Before the video was posted, the infected President cruised by supporters in his bulletproof SUV, windows rolled up, driven by Secret Service agents in protective gear who were potentially exposed to the disease that has swept through the White House in recent days.
“This is insanity,” tweeted Dr James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre, where Trump has been hospitalised since Friday evening.
“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die,” the doctor wrote. “For political theatre. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theatre.”
Trump’s doctors earlier in the day sidestepped questions about exactly when Trump’s blood oxygen dropped — an episode they neglected to mention in multiple statements the day before — or whether lung scans showed any damage.
It was the second straight day of confusion and obfuscation from a White House already suffering from a credibility crisis. And it raised more doubts about whether the doctors treating the President were sharing accurate, timely information with the American public about the severity of his condition.
Pressed about conflicting information he and the White House released on Saturday, Navy Comander Dr Sean Conley acknowledged that he had tried to present a rosy description of the President’s condition.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the President, that his course of illness has had. Didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” Conley said. “And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
Medical experts said Conley’s revelations were hard to square with the doctor’s upbeat assessment and talk of a discharge.
“There’s a little bit of a disconnect,” said Dr Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.
At the same time, Trump’s drive-by greeting was reminiscent of the moment in 2016 when he emerged from Trump Tower in the midst of the Access Hollywood tape scandal to greet his supporters on the street below. But this move potentially exposed several people in his security detail to COVID-19.
According to CDC guidelines, “In general, transport and movement of a patient with suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection outside of their room should be limited to medically essential purposes.”
Some Secret Service agents have expressed concern about the lackadaisical attitude towards masks and social distancing inside the White House, but there isn’t much they can do, according to agents and officials who spoke to the AP. This close to the election, thousands of agents are engaged on protective duty so they can be subbed out quickly should someone test positive.
Concern over the drive capped a day that was focused squarely on the President’s health.
Asked about Conley’s lack of transparency, White House aide Alyssa Farah suggested the doctors were speaking as much to the President as to the American public, saying, “When you’re treating a patient, you want to project confidence, you want to lift their spirits and that was the intent.”
Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, pulled his attack ads off the air during Trump’s hospitalisation and, on Sunday, he dispatched senior aides to deliver a largely friendly message.
“We are sincerely hoping that the President makes a very quick recovery, and we can see him back out on the campaign trail very soon,” Biden adviser Symone Sanders said on CNN’s State of the Union.
She added, “This is a glaring reminder that the virus is real.”
Biden was at home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Sunday with no plans for in-person campaigning or other public appearances. He has tested negative for the virus for a third time since he was potentially exposed at last week’s debate and his campaign has pledged to disclose all other future test results for the 77-year-old candidate.
Trump’s medical team indicated that his hospital stay could end soon.
“Our plan for today is to have him eat and drink, to be up out of bed as much as possible, to be mobile,” Dr Brian Garibaldi said. “And if he continues to look and feel as well as he does today, our hope is that we can plan for a discharge as early as tomorrow to the White House where he can continue his treatment course.”
More than 209,000 Americans have been killed by the virus, by far the highest number of confirmed fatalities in the word. In all, nearly 7.4 million people have been infected in the United States, and few have access to the kind of around-the-clock attention and experimental treatments as Trump.
First lady Melania Trump has remained at the White House as she recovers from her own bout with the virus.
Several White House officials this weekend expressed frustration with the level of transparency and public disclosure since the President announced his diagnosis early on Friday.
They were particularly upset by the whiplash between Conley’s rosy assessment on Saturday and Meadows’ more concerned outlook. They privately acknowledge that the administration has little credibility on COVID-19 and that they have unnecessarily squandered what remains of it with the lack of clear, accurate updates on Trump’s condition.
Many in the White House are also shaken and scared — nervous that they have been exposed to the virus and confronting the reality that what seemed like a bubble of safety has become a COVID-19 hot spot. There has been no mass directive sent to staff on how they should respond.