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A defiant President Donald Trump will resume public events Saturday, potentially putting lives at risk once again with an afternoon speech at the White House that is expected to involve hundreds of guests just nine days after he revealed his Covid-19 diagnosis.
Just as the US sees an upward trend in hospitalization rates, Trump has invited some 2,000 people for his speech from a White House balcony, which is just the latest sign of his staff and doctors acquiescing to his desires rather than following public health guidelines and common sense.
The large gathering follows Trump’s acknowledgment during a televised interview with Fox News Friday that he may have contracted the virus at one of the recent events at the White House. It’s unknown whether he’s still contagious, but Trump gave an incomprehensible answer about his latest coronavirus test results Friday.
“I haven’t even found out numbers or anything yet, but I’ve been retested and I know I’m at either the bottom of the scale or free,” Trump told Fox News’ medical analyst Dr. Marc Siegel on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” “They test every couple of days, I guess, but it’s really at a level now that’s been great — great to see it disappear.”
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta noted that the Fox interview offered very little clarity about Trump’s level of contagion and said that if the President had a simple answer about testing negative, he would have given it: “They are being purposely vague on this, but I think they’re trying to track his viral load,” Gupta said on “Cuomo Prime Time.”
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Americans are still in the dark about the date of Trump’s last negative test for Covid-19. But as Trump taped the Fox interview, he said he had stopped taking medicine eight hours earlier. But he also underscored the seriousness of his illness when he acknowledged that scans of his lungs in the hospital had shown congestion and that he took the steroid dexamethasone because it keeps “the swelling down of the lungs.”
White House doctors have not spoken directly to the press since Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, and his doctor did not reveal his temperature in the latest statement on his vitals Thursday. Trump’s physician, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley, said in his Thursday statement that Saturday would be day 10 since Trump’s diagnosis and based on unspecified tests that the team was conducting, “I fully anticipate the President’s safe return to public engagements at that time.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that patients with mild or moderate illness are infectious for up to 10 days, while those with “severe to critical illness” could remain infectious up until 20 days after the onset of symptoms. The medications that Trump received have suggested serious illness to many of the doctors interviewed by CNN.
No evidence of change to White House protocols
Still, the President’s illness does not appear to have changed the safety protocols adopted by the White House or Trump’s campaign, even though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said on Friday that it’s now clear that Trump’s Rose Garden ceremony for his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, two weeks ago was a “superspreader event.”
“We had a super spreader event in the White House,” Fauci told CBS News Radio on Friday. “It was in a situation where people were crowded together, were not wearing masks. So the data speak for themselves.”
Attendees at Saturday’s White House event must bring masks and will be subject to temperature checks, a source with knowledge of the planning told CNN. But while Trump said he may have contracted the virus at the White House, he made no mention of masks when Siegel asked him about the lessons he has learned from contracting the coronavirus. Cases are now rising in 28 states, and Friday marked a record number of new coronavirus cases worldwide — more than 350,000 in a single day, according to the World Health Organization.
“They had some big events at the White House and perhaps there,” he said when Siegel asked where he thought he contracted the virus. “I don’t really know. Nobody really knows for sure. Numerous people have contracted it, but you know people have contracted it all over the world. It’s highly contagious.”
Trump said his main takeaway from his illness was that Covid patients should seek medical treatment as soon as they detect possible symptoms.
“I think the secret for me was I got there very early,” Trump said during the Siegel interview, acknowledging that many Americans do not have the same level of medical care or access to doctors that he does. “I think going in early is a big factor in my case.”
But when it comes to preventing the spread of the disease, the White House still seems to be flouting basic public health precautions, with their Saturday protocol not looking much different from the September 26 Rose Garden event where at least 12 people who attended — including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is still hospitalized — have contracted the virus, forcing the White House to empty out after aides went into quarantine.
The Commission on Presidential Debates on Friday canceled the second debate, which was scheduled for next Thursday, after the President declined to do a virtual debate despite concerns over his Covid-19 diagnosis, organizers said.
Trump went ahead and announced a rally in Florida on Monday, even though at least nine people who attended Trump’s September 18 rally in Bemidji, Minnesota, according to Kris Ehresmann, the state’s infectious disease director.
“Nine cases reported attending the rally. One case was known to be infectious,” Ehresmann said. “There were two hospitalizations that were associated with that. One who is in intensive care and no deaths at this point.”
That would normally be chilling news for any campaign to hear, but it has not affected Trump’s desire to get back out on the trail to receive adulation from his fans at a time when he is trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 11 points in CNN’s poll of polls.
He hasn’t hesitated in the past to put his supporters or those who protect him at risk. The President endangered Secret Service agents at the height of his own illness — traveling with them in an SUV to thank supporters who were cheering for him outside Walter Reed.
The agents wore medical gowns, masks and eye protection as they escorted him on the unnecessary trip out of the hospital, but Trump still defended that much-criticized photo op during his Fox appearance with Siegel.
“After two days I said, ‘You know I want to go out and say hello to the people,’ and I went to the Secret Service — and these are the people that are with me all the time — and they said, ‘We have no problem sir,'” Trump claimed in Friday’s interview on Fox.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, however, has reported that members of the Secret Service have expressed escalating concern about the disregard for their well-being in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
One current Secret Service agent who works on the presidential and first family detail said, “That never should have happened.”
“We’re not disposable,” the agent told CNN.
Trump offers widely varying descriptions of his illness
As medical experts try to assess the risks to Trump’s supporters with the planned White House and Florida events this weekend and next week, the President’s own descriptions of how serious his case of coronavirus became have varied wildly this week.
On Monday, as he returned from Walter Reed medical center, Trump implored Americans not to be afraid of the coronavirus or let it “dominate you” and said, “You’re gonna beat it.”
On Friday, in the midst of a blitz of interviews with friendly news outlets, he said on the Rush Limbaugh radio show that he might not have recovered if he had not received the monoclonal antibody treatment from Regeneron.
“I was in not great shape and we have a medicine that that healed me, that fixed me,” Trump said on the show. “It’s a great medicine. I mean I feel better now than I did two weeks ago. It’s crazy. And I recovered immediately, almost immediately. I might not have recovered at all from Covid.”
On Friday in the Fox interview, Trump also acknowledged that many people have died from Covid and that the pandemic had been very painful for many American families. But in a moment of cognitive dissonance, he seemed not to realize the lives he could be jeopardizing with his return to the campaign trail.
Biden clearly plans to make it a campaign issue in the coming days. During an event in Las Vegas Friday, he criticized the President’s “reckless personal conduct” and said it was having “a destabilizing effect” on the government.
“He didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect himself or others,” Biden said. “The longer Donald Trump is President, the more reckless he gets. How can we trust him to protect this country?”