President Donald Trump remains in a military hospital on Saturday for treatment after testing positive for COVID-19, an extraordinary development that upended the presidential race a month before the Nov. 3 election.
BY STEVE HOLLAND AND ALEXANDRA ALPER
Trump said in a video from his hospital room on Saturday that he felt “much better” and hoped to be “back soon,” after a day of contradictory messages from the White House about his condition following his COVID-19 diagnosis.
In a four-minute video posted on Twitter, Trump, looking tired and wearing a jacket and open-necked shirt, said he “wasn’t feeling so well” when he first arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday and that the next few days would be crucial in his fight against the coronavirus.
“Over the next period of a few days, I guess that’s the real test, so we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days,” Trump said, seated at a round table in front of an American flag.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 3, 2020
The address came hours after differing assessments of his health from administration officials left it unclear how ill the president had become since he tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday night, a matter of enormous public concern.
A White House team of doctors said on Saturday morning that Trump’s condition was improving and that he was already talking about returning to the White House. One doctor said Trump had told them “‘I feel like I could walk out of here today.'”
Within minutes, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gave reporters a less rosy assessment, telling reporters, “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
Meadows, whose initial comments were delivered on condition that he not be identified, altered his tone hours later, telling Reuters that Trump was doing “very well” and that “doctors are very pleased with his vital signs.”
Meadows did not clarify the discrepancy in his comments.
Trump was flown from the White House to Walter Reed, near Washington, about 17 hours after he announced his illness. Administration officials, who described the move as precautionary, said he would stay at the hospital for several days.
Another source who was briefed on Trump’s condition said the president was given supplemental oxygen before he went to the hospital. The decision to hospitalize Trump came after he had experienced difficulty breathing and his oxygen level dropped, according to a source familiar with the situation.
“The team and I are extremely happy with the progress the president has made,” Conley said. He declined to give a timetable for Trump’s possible release from the hospital.
Trump tweeted praise for the medical staff at Walter Reed, and other institutions that have joined them, saying they are “amazing” and that with their help, “I am feeling well!”
Conley said Trump had received a first dose of a five-day course of Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral drug sold by Gilead Sciences Inc that has been shown to shorten hospital stays. He is also taking an experimental treatment, Regeneron’s REGN-COV2, one of several experimental COVID-19 drugs known as monoclonal antibodies, as well as zinc, Vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and aspirin, Conley has said.
He is at high risk because of his age and weight. He has remained in apparent good health during his time in office but is not known to exercise regularly or to follow a healthy diet.
A number of other prominent Republicans also tested positive on Friday, including former White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and Republican Senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis.
Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, also tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday and will work from home, according to a senior campaign official.
On Saturday, a third senator was diagnosed with COVID-19: Republican Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie also said he tested positive.
Vice President Mike Pence, who would take over presidential duties if Trump became severely ill, tested negative, a spokesman said. The former Indiana governor, 61, is working from his own residence about three miles from the White House.
‘Going well, I think’
Roughly 17 hours after he made his diagnosis public, Trump walked slowly from the White House to a waiting helicopter to be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He wore a mask and business suit and did not speak to reporters.
“I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out,” Trump said in a brief video message posted on Twitter. Early on Friday, he had tweeted that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, had contracted the virus.
Trump will work in a special suite at the hospital for the next few days as a precautionary measure, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. Online video showed a small group of Trump supporters outside Walter Reed late on Friday waving Trump 2020 flags, most not wearing masks.
In a tweet late on Friday, the president wrote: “Going well, I think! Thank you to all. LOVE!!!”
The diagnosis was the latest setback for the Republican president, who is trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Stocks on Wall Street closed lower as news of Trump’s diagnosis added to mounting uncertainties surrounding the election.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was himself hospitalized with COVID-19 in April, said on Saturday he had no doubt Trump would make a strong recovery.
“He’s a naturally obviously very resilient character and I’m sure he’ll come through it very well,” Johnson told reporters.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, joining well-wishers at home and abroad, sent a message to Trump and his wife on Saturday, wishing them a speedy recovery, Chinese state television reported.
Election Day looms
With just 31 days to go until Election Day, Trump’s campaign said it would postpone rallies and other events where he was scheduled to appear, or take them online.
Biden pulled ads attacking Trump off the air but otherwise continued his campaign, traveling to Michigan on Friday after testing negative for the virus.
At a union hall in Grand Rapids, Biden said he was praying for his rival’s recovery. However, he also implicitly criticized Trump, who has mocked Biden for routinely wearing a mask and has held huge campaign rallies with little social distancing.
“Be patriotic,” Biden said. “It’s not about being a tough guy. It’s about doing your part.”
The Republican National Committee would choose a replacement nominee if Trump were to become incapacitated, but it is too late in most states to change the names on the ballot. Some 2.9 million people have already voted, according to figures compiled by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald.
Pence took over Trump’s planned calls with governors and retirees’ organizations. His Oct. 7 debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris will go forward as planned, organizers said.
Harris has also tested negative, according to the campaign.
The virus could complicate Trump’s push to install conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court.
In addition to the president and his wife, at least four people who were at a White House event to announce Barrett’s nomination – Conway, Lee, Tillis and University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins – said Friday they have tested positive.
Lee and Tillis are both members of the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to begin hearings on Barrett’s nomination on Oct. 12.
Barrett herself tested positive for the virus earlier this year and recovered, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Tillis, who said in a statement that he has no symptoms, will isolate at home for 10 days. Polls show a close race between him and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham for his North Carolina seat, one of several Democrats hope to flip in their quest to win a Senate majority in November.