WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump returned to the White House on Monday, three days after he was hospitalized for coronavirus, in a made-for-television moment that was full of symbolism but also underscored lingering questions about the extent of the president’s illness.
Minutes after walking out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Trump stepped off Marine One, climbed the steps of the South Portico and – pointedly – removed his mask. Flanked by American flags, Trump gave several thumbs up and saluted as his helicopter took off and then entered the White House. It was not clear if he put his mask back on inside.
“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it,” Trump said in a video posted to his Twitter account Monday night, echoing a message he embraced earlier in the day that drew fire from critics who noted presidents receive the best care possible. “Get out there. Be careful. We have the best medicines in the world.”
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White House aides were eager for the images of a president triumphantly returning home after fighting the virus – a scene that could have implications for his reelection bid. But Trump’s medical team has provided scattered and inconsistent details about the president’s condition and it was unclear when he would resume his campaign.
“Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!” Trump tweeted shortly before emerging from Walter Reed. “The Fake News only shows the Fake Polls.”
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Trump has received around-the-clock care at Walter Reed and therapies not widely available to most patients experiencing mild symptoms. And so the president drew criticism from some for suggesting, as he did a tweet Monday, that Americans should not “be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
More than 210,000 Americans have died from the virus.
“COVID-19 is something that is killing a lot of people. And it’s definitely a threat to people’s overall health. Even if people don’t die, many of them have serious side effect, perhaps long-lasting ones,” said Dr. Otto Yang, a professor of infectious disease at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I think it’s up to the individual to judge if that’s something to be afraid of or not.”
Trump’s departure from the hospital, which his doctors presaged a day earier, came with fanfare from the White House about the president’s recovery but also uncertainty from medical experts and critics about how serious his case of COVID is, and how much it will affect his presidential duties and campaign.
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Several aides posted social media messages Monday suggesting the president had “defeated” the virus. Hogan Gidley, a Trump campaign spokesman, posted a GIF of Trump throwing a celebratory fist in the air at a WWE event. Campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Trump plans to participate in the Oct. 15 presidential debate to be set in Miami.
Others were less convinced. Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a New Jersey Republican, described the decision to leave as “irresponsible” and “shocking.”
“Leaving 1 of the best hospitals, having received drugs the average person doesn’t have access to, going home w/ full medical staff, he has the audacity to say don’t fear #COVID19 & he feels better than ever? THIS is our President?!” she tweeted.
The decision to return to the White House, where several aides have announced in recent days that they, too, have tested positive, came as those close to Trump have sent mixed signals about his condition. On the one hand, White House physician Sean Conley had consistently offered an upbeat assessment. On the other, he has also disclosed troubling symptoms, and new drug prescriptions, after the fact.
And other aides, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, described Trump’s initial condition as alarming to the president’s staff and medical team.
Trump’s doctors said the president was given the steroid dexamethasone on Saturday following a previously undisclosed drop in oxygen levels. The World Health Organization recommends that drug only for “severe or critical” cases. Conley has pointedly declined to answer whether Trump has developed lung damage from his illness.
Trump received a single 8 gram dose of Regeneron’s polyclonal antibody cocktail on Friday as a precautionary measure. He also has received several rounds of Remdesivir therapy and has taken zinc, vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and a daily aspirin, doctors said.
When pressed for details about Trump’s condition during a briefing Monday, Conley cited the 1996 health insurance privacy law that shields patients from having their personal health information divulged. But throughout the course of the president’s treatment, Conley has had no qualms providing detailed health information if it showed the president was improving.
“He’s back,” Conley said Monday.
“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 the resident’s safe return home,” Conley said.
“Over the past 24 hours, the president has continued to improve,” he said. “He’s met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria.”
Conley did not answer a specific question about whether the president would be confined to the residence at the White House or whether he would be allowed to work from the West Wing. Conley said his team would do “whatever it takes” to allow him to work from wherever he needs to work from.
Trump’s medical team suggested the possibility Sunday that he could be released from Walter Reed Medical Center if his condition continued to improve, and White House aides – and the president himself – have asserted he is eager to return home, even as a growing number of West Wing officials announce they have positive test results.
The news came as the White House faced a growing number of questions about inconsistent and incomplete information provided about Trump’s condition, not to mention a burgeoning number of aides who have tested positive. Top among those was White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who tested positive Monday.
Two other aides in the White House press office also tested positive. Many of those aides attended events at the White House on Sept. 26 tied to Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
On Sunday, White House physician Sean Conley acknowledged the president had been given oxygen and explained the decision to not disclose that information earlier by saying he “didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction and in doing so came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”
Conley declined to answer a key question Monday that would help assess the potential spread of the disease within the White House that officials have refused to answer for days: When did the president receive his last ‘negative’ test result for coronavirus.
“I don’t want to go backwards,” Conley said.
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Don’t be afraid of it.’ Trump returns to White House after three-day hospitalization for COVID-19