President Donald Trump’s medical team on Saturday stoked new questions about how long the president has been sick with the coronavirus, indicating Trump has been ill since Wednesday, rather than Friday morning when he made his announcement.
The new timeline would suggest Trump held a rally and fundraiser in Minnesota on Wednesday and an intimate fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday while knowing he was sick and potentially exposing supporters, employees and others.
The White House quickly attempted to walk back the doctors’ comments after a Saturday morning briefing at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where the president is being treated.
Administration officials said, without attribution, that Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, meant to indicate it had been three days since a diagnosis late Thursday.
But the administration’s record of providing false or opaque information fueled mounting confusion and doubt about Trump’s illness and how the White House has handled it.
Minutes after doctors pronounced themselves “cautiously optimistic” about Trump’s health Saturday, with his breathing normal and his fever resolving, another unnamed official released a more dire assessment to White House reporters.
“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,” the statement said. “We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
Conley, who briefed reporters outside Walter Reed alongside the president’s medical team, was also evasive about whether the president needed any supplemental oxygen since his apparent diagnosis, declining to say unequivocally that he had never received it.
“Right now, all indicators are that he’ll remain off of oxygen going forward,” he said.
Under questioning from reporters about whether Trump had needed it over the last three days, Conley seemed to rule out every period except early Friday, before Trump was abruptly taken to Walter Reed.
Conley also declined to say what Trump’s temperature had been when he had a fever, adding that he had been without one now for 24 hours. And he wouldn’t answer a question about when Trump last had a negative test.
Conley and nine other physicians on the team who stood outside Walter Reed tried to give an upbeat assessment, one saying that Trump told doctors Saturday morning that “I feel like I could walk out of here today.”
Dr. Brian Garibaldi, another member of the team, said that as Trump’s worst symptoms have dissipated, the president has been encouraged to eat, drink and walk around.
Underscoring the mounting toll the coronavirus is taking on official Washington, a third Republican senator announced a positive test Saturday morning as the nation watched anxiously for updates on Trump’s condition following his admission to Walter Reed.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and confidant of the president who said no one wore masks when he and others spent several days preparing Trump for his debate Tuesday, also announced Saturday that he had tested positive.
The president is expected to spend at least several days at the hospital as he undergoes treatment.
The abruptness of Trump’s departure from the White House on Friday and the fact that he was put on an experimental drug regimen have caused concern among outside physicians and specialists, heightened by the White House’s history of opaque and misleading statements about the virus and the president’s health.
“He’s the president, and the country has a right to know. I’d like to see more information,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
“The way they’ve treated him so far, they’ve been pretty aggressive,” Jha said. “In a typical patient, you’d look at that and say, these are all really concerning signs. With him, we have to read it a little different.”
But as a 74-year-old man who is obese, Trump is at elevated risk. The White House has said he is already experiencing some symptoms.
“The fact that there’s any symptoms puts us in a whole new realm of concern,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a public health expert.
“This sort of crosses a Rubicon,” putting Trump in a higher risk category of people who can develop more serious health issues, he said.
A White House official said that Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence tested negative again Saturday morning.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson became the third Republican senator to disclose a positive test when he announced it Saturday morning in a statement.
Johnson just emerged from a two-week quarantine that began Sept. 14 after being exposed to someone else who tested positive. Johnson’s office said he has no symptoms.
His diagnosis could further complicate the Republican effort to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before the Nov. 3 election. Republicans hold a three-seat majority in the Senate, and two Republicans have already said they will not vote to confirm her before that.
Unlike other high-profile Republicans who have tested positive, Johnson did not attend an event in the Rose Garden last Saturday to announce Barrett’s nomination.
The list of top Republicans who’ve been infected is fueling a sense of panic in Washington that the virus is creating the type of outbreak in and around the president that has already enveloped other parts of the country with less access to top healthcare..
While the District of Columbia had only a handful of new cases last week, the White House itself has become the city’s biggest vector.
Joe Grogan, who resigned as Trump’s top domestic policy advisor in May, tweeted that the White House complex “is the most cramped, unsanitary place of business I have ever worked.”
“It is a miracle it took this long for covid to hit it. I have been healthier since I left than I ever was when I worked there,” he added.
The list of those recently infected includes: Kellyanne Conway, a recently departed counselor to the president who attended the Saturday event; Hope Hicks, another senior advisor who is often with Trump; Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee; Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager; first lady Melania Trump; Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and at least three members of the White House press corps.
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