WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump continues to improve in his battle against COVID-19 and could be discharged as early as tomorrow, a White House physician said Sunday, as aides sought to portray an image of business as usual despite lingering uncertainty over the severity of his case.
Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley said doctors gave Trump supplemental oxygen on Friday, something he refused to discuss on Saturday, after the president had a “high fever” and his oxygen levels dipped below 94%. He said Trump had another drop in oxygen on Saturday, but did not discuss treatment.
“There are frequent ups and downs … particularly when a patient is being so closely watched 24 hours a day,” said Conley. “If he continues to look and feel as well as he does today our hope is that we can plan for a discharge as early as tomorrow to the White House, where he can continue his treatment course.”
Conley, seeking to clear up confusion from comments Saturday, said Trump has “experienced two episodes of transient drops” in his oxygen saturation, but that has been treated with medication. Conley was not specific about Trump’s exact oxygen levels and refused to say whether the president is in a negative pressure room.
Trump was treated with the steroid dexamethasone on Saturday following the his oxygen drop and he will continue to receive that “for the time being,” said Dr. Sean Dooley. The president completed his second dose of the antiviral drug remdesivir on Saturday and will continue his five-day course of remdesivir.
Asked why he evaded the question of whether the president received supplemental oxygen on Saturday, Conley said he was trying to reflect the “upbeat attitude of the president.”
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, his course of illness has had,” Conley said, adding that he “didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction.”
“And in doing so, you know, came off (like) we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true,” he added.
Throughout the weekend, the White House has sent mixed messages about Trump’s condition as he wrestles with the virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
“While not yet out of the woods, the team remains cautiously optimistic,” Conley said in a memo late Saturday.
After Trump’s physician and other doctors provided an update on Trump’s health at a news conference Saturday, an administration official – later identified by the Associated Press and the New York Times as chief of staff Mark Meadows – met with reporters and described the president’s condition earlier in the week as “very concerning.”
The official said “the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care.”
Honoring a request made by the White House, a pool report sent to the White House press corps did not identify the official by name. However, a video posted online captured Meadows briefing the White House pool reporters after Conley’s remarks, identifying him as the source.
The differing messages drew criticism.
“During a crisis, public information must be complete, consistent, and accurate,” said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California. “The White House has failed on all three counts. Recklessness, worsened by incompetence.”
At one point Saturday, Conley said that Trump’s case was “72 hours” old, meaning he would have been sick on Wednesday, the day he hosted fundraisers in New Jersey. Conley later amended that comment, saying Trump – who was tested daily – did not have a positive result until Thursday night. He took that test after her learned that top aide Hope Hicks had been infected.
Conley issued a memo hours later on Saturday clarifying he should have said “third day,” that is Thursday night, Friday and into Saturday, rather than “72 hours.”
Optimism from Trump’s backers Sunday
The president and his supporters expressed optimism over his prospects Sunday, and predicted a quick return to the campaign as new polls shows him losing ground to Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
Trump may be on the disabled list right now, “but very shortly he’s going to be back in the game throwing 95 miles per hour fastballs,” said Steve Cortes, a Trump campaign aide speaking on Fox News Sunday.
Early Sunday morning, Trump tweeted a thank you to supporters who demonstrated on his behalf outside Walter Reed Medical; he also re-tweeted a tribute to himself from supportive television personalities Diamond & Silk.
Trump and aides have defended his decision to campaign and host large events in recent week, despite the pandemic.
Many people have gotten sick after those events, particularly a Sept. 26 event in the White House Rose Garden in which Trump announced new Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Trump rarely wears masks; the same goes for many aides and supporters at Trump’s rallies.
Seeking to reassure supporters, the White House use social media to convey the idea that Trump remains at work, even at Walter Reed Medical Center.
The White House sent out two pictures of Trump signing things Saturday – one in which Trump is wearing a suit jacket and another in which he is not – but the time stamps indicate the pictures were taken just ten minutes apart.
“He’s obviously not working, but MAGA will tell how he’s working hard even when he’s in the hospital,” tweeted Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan University in South Korea. “It’s all so predictable and insulting.”
Trump also dictated a statement to his friend Rudy Giuliani saying he felt fine and disputing negative news coverage of his condition.
“I feel I could get out of here right now,” Trump said, according to the statement Giuliani provided to The New York Post. “But they’re telling me there can always be a back-step with this disease. But I feel I could go out and do a rally.”
This all comes a time when Trump is seen as struggling in his re-election race against Democrat Joe Biden.
Biden had a 51%-41% lead over Trump among adults who expect to vote, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sunday (and conducted Friday and Saturday). An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also released Sunday gave Biden a lead of 14 percentage points, a survey conducted after their contentious first debate but before Trump went into the hospital.
During a four-minute video he tweeted out Saturday, Trump said he is is “starting to feel good” and is “doing well.” and predicted he would return to the White House soon.
“I think I’ll be back soon,” Trump said. “And I look forward to finishing up the campaign, the way it was started.”
Pitney, author of “Un-American: The Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump,” said the upshot is no one can be sure how well the president is.
“Trump definitely has brief periods when he’s well enough to sign blank pieces of paper or talk for a few minutes,” Pitney said. “That’s all we know for sure.”
Conley said Sunday the bottom line is that the president is “doing really well – he is responding.”
He added: “If everything continues to go well, we’re going to start discharge planning back to the White House.”