.S. president endured ‘very concerning’ period on Friday. 
  • Trump was administered oxygen at White House, source tells AP.
  • Trump had been treated at the hospital with remdesivir.
  • Doctor says Trump has been fever-free for 24 hours.

U.S. President Donald Trump went through a “very concerning” period Friday and faces a “critical” next two days in his fight against COVID-19 at a military hospital, his chief of staff said Saturday — in contrast to a rosier assessment moments earlier by Trump doctors, who took pains not to reveal the president had received supplemental oxygen at the White House before his hospital admission.

Trump himself offered an upbeat assessment Saturday evening in a video from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. While sounding winded, the president said he was beginning to feel better and hoped to “be back soon.”

Later that night, Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley said the president is fever free but not out of danger.

“He spent much of the afternoon conducting business and has been up and moving about the medical suite without difficulty,” Conley said in a statement.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, left, and Dr. Sean Conley, physician to Trump, are seen after briefing reporters outside the hospital Saturday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Hours earlier, chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters outside the hospital, “We’re still not on a clear path yet to a full recovery.”

The changing and at times contradictory accounts created a credibility crisis for the White House at a crucial moment, with the president’s health and the nation’s leadership on the line. With Trump expected to remain hospitalized several more days and the presidential election looming, his condition is being anxiously watched by Americans.

WATCH | Trump offers upbeat assessment Saturday from Walter Reed:

Moreover, the president’s health represents a national security issue of paramount importance not only to the functions of the U.S. government but to countries around the world, friendly and otherwise.

Saturday’s briefing by Conley and other doctors raised more questions than it answered as Conley repeatedly refused to say whether the president ever needed supplemental oxygen, despite repeated questioning, and declined to discuss exactly when he fell ill.

Conley also revealed that Trump began exhibiting “clinical indications” of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, earlier than previously known.

He spent much of the briefing dodging reporters’ questions as he was pressed for details.

“Thursday no oxygen. None at this moment. And yesterday with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen,” Conley said.

But according to the person familiar with Trump’s condition, the president was administered oxygen at the White House on Friday before he was transported to the military hospital. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Conley said Trump’s symptoms, including a cough and nasal congestion, “are now resolving and improving,” and said the president had been fever-free for 24 hours. But Trump also is taking aspirin, which lowers body temperature and could mask or mitigate that symptom.

“He’s in exceptionally good spirits,” said another doctor, Sean Dooley.

Trump at higher risk

Trump is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has infected more than seven million people and killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S.

Meadows himself had insisted Friday morning that Trump had only “mild symptoms” as the White House tried to project an image of normalcy. It was unclear whether Trump already had received oxygen when Meadows spoke.

“President Trump remains in good spirits, has mild symptoms and has been working throughout the day,” said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She said Trump had only been sent to Walter Reed as a precaution.

Trump gathered more than 150 people in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26, where they mingled, hugged and shook hands — overwhelmingly without masks. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Trump’s administration has been less than transparent with the public throughout the pandemic, both about the president’s health and the spread of the virus inside the White House.

The first word that a close aide to Trump had been infected came from the media, not the White House. And aides have repeatedly declined to share basic health information, including a full accounting of the president’s symptoms, what tests he’s undertaken and the results.

In a memo released shortly before midnight, Conley did report that Trump had been treated at the hospital with remdesivir, an antiviral medication, after taking another experimental drug at the White House. He added that Trump is “doing very well” and is “not requiring any supplemental oxygen.”

Conley declined to say when Trump had last been tested before he was confirmed to have COVID-19 late Thursday. He initially suggested that Trump was 72 hours into the diagnosis, putting the confirmation of the infection to Wednesday. He later clarified that Trump was administered an accurate test for the virus on Thursday afternoon, after White House aide Hope Hicks was confirmed to be positive, and Trump exhibited unspecified “clinical indications” of the virus.

WATCH | New Yorkers have little sympathy for Trump:

On the streets of New York, where the pandemic has taken a heavy toll, sympathy for U.S. President Donald Trump and his COVID-19 diagnosis was hard to find Friday. 1:00

The White House said Trump was expected to stay at the hospital for “a few days” out of an abundance of caution and that he would continue to work from the hospital’s presidential suite, which is equipped to allow him to keep up his official duties. In addition to accessibility to tests and equipment, the decision was made, at least in part, with the understanding that moving him later, if he took a turn for the worse, could send a worrying signal.

On Saturday, Conley said Trump’s blood oxygen level is 96 per cent, which is in the normal range. Trump has been treated with two experimental drugs, given through an IV, that have shown some promise against COVID-19. On Friday, he was given a single dose of a drug that’s being tested by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. to supply antibodies to help his immune system fight the virus.

Friday night, Trump began a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug currently used for moderately and severely ill patients. The drugs work in different ways — the antibodies help the immune system rid the body of the virus, and remdesivir curbs the virus’s ability to multiply.

“We’re maximizing all aspects of his care,” attacking the virus in multiple ways, Conley said. “I didn’t want to hold anything back if there was any possibility it would add value to his care.”

Rose Garden event under scrutiny

At the same time, the White House has been working to trace a flurry of new infections of close Trump aides and allies. Attention is focused in particular on last Saturday’s White House event introducing Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

That day, Trump gathered more than 150 people in the Rose Garden, where they mingled, hugged and shook hands — overwhelmingly without masks. There were also several indoor receptions, where Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, her family, senators and others spent time in the close quarters of the White House, photographs show.

Trump exits Marine One after arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Friday. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Among those at the event who have now tested positive:

  • Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
  • Former White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway.
  • The president of the University of Notre Dame.
  • At least two Republican lawmakers — Utah Sen. Mike Lee and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.

Despite its failure to protect the president and senior staff from infection, the White House still did not appear to be taking the highly infectious disease as seriously as possible.

Meadows, the chief of staff, accompanied Trump to the hospital on Marine One, the kind of small, enclosed space where experts say the virus easily spreads.

And while Vice-President Mike Pence is currently off the campaign trail preparing for the coming week’s vice-presidential debate, he and his staff are operating under a “business as usual” approach. He’s still planning to travel to Arizona on Thursday, Indiana on Friday and Florida on Saturday for events instead of isolating himself after potential exposure and to protect himself from contracting the virus anywhere else.

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