In an attempted show of strength hours after doctors provided some concerning details about his condition, Trump appeared late Sunday afternoon, riding in an SUV outside Walter Reed to wave to his supporters before soon returning to the presidential suite at the hospital. But the image of Trump, wearing a mask but in close contact with others, only raised more questions about how seriously the President is taking the virus.
Conley and other doctors involved in the President’s care offered some information about the President’s condition and the treatments that he is receiving — but there were still significant gaps that made it hard to decipher the full picture.
Conley again failed to answer basic questions about the President’s condition and admitted Sunday that he had omitted those alarming drops in the President’s oxygen levels during Saturday’s news conference because he wanted to “reflect the upbeat attitude” that the team and the President had about his condition and didn’t want “to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction.”
Conley acknowledged that his evasive answers “came off that we were trying to hide something” but said that “wasn’t necessarily true,” adding that the President is “doing really well” and is responding to treatment.
The President has experienced “two episodes of transient drops in his oxygen saturation,” Conley said Sunday. The first significant episode occurred late Friday morning when, Conley said, the President had “a high fever and his oxygen saturation was transiently dipping below 94%.” The President was given oxygen at that point, Conley said, answering a question he had evaded during his Saturday briefing.
“After about a minute on only two liters, his saturation levels were back over 95%. He stayed on that for about an hour maybe, and it was off and gone,” Conley said Sunday. Later on Friday, Conley said, Trump was out of bed, moving around the White House residence with only mild symptoms.
On Saturday, the President’s oxygen level dropped again “to about 93%,” Conley said. “We watched it and it returned back up.” But the incident led doctors to start treating Trump with the steroid drug dexamethasone, which has been shown to help patients with Covid-19. It is typically given to patients on supplemental oxygen or ventilation.
Conley said the President’s current blood oxygen level is 98%.
But Conley refused to say how low the President’s blood oxygen levels had dropped during that first alarming episode at the White House.
When asked if the President’s blood oxygen level had dropped below 90, he replied, “We don’t have any recordings here of that.” Pressed again on whether the level had dropped below 90, Conley said the President’s blood oxygen levels didn’t get down into “the low 80s.”
He offered no detail about what X-rays or CT scans have shown about whether there has been any damage to the President’s lungs.
“There’s some expected findings, but nothing of any major clinical concern,” Conley said, not explaining whether they were expected findings in the lungs of a normal patient or a Covid-19 patient.
A crisis in leadership
The White House already has a huge credibility problem with the public, and the lack of on-the-record information from White House officials Friday and Saturday served as a master class in opacity and contradiction that raised major questions about the President’s health.
Earlier on Saturday, Meadows had also attempted to signal that the President’s initial condition was more serious when he spoke to pool reporters as an unnamed official after Conley’s briefing that morning. But his identity was later revealed by The New York Times and The Associated Press, and Trump was furious at his chief of staff for contradicting the White House physician’s upbeat assessment, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN’s Jim Acosta Sunday.
A separate White House official confirmed Trump is unhappy with Meadows, as the chief of staff is now viewed by Trump advisers as having damaged the credibility of the current medical briefings on the President’s bout with the coronavirus.
Conley said on Sunday he and Meadows “work side by side” and that the chief of staff’s statement had been misconstrued.
“What he meant was that 24 hours ago when he and I were checking on the President, that there was that momentary episode of a high fever and that temporary drop in the saturation, which prompted us to act expediently to move him up here,” Conley said, referring to Walter Reed.
A potential superspreading event at the White House
Conway, Christie, Trump’s senior adviser Hope Hicks and his campaign manager Bill Stepien — who have all tested positive — were also all involved in debate prep ahead of Trump’s Tuesday clash with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Trump did not address anyone else’s diagnosis during a video message from Walter Reed Saturday. As he praised the medical care he had received at Walter Reed, he sought to spin his hospitalization to his advantage by making it sound like his diagnosis had been inevitable, even though he took few precautions to prevent it.
The President said he was “starting to feel good” and that he was receiving therapeutics he said are like “miracles coming down from God.”
“This was something that’s happened, and it’s happened to millions of people all over the world and I’m fighting for them, not just in the US,” Trump said. “We’re gonna beat this coronavirus — or whatever you want to call it — and we’re gonna beat it soundly.”
Thanking the American people for their well wishes, Trump said the true nature of his condition would be revealed in the coming days: “You don’t know. Over the next period of a few days, I guess that’s the real test, so we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days,” Trump said.
In the video, President said the decision to go to Walter Reed on Friday was his. He suggested he didn’t like the prospect of staying isolated at the residence: “Lock yourself in, don’t ever leave, don’t even go to the Oval Office, just stay upstairs and enjoy it, don’t see people, don’t talk to people and just be done with it.”
“I had to be out front and this is America, this is the United States, this is the greatest country in the world, this is the most powerful country in the world,” Trump continued in the video. “I can’t be locked up in a room upstairs and totally safe, and just say, hey whatever happens, happens. I can’t do that.”
Trump’s alternate reality
For much of this year, Trump has spun an alternate reality about the dangers of coronavirus — disputing science and the efficacy of masks, downplaying the risks to the American people, and making false statements about how 99% of coronavirus cases in America are “totally harmless” or that the virus “affects virtually nobody.”
He encouraged his aides and advisers to live in that dangerous fantasy land, pushing his luck to the limits as late as this past week when he again recklessly gathered thousands of unmasked Americans at his political rallies and packed the top officials in government into a Rose Garden ceremony for his Supreme Court nominee. All the while, White House officials embraced the fallacy that administering rapid coronavirus tests frequently at the White House could provide a shield of immunity.
The President’s construct crumbled Friday when he was airlifted to Walter Reed after contracting the virus, while many aides, advisers and allies were testing positive for Covid-19 after interacting with him over the past week.
The White House seemed to be continuing to downplay concerns about the severity of the virus Saturday morning during Conley’s first news conference at Walter Reed where he described the President as upbeat and feeling good, without revealing any of the alarming developments with his oxygen levels the day before.
Conley repeatedly stated Saturday that the President was not currently receiving any. But his rosy pronouncements about the President’s condition were contradicted minutes later in a statement that was given to pool reporters from a source familiar with Trump’s health.
“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 are still not on a clear path to a full recovery,” the source, later identified as Meadows, told pool reporters.
That’s the statement that that made Trump mad and prompted him to take to Twitter to say he was feeling well.
On Saturday evening, Conley followed up with another memo saying Trump “remains fever-free and off supplemental oxygen with a saturation level between 96% and 98% all day,” which is within the normal range for blood oxygen levels. That statement now appears to conflict with the information Conley revealed Sunday morning when he described the drop in the President’s oxygen level to 93% on Saturday, though Conley did not specify what time that happened.
While the President was still at the White House Friday, he was administered the experimental Regeneron antibody cocktail, a promising treatment that has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration that was intended to help boost the President’s immune system as he fights the virus.
Once Trump was at Walter Reed, doctors initiated the antiviral drug remdesivir. He is receiving a five-day course of the drug, which has been shown to shorten recovery time for some coronavirus patients. The President completed his second dose on Saturday evening. He’s also continuing on dexamethasone, the first dose of which he received Saturday.
Dr. Brian Garibaldi, one of Trump’s doctors, said Trump has been “up and around” Sunday.
“Our plan for today is to have him to eat and drink, be up out of bed as much as possible to be mobile,” Girabaldi said. “And if he continues to look and feel as well as he does today our hope is that we can plan for discharge as early as tomorrow to the White House where he can continue his treatment course.”
There is a long history of White House officials covering up or obfuscating about the medical condition of the sitting President — from Grover Cleveland’s secret surgery to remove a tumor in his mouth aboard a friend’s yacht, to John F. Kennedy hiding his Addison’s disease.
Officials in the Trump White House have carefully calibrated their statements about the President’s health over the past few days in what seems like an effort to put the best face on the diagnosis at a time when the President is 29 days from Election Day and trailing in the polls. Mail-in voting has already begun in certain states across the country.
The President tweeted that he had tested positive for coronavirus around 1 a.m. ET Friday, hours after attending a Thursday night fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he met with a small group of donors indoors with no masks, before addressing a larger crowd outdoors. Trump got his first positive coronavirus test result Thursday after returning from that trip, a White House official said Saturday evening.
Hicks had begun experiencing symptoms the previous night while accompanying the President on his trip to Minnesota for a fundraiser and rally Wednesday night. It’s unclear whether the President was tested around that same time, given how closely they work together.
Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller on Sunday could not explain why Trump went ahead to the New Jersey fundraiser after Hicks had tested positive and accused Biden of using face masks as a prop during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” Biden’s senior adviser Symone Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that Biden and his campaign officials are following guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “We’re wearing the masks that are keeping us safe.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.