Donald Trump makes his first public appearance since his hospital stay for COVID-19 treatment

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday made his first public appearance after being hospitalized for the coronavirus, defying public health guidelines to speak to a crowd of hundreds even as the White House refused to declare that he was not contagious.

Trump took off a mask moments after he emerged on the White House balcony to address the crowd on the lawn below, his first step back onto the public stage with just more than three weeks to go until Election Day. But, five days after Trump returned from Walter Reed Medical Center, his health remained a mystery as White House officials refused to reveal if he had tested negative or if he was still at risk of spreading the virus.

His return was a brief one.

With bandages visible on his hands, likely from an intravenous injection, Trump spoke for 18 minutes, far less than at his normal hour-plus rallies. He appeared healthy, if perhaps a little hoarse, as he delivered what was, for all intents and purposes, a short version of his campaign speech despite the executive mansion setting.

Though billed as an official event, Trump offered no policy proposals and instead delivered the usual attacks on Democrat Joe Biden while praising law enforcement to a crowd of several hundred, most of whom wore masks while few adhered to social distancing guidelines.

“I’m feeling great,” said Trump, who said he was thankful for their good wishes and prayers as he recovered. He then declared that the pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans, was “disappearing” even though he is still recovering from the virus.

In either an act of defiance or simply tempting fate, officials organized the crowd just steps from the Rose Garden, where exactly two weeks ago the president held another large gathering to formally announce his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. That event is now being eyed as a possible COVID-19 superspreader as more than two dozen people in attendance have contracted the virus.

Trump had hoped to hold campaign rallies this weekend but settled for the White House event. But even as his health remained unclear, he planned to ramp up his travel with a rally in Florida on Monday, followed by trips to Pennsylvania and Iowa on subsequent days. It was not clear if Trump posed a risk to those he would fly with on Air Force One or encounter at the rally sites.

Before the speech, White House officials said they had no information to release on whether the president was tested for COVID-19, meaning he made his first public appearance without the White House verifying that he’s no longer contagious.

Security was stepped up around the White House before the event, which was called a “peaceful protest for law & order” and predominantly attended by Black and Latino supporters. Police and the Secret Service closed surrounding streets to vehicles and shut down Lafayette Square, the park near the White House that has long been a gathering place for public protest.

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