President Donald Trump posted a video Wednesday evening on Twitter to say he’s doing fine ― “like, perfect,” even ― in spite of his COVID-19 diagnosis. Standing outside the White House, where he’s insisted on working with staff despite being contagious, Trump looked more stable than he did Monday evening, when he appeared on a White House balcony sans protective mask, seemingly struggling to breathe.
Trump insisted in the video that one of his medications, from the manufacturer Regeneron, was a “cure” and immediately set about selling it. “It was like, unbelievable. I felt good immediately,” the president said. “I felt as good three days ago as I do now.”
The video was nearly five minutes long. But like the other updates the president, his doctors and his aides have given since his diagnosis last week, it raised more questions than it answered. We are a month from an election and know very little about the president’s health. Reporters have not been allowed to ask questions. The White House has revealed almost nothing about his illness.
And as much as the president insists he’s all better, that isn’t the case: The most dangerous period for COVID-19 patients comes seven to 10 days after being infected, when some patients have a hyperactive immune response that can lead to organ failure or death. We don’t know when Trump was infected, but he tested positive less than a week ago. The president isn’t cured. He’s contagious and at risk of getting sicker.
Instead of information, he has left us with propagandistic White House videos, a stream of unhinged, apocalyptic tweets, false claims of an easy “cure” and cryptic, misleading dispatches from the White House physician, Sean Conley.
On Wednesday, Conley reported that Trump has been “symptom-free for over 24 hours” and “fever-free for more than 4 days.” Conley said that Trump has not required any supplemental oxygen since his hospitalization and noted that the president said, “I feel great!”
But Conley’s one-paragraph update failed to mention whether Trump is still taking dexamethasone, an immune system-calming steroid that the World Health Organization recommends only in “severe and critical” cases of COVID-19. While the steroid can indeed make a person feel great, it can also undermine the body’s ability to fight coronavirus if administered too early. Prolonged use can cause cognitive impairment.
Conley’s dispatch also mentioned that Trump’s lab results from Monday revealed the president had “detectable levels” of coronavirus antibodies in his blood, a change from when he was tested last Thursday and found to have none of the immunoglobulin G antibodies in his system. On Friday at Walter Reed, however, Trump was given a high dose of an experimental drug therapy from biotechnology company Regeneron that is made up of those IgG antibodies.
Meaning that Conley’s good news about antibodies is meaningless. And misleading.
“Why would you test for antibodies when you’ve given someone such a high dose of antibodies? That wouldn’t have been a good test to do. I don’t know how much it cost them, but they should get their money back,” Eric Topol, a cardiologist and clinical trial expert at the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told BuzzFeed News.
Even Regeneron publicly undercut Conley and the Trump administration on Wednesday.
″[G]iven the volume of IgG antibodies delivered in our therapy, and the timing of these tests, it is likely that the second test is detecting REGN-COV2 antibodies,” said Hala Mirza, a spokeswoman for the biotech company, which received $450 million in government funding to develop a vaccine and other COVID-19 treatments and whose CEO has been a member of Trump’s golf club in Westchester, New York.
Still, Conley’s update from Wednesday was more informative than the dispatch he released Tuesday, in which he seemed to rely on Trump to self-report his symptoms.
“He had a restful first night at home, and today he reports no symptoms,” Conley wrote. “Overall he continues to do extremely well.”
It’s unclear if the more than 24-hour “symptom-free” period Conley reported on Wednesday includes a time when Trump self-reported his symptoms. But the White House has made it very little clear about the president’s illness and whether he is well enough to perform his duties.
Trump’s video referenced going back to the White House from the hospital “a day ago,” which means he may have filmed it Tuesday rather than Wednesday. He did, according to aides, walk over to the Oval Office on Wednesday ― risking infecting others in the process ― for briefings. The message seems to be that he’s back to work, everything is normal and no one should worry that the president was hospitalized just days ago for an illness that has killed more than 211,000 Americans.
That’s not how illness works. But the president apparently believes both that he’s been “cured” of COVID-19 and that, since it would benefit his reelection, other Americans can be, too.
“You’re going to get better,” he said after promising free medication from a company in which he recently owned shares. “You’re going to get better really fast.”
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