WASHINGTON – Claiming progress in his personal fight against COVID-19, President Donald Trump ventured outside for a little bit on Sunday to greet supporters who gathered at the hospital before then returning to the facility.
Trump, wearing a suit and a mask, waved to supporters from the back seat of an SUV as it passed by the demonstration at the Walter Reed medical center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“I also think we’re going to pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street. They’ve been out there for a long time and they’ve got Trump flags and they love our country,” Trump said in a video recorded at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center moments before he was spotted outside.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the president had returned to his suite inside the hospital after the “short, last-minute ride to wave to his supporters.”
“It’s been a very interesting journey, I learned a lot about COVID,” Trump said in pre-recorded remarks. “I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn’t the let’s-read-the-book school, and I get it, and I understand it.”
Trump’s video came hours after Navy commander and White House physician Sean Conley said the president could be discharged as early as Monday. Conley said Trump received supplemental oxygen on Friday after the president had a “high fever” and his oxygen levels dipped below 94%. He said Trump experienced another drop in oxygen on Saturday, but did not discuss treatment.
The president was given the steroid dexamethasone on Saturday following his oxygen drop. The World Health Organization recommends the drug only for “severe and critical” cases.Trump also completed his second dose of the antiviral drug remdesivir on Saturday and will continue his five-day course of remdesivir.
Trump also said in his video remarks that he visited some of the soldiers and first responders at Walter Reed, raising questions about whether he should be in contact with others when federal health guidance directs those infected with COVID-19 to quarantine and isolate themselves from other people.
Critics said Trump put Secret Service and hospital personnel at risk with his brief jaunt to see supporters.
Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, pointed out that the presidential SUV is “hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” which raises the chance of transmission of COVID-19.
“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” said Phillips, who is also the chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Emergency Medicine. “They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”
Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Trump’s short trip put Secret Service members at risk.
“By taking a joy ride outside Walter Reed the president is placing his Secret Service detail at grave risk. In the hospital when we go into close contact with a COVID patient we dress in full PPE: Gown, gloves, N95, eye protection, hat,” he said. “This is the height of irresponsibility.”
Deere told USA TODAY that “appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the President and all those supporting it, including PPE. The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.”
Commentator Tom Nichols said he found the move troubling.
“A man with a dangerous and highly contagious disease, who is being treated for that disease with powerful drugs, wanted to be taken for a ride in a car so he could wave to gawking cult followers,” said Nichols, author of the book “The Death of Expertise.”
He added: “As long as 40%of us are this stupid, we’re in big trouble as a nation.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people who are sick or have recently come in contact with a COVID-19 patient should avoid all transportation options “that may put them in close contact with others.”
This is the third video in as many days from Trump.
On Friday, he cut an 18-second video to announce he was going to the hospital before he was taken to the Walter Reed medical center.
A day later, Trump taped a four-minute address to say he was “starting to feel good,” looked forward to returning to the White House “soon,” and made references to the ongoing presidential campaign.
“I look forward to finishing up the campaign, the way it was started,” Trump said.
Already an underdog in his reelection race against Democrat Joe Biden, Trump will be sidelined for the time being by COVID-19 – this after months of saying the nation was turning the corner against the virus.
Trump’s hospitalization also capped one of the most tumultuous weeks in political history. He tested positive just days aft The New York Times published his tax returns and a debate in which he took heat for constantly talking over Biden and botching the chance to condemn white supremacy.