Speculation and confusion over US President Donald Trump’s health as he fights coronavirus continues after his doctors revealed his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days.
Mr Trump’s doctors faced media again on Sunday (local time) and continued to evade basic questions about his health during treatment for COVID-19, yet they insisted he “continued to improve” and suggested he could be discharged as early as Monday.
The latest confusing update came hours before a convoy of black SUVs greeted large crowds outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre, with a masked Mr Trump inside one of the vehicles waving to those gathered.
Trump’s impromptu visit to fans
Mr Trump returned to social media early on Sunday morning, sharing a video of flag-waving supporters, most not wearing masks, gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre.
He later tweeted his thanks to those who had shown their support at the facility before uploading a video saying he had a surprise for those who had waited outside the centre.
That surprise would come in the shape of an appearance outside the facility – albeit behind the glass of the backseat window as a convoy of black Chevrolets made their way around the area.
US President Donald Trump, being treated for coronavirus, waves at supporters from the back of a car in a motorcade outside of Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, though his destination was unknown pic.twitter.com/8aLZ5o6FtR— AFP news agency (@AFP) October 4, 2020
Crowds cheered while one man could be heard shouting ‘Yes!’ repeatedly in video uploaded to Twitter by Associated Press reporter Philip Crowther.
Assistant professor of emergency medicine at the George Washington University, Dr James Phillips, called the stunt “insanity” on Twitter.
“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. For political theatre,” he wrote.
Dr Phillips said there was a high chance those inside the vehicle would contract the virus.
“The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play,” he said.
Trump drives by the press and supporters outside Walter Reed hospital. pic.twitter.com/3phtKthqTH— Philip Crowther (@PhilipinDC) October 4, 2020
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. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.— Dr. James P. Phillips, MD (@DrPhillipsMD) October 4, 2020
Doctors’ confusing narrative continues
Speaking on the steps of the military hospital where Mr Trump spent a third day, his doctors sidestepped questions, including the timing of his second dip in oxygen, which they neglected to mention in multiple statements the day before, or whether lung scans showed any damage.
Sunday’s announcement was the second straight day of obfuscation from a White House already suffering from a credibility crisis.
And it raised serious questions about whether the doctors treating the president can be trusted to share accurate, timely information with the American public.
Pressed about conflicting information he and the White House released on Saturday, Navy Commander Dr Sean Conley acknowledged he had tried to present a rosy description of of the president’s condition.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team, that 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,” Dr Conley said.
“And in doing so, came off like we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
The briefing outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre lasted just 10 minutes.
Before walking away, Dr Conley said the president had a “high fever” and a blood oxygen level below 94 per cent on Friday and during “another episode” on Saturday.
He was evasive about the timing and when asked whether Mr Trump’s level had dropped below 90 per cent, he said they didn’t have that information available.
Dr Conley did reveal Mr Trump was give a dose of the steroid dexamethasone in response.
Mr Trump’s blood oxygen level currently stands at 98 per cent, his medical team said.
Blood oxygen saturation is a key health marker for COVID-19 patients. A normal reading is between 95 and 100. A drop below 90 is concerning.
The doctors also declined to say what they had found in scans of the president’s lungs.
“There’s some expected findings, but nothing of any major clinical concern,” Dr Conley said.
He declined to outline those “expected findings”. The virus can cause pneumonia and other damage that may be visible in scans before a patient is feeling very sick.
Mr Trump offered his own assessment of his status the night before in a video from his hospital suite, saying he was beginning to feel better and hoped to “be back soon”.
Biden’s message to Trump
Mr Trump has been eager to return home and hates the image of himself at the hospital, according to people familiar with his mood.
He has also been struggling to come to grips with the uncertainty of how long his illness will last and when he might be able to return to the campaign, with just weeks to go before the November 3 election.
Mr Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, pulled his attack ads off the air during the president’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.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.