Hospitalized with the coronavirus in Washington, President Donald Trump has released a video that seeks to explain why he put himself in a position to contract the virus, as his medical team and own staff did little to clarify his condition.
"I came here, I wasn’t feeling so well, I feel much better now," Trump said in a video message released on Saturday night, a day after he revealed he tested positive for COVID-19. He praised the staff at the Walter Reed Medical Center for "working hard to get me back."
His physician, Dr. Sean Conley (who is not a medical doctor, M.D., but a doctor of osteopathic medicine, D.O.) said in a statement a few hours later, "He remains fever-free and off supplemental oxygen with a saturation level between 96% and 98% all day. He spent most of the afternoon conducting business, has been up and moving about the medical suite without difficult. While not out of the woods, the team remains cautiously optimistic."
The president, who being 74 years old, male, and obese, is at a higher risk for developing complications from the virus. His doctors gave him a dose of an experimental antibody drug, Regeneron, on Friday at the White House and, after being transferred to Walter Reed on Friday night, then started him on a five-day course of remdesivir, another experimental drug used to help patients recover faster.
In his video message, Trump brought up his leadership and explained why he eschewed public health advice during a pandemic that has sickened 7.383 million Americans, killing nearly 210,000 of them since the spring.
"I also want to thank the leaders of the world for their condolences, and they know what we’re going through. They know as your leader what I have to go through. But I had no choice because I just didn’t want to stay in the White House. I was given that alternative: Stay in the White House, lock yourself in, don’t ever leave, don’t even go to the Oval Office, just stay upstairs and enjoy it. Don’t see people, don’t talk to people, and just be done with it, and I can’t do that," he said.
"I had to be out front and this is America, this is the United States. The greatest country in the world," Trump continued. "This is the most powerful country in the world. I can’t be locked up in a room upstairs, totally safe and just say ‘Hey, whatever happens, happens.' I can’t do that. We have to confront problems. As a leader, you have to confront problems. There’s never been a great leader that would have done that."
Trump ridiculed mask-wearing as recently as Tuesday, during the first debate with Vice President Joe Biden—clinging to the fact that some health experts changed their stance from no mask-wearing to strongly supporting it—and has continued to hold large rallies and fundraisers without social distancing or mask mandates. After his June rally in Oklahoma, a health official said a surge in COVID-19 cases was likely linked to the event; his campaign had refused to reschedule the gathering.
Now, besides the president, a number of people in his inner circle and other top Republicans have tested positive: First Lady Melania Trump; top aide Hope Hicks; Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien; former senior advisor Kellyanne Conway; former NJ Governor Chris Christie, who helped Trump prep for last week's debate; Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel; Republican Senators Thom Tillis, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson; and, as reported today by Bloomberg News, his personal assistant Nicholas Luna.
The president of Notre Dame, John Jenkins, also has the coronavirus. Jenkins was at the September 26th White House event where Trump announced that he was nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The First Lady, Conway, Christie, Lee, and Tillis were also present at the announcement, which is now being investigated as the event where people may have been infected.
Chris Wallace, the Fox News journalist who moderated Tuesday's debate, said it was unclear if Trump was tested for COVID-19 before the debate, due to an "honor system," and also said that members of Trump's party, including his children, waved off offers of masks.
Melania Trump removed her mask to greet her husband on the debate stage, while Jill Biden kept hers on while embracing her husband.
Joe Biden, so far, has tested negative for coronavirus.
On Saturday, Christie checked himself into the hospital as a "precautionary measure," due to his asthma.
These cases are in addition to nearly a dozen people who tested positive after Tuesday's presidential debate in Cleveland and at least three White House press corps journalists.
The timing of the president's diagnosis was not clearly answered by Conley during a Saturday press conference. He said that they were "72 hours into the diagnosis," and another physician, Dr. Brian Garibaldi, said that Trump received Regeneron 48 hours earlier, which would meant have been Thursday. The White House released a statement from Conley later, where he backtracked, "This morning while summarizing the president’s health, I incorrectly used the term ’72 hours’ instead of ‘Day 3’ and ’48 hours’ instead of ‘Day 2’ with regards to his diagnosis and the administration of the polyclonal antibody therapy."
The White House says that Hicks, one of the president's most trusted aides and who some say the president considers a "daughter," learned she had coronavirus on Wednesday. Instead of opting to quarantine, as people who have been in contact with COVID-19 cases are strongly advised to do, Trump went ahead with his schedule for a fundraiser in Bedminster, NJ.
However, ABC News now says that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and another top advisor; advisor Dan Scavino; and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany "were told at the last minute to remain at the White House."
Conley also refused to say whether the president received supplemental oxygen at any time, only saying that Trump didn't receive any while at Walter Reed. A source told the NY Times that Trump did receive oxygen at the White House, and a White House source—who was chief of staff Mark Meadows—told reporters on Saturday after Conley's press conference, "The President's vitals over last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery."
Meadows later told Reuters, "The president is doing very well. He is up and about and asking for documents to review. The doctors are very pleased with his vital signs. I have met with him on multiple occasions today on a variety of issues."
According to the Washington Post, "Trump was angry with Meadows about his Saturday afternoon comments indicating the president was quite sick and has asked aides to reassure the public by offering rosy depictions of his condition, a senior administration official said."
New Jersey health authorities are attempting to conduct contact tracing for those who were at the fundraiser. It's unclear whether the White House is aiding in contact tracing for the numerous events, including fundraisers and the presidential debate, leading up to the president's positive test.