WHITE HOUSE - President Donald Trump is scheduled to host hundreds of people Saturday on the South Lawn of the White House and deliver remarks, a senior administration official confirmed to VOA. This would be the president’s first in-person event since he announced a week ago that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, triggering a multiday hospital visit and aggressive medical treatments for COVID-19.
As first reported by ABC News, the event will feature "remarks to peaceful protesters for law and order" by the president. Trump is expected to deliver his speech from one of the balconies of the White House.
The latest update from the president’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, on Thursday evening said that Trump’s “physical exam has remained stable and devoid of any indications to suggest progression of illness.” Conley’s memo also noted that “Saturday will be day 10 since Thursday's diagnosis and based on the trajectory of advanced diagnostics the team has been conducting, I fully anticipate the president safe return to public engagements at that time.”
Trump ended his four-day stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday and since then his doctors have provided the public with upbeat updates on his condition. Still public health experts question the judgment of holding a public event so soon after his diagnosis.
“I would certainly be very cautious and suggest that people err on the side of caution rather than on the side of boldness,” said William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I would certainly not recommend that anyone who has recently recovered, even 11 days after having a positive test, be out in any sort of a crowd,” he added.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “available data indicate that persons with mild to moderate COVID-19 remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptom onset.” But questions remain on the timeline of the president’s illness. While his physicians say that Trump was diagnosed on Thursday, White House officials have refused to say when the president had last tested negative. Questions also remain about the severity of Trump’s illness, particularly as the drugs he was given are generally administered only to those with moderate to severe symptoms.
In another development Friday, the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates confirmed that the Oct. 15 presidential debate is officially canceled after Trump said he would not participate in a virtual format.
The commission announced earlier this week that the debate would take place virtually because Trump had contracted the coronavirus. Trump rejected that plan, and the White House later argued that since Trump’s doctor cleared him to hold public events, the debate should be held in person. However, the commission said it would not reverse its decision.
A debate scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee, is still scheduled between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump’s Saturday event will come two weeks after a Rose Garden event marking Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Officials are looking into the Sept. 26 ceremony as a potential source of a coronavirus outbreak. More than 30 staffers and Trump campaign aides have been infected since then, including first lady Melania Trump, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and adviser Stephen Miller.
Two Republican senators who attended the event have also tested positive.
There are also concerns for Trump’s own health if he were to resume public duties too soon. COVID-19 is often unpredictable, with some patients’ condition deteriorating during the second week of illness.
“We would always urge patients who are recovering from an illness that's as severe as COVID to take it easy and recover gradually for the benefits of their own health and the people around them,” Schaffner said. “Remember, it can have some long-term effects, even in people who have mild symptoms."
While convalescing, Trump has sought to project the image of an active president on a swift road to recovery, spending some time in the Oval Office every day since Wednesday and releasing several video announcements that highlight his physical well-being.
In a telephone interview Thursday night on Fox News, Trump said that he wants to hold a rally in Florida on Saturday and another in Pennsylvania on Sunday. He is scheduled to have an in-person interview with the same network Friday night, where the outlet’s resident medical expert would examine him.
The New York Times reports that the crowd for the Saturday White House South Lawn gathering would include people attending an event elsewhere in Washington, organized by a Trump supporter, Candace Owens. Owens is an activist from the group Blexit, a campaign to urge Black Americans to leave the Democratic Party.
After the Republican National Convention in August, during which Trump delivered his acceptance speech on the South Lawn in front of supporters, he was criticized for using the White House grounds for political purposes.
According to a source with knowledge of the event’s planning, attendees must wear a mask and submit to a COVID-19 screening, which consists of “a temperature check and a brief questionnaire.”
To date, more than 7.6 million people have been infected with the coronavirus in the U.S., with nearly 214,000 COVID-19 deaths reported, more than in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.