WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump, after 72 hours of hospitalization for COVID-19, returned to the White House on Monday evening from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after a short helicopter ride aboard Marine One.
“Though he may not entirely be out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations and, most importantly, his clinical status support his return home” to the White House, which has medical facilities and practitioners to monitor the president around the clock, his primary physician, Dr. Sean Conley, told reporters Monday afternoon.
“Every day a patient stays in the hospital unnecessarily is a risk to themselves,” he added. “Right now, there’s nothing being done upstairs here that we can’t safely conduct down home.”
Trump tweeted earlier Monday, "I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. ... I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Conley, an osteopath and a commander in the U.S. Navy, speaking with reporters at the hospital, declined to answer some questions, such as the condition of the president’s lungs, citing patient confidentiality.
The president is taking a steroid, dexamethasone, which is typically not administered in mild or moderate cases of the coronavirus, along with a five-day course of remdesivir, an antiviral medication.
Trump’s physicians remain “cautiously optimistic and on guard, because we’re in a bit of unchartered 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.”
On Sunday, after tweeting a video that he is “getting great reports” from his doctors, Trump promised a little surprise for his supporters outside the hospital where he is being treated.
The president then briefly left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in an armored SUV with Secret Service agents in tow to drive by a flag-waving, cheering crowd outside the hospital.
The president’s decision to do a drive-around for supporters Sunday evening was condemned by one attending physician at Walter Reed as irresponsible.
Dr. James Phillips, who is also chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University in Washington, tweeted that the special vehicle the president was riding in is sealed against chemical attack.
“The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play,” said Phillips, referring to the driver and an accompanying agent in the front seat who appeared to be wearing masks, face shields and gowns.
“Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the president and all those supporting it, including PPE,” a White House spokesman, Judd Deere, said. “The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.”
On Monday, Conley said the drive was only “for a short period of time” and the agents in the vehicle with Trump were adequately protected.
Earlier Sunday, the doctors treating the president revealed that their patient had earlier experienced “two episodes of transient drops in his oxygen saturation.”
Conley received word last Thursday evening that both Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus after one of the president’s close aides, Hope Hicks, was confirmed to be ill with the infection.
The doctor declined again on Monday, when pressed by reporters, to answer when Trump last tested negative for COVID-19, something considered important for doing adequate contact tracing to try to limit the spread of the virus.
“I don’t want to go backwards,” the physician said. “The contact tracing, as I understand it, is being done. I’m not involved with it.”
Trump’s campaign on Friday put a hold on all previously announced events involving the president’s participation.
Vice President Mike Pence is making campaign appearances this week, as well as facing off Wednesday evening against the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California.
“As far as travel goes, we’ll see,” Conley replied when asked how soon Trump could get back on the campaign trail with less than a month before the November 3 presidential election.
Doctors said it is important to ensure that the president is no longer shedding virus and that he is in good enough physical shape before getting medical permission to travel.
Trump and Biden were about 4 meters apart on a debate stage last Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests at least 2 meters for social distancing purposes.
Biden’s campaign said the former vice president tested negative Friday for the coronavirus and a test on Sunday was also negative.
The coronavirus has killed 210,000 people in the United States and infected more than 7.4 million across the country, according to Johns Hopkins University data.