President Trump, Still Contagious, Downplays COVID-19 as He Returns to White House – Then Takes Off His Mask


President Trump walked out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday evening, planning on receiving the remainder of his treatment for COVID-19 at the White House.

He was seen pumping his fist in the air on the way out of the building and didn't respond to any questions from the press. Upon arriving back at the White House, Trump walked up the staircase of the South Portico entrance, removed his mask, gave reporters standing below a thumbs-up, and saluted Marine One.

After he returned, he tweeted a video telling Americans to not be afraid of the coronavirus. "One thing that's for certain: don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're going to beat it," he said. "We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines – all developed recently."

More than 200,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S.

Trump said he "didn't feel so good" when he got the virus but "felt great" two days ago, "better than I have in a long time."

"And now I'm better — and maybe I'm immune, I don't know," Trump said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says COVID-19 can be spread through airborne transmission, according to updated guidance on the agency's website. The update, which is now available on the agency's "How It Spreads" page, says that people who are more than 6 feet away from each other can still become infected from small droplets and particles that linger in the air, especially in enclosed spaces that have poor ventilation.

The revised guidance comes after the CDC briefly updated its website to warn about airborne transmission last month, but then removed the information, saying it was still under review. Now, the CDC compares the respiratory spread possibility to different infections like tuberculosis, measles, and chickenpox, all viruses that spread through airborne transmission. 

"There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away," reads the new guidance. "These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example, while singing or exercising."

Earlier Monday, Trump tweeted his plans to leave the facility. His doctors later reiterated it was safe for him to return to the White House but that his treatment regimen is ongoing.

President Trump walks out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Monday evening before heading back to the White House.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, a number of Trump's associates at the White House and with the campaign have also tested positive for the coronavirus.

Yet Trump sounded particularly optimistic in his tweet announcing his impending return.

"Feeling really good! Don't be afraid of COVID. Don't let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!" Trump wrote.

His medical team briefed the press on his health status Monday afternoon and confirmed the president would be returning to the White House.

Sean Conley, Trump's physician, said although Trump may not be "entirely out of the woods yet," he believes he is ready to get his car at the White House.

"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," Conley said.

"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."

He added that the White House Medical Unit will deliver "24/7, world-class medical care" and "we're not going to miss anything that we would have caught up here."

Trump first arrived at Walter Reed on Friday night after sharing the news of his positive coronavirus test early that morning.

During a briefing, Sunday, Trump's physicians shared that the president had received his first dose of the steroid dexamethasone on Saturday after two drops in his oxygen levels and is undergoing a five-day course of remdesivir. Dr. Brian Garibaldi told reporters on Monday that Trump would get a fifth dose of remdesivir at the White House on Tuesday night and that he continues to receive a steroid.

Conley would not go into details regarding the president's lung scans, citing patient privacy regulations, and refused to say when Trump's last negative coronavirus test was, saying, "I don't want to go backward."

He said Trump had not been on any fever-reducing medication for more than 72 hours.

When asked whether Trump had experienced any side effects from the medications, including mental fogginess, Conley simply said, "I think you've seen the videos and now the tweets, and you'll see him shortly, you know, he's back."

Conley didn't give an answer on where in the White House Trump will stay, saying, "We're going to do whatever it takes for the president to safely conduct business wherever it is he needs to do within the residence and White House." (In a video Saturday night, Trump said he had preferred to go to Walter Reed over the weekend rather than be "locked up" in a room in the White House.)

Conley declined to comment on Trump's tweet that people shouldn't be afraid of the coronavirus, a striking statement as the American death toll climbs past 210,000.

As for potential travel for the president, Conley said, "We'll see."

But Trump appears eager to get back on the campaign trail, tweeting shortly before he departed Walter Reed, "Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!! The Fake News only shows the Fake Polls."

Since being admitted for treatment, Trump has worked to convey an image of strength and normalcy. The White House insisted the president has continued to carry out his duties, releasing photos of him purportedly working in the hospital. Trump has also shared video messages on Twitter.

On Sunday, Trump made an unannounced motorcade visit outside the facility to greet supporters gathered there.

The timeline of Trump's symptoms from the coronavirus has been at times murky, with inconsistencies between the medical briefings and statements from White House officials.

The discrepancies have led to concerns about the transparency of the administration on the president's battle with the coronavirus.

Now that he has contracted COVID-19, President Donald Trump says he does “get it.” That revelation, seven months into the pandemic and after almost 210,000 American deaths, is not the first time he has relied on personal experience to shape his views.

He said he now “understands” the virus. But because of his own experience, as a patient at one of the nation’s finest medical facilities with treatment options available to very few, the president also reinforced that he has struggled to relate with everyday Americans, millions of whom have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.

Instead, as he has in relationships with other countries, he has prioritized his own personal experience over that of experts. He has been reluctant, for instance, to call out Russian President Vladimir Putin over interference in American elections in the face of clear evidence from the U.S. intelligence community that it has occurred.

He has also drawn frequently on his experience with the business world or his own family to set the White House agenda. He cited his business acumen as helping him land a deal for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and he said he understands the airline industry because of his time running the failed Trump Shuttle.

Despite months of briefings from the nation’s leading infectious disease experts, it was the onset of his own symptoms, as he was brought low by a lethal virus, that he said gave him a greater understanding.

That understanding, however, seemed very much in conflict with expert public health guidance about how the virus behaves and the precautions that people infected, particularly those in a higher risk group like the president, need to take.

“It’s been a very interesting journey,” Trump said in a video released Sunday night. “I learned a lot about COVID. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. And I get it, and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing, and I’m going to be letting you know about it.”

But it soon became clear that he did not, in fact, get it.

Trump took a surprise ride in a motorcade to pay tribute to his supporters, potentially exposing the Secret Service agents who rode in the vehicle with him. The next day, when announcing that he would be returning to the White House, he took a tone that suggested he was out of touch with suffering Americans who could not receive the same level of presidential care.

“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life,” Trump tweeted. “We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

At no point since he tested positive for the virus has Trump acknowledged others afflicted with the deadly disease. His general election foe, Democrat Joe Biden, on Monday urged him to fundamentally change how he manages the pandemic.

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

Even when the virus struck longtime friends, like Stanley Chera, a New Jersey developer who died of the disease in April, Trump did not change his approach and continued to talk about the virus as though it would soon be a thing of the past.

“We’ve always said that he has no capacity for empathy. His sense of self-regard is so overwhelming, he views everything that passes through the world through the lens of what it does for him,” said Eddie Glaude, chair of the department of African American Studies at Princeton University.

“Even though more than 200,000 Americans are dead, the nature of the crisis doesn’t come home unless it actually touches him,” Glaude said. “Could he ever represent anyone other than himself?”

Trump has said he could deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because he had established a personal rapport with the authoritarian figure in ways that his predecessors could not.

“I was being really tough and so was he. And then we would go back and forth,” Trump said at a 2018 rally. “And then we fell in love. No really. He wrote me beautiful letters.”

Since Trump has in effect declared his battle with the disease successful — an assessment that available medical evidence suggests is premature — it remains doubtful that Trump would take his personal experience battling COVID-19 and rethink his administration’s policies or attitudes toward the pandemic, especially given the competing imperative of continuing his presidential campaign.

Trump often has had difficulty embracing a central role of the American presidency: consoling people dealing with intense grief, regardless of their political affiliation or support for the White House’s agenda. It’s a quality rarely debated or analyzed during a campaign, yet one that can shape the way people view the success of their president.

But in 2020, it has become a central issue. The president has rarely mentioned the toll of the virus on the nation, instead focusing on an economic recovery or a rise in the stock market.

He has largely eschewed wearing a mask and mocked those who have. And he has ignored his own federal government’s guidelines when holding rallies and large-scale White House events.

Trump may draw lessons from his own experiences but will rarely ever acknowledge a misstep, said former campaign adviser Sam Nunberg.

“He once said, ‘It is what it is’ about the impact of COVID. His video (Sunday night) was better than that, it was probably the closest he is going to get to an apology,” said Nunberg. “That’s not who he is.”

The White House sees it differently.

“He has experience now fighting the coronavirus as an individual,” said Erin Perrine, a campaign spokeswoman. “Joe Biden doesn’t have that.”

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