President Donald Trump could be discharged “as early as tomorrow” from the hospital as he battles the coronavirus, his medical team said on Sunday, while acknowledging Trump experienced concerning drops in his oxygen saturation levels both Friday and Saturday.
The timing on a potential release from Walter Reed medical center, where Trump has been since Friday, was a change from the more cautious assessment the president’s physician, Sean Conley, gave on Saturday, when he declined to “put a hard date” on a possible discharge date.
During a briefing on Trump’s health Sunday morning, Conley also confirmed the president had received supplemental oxygen while at the White House on Friday morning — a step frequently taken in more serious coronavirus cases. Conley a day earlier had avoided acknowledging Trump’s need for supplemental oxygen before arriving at Walter Reed.
“I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction and in doing so, you know, came off that we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true,” Conley said when asked about his obfuscation.
Separately, Conley also revealed the president had been given dexamethasone, a decades-old steroid. The announcement concerned medical experts because the drug is typically recommended only for patients with severe or critical cases of Covid-19.
U.K. scientists reported in June that dexamethasone, which quiets the immune system, reduced the risk of death for patients who required supplemental oxygen or ventilator assistance. While the drug can aid those severely ill patients, whose symptoms are often the result of an immune system in overdrive, it can also harm those who are not as sick by hampering the body’s ability to fight off the virus.
Sunday’s briefing was Conley’s second since Trump was hospitalized Friday.
His first briefing, held Saturday morning, kicked off a whiplash day of information that left White house aides bewildered and the public befuddled about the actual state of the president’s health.
Sunday’s briefing began with a clear attempt to lay out a more concrete timeline of Trump’s illness, going back to the initial diagnosis Thursday night. Conley said Trump was “doing well” that night, but by Friday morning had “a high fever” and oxygen saturation levels that were “transiently dipping below 94 percent,” outside of normal range.
Given those two factors, Conley said he was “concerned for possible rapid progression of the illness.” He then decided to administer supplemental oxygen, even though the president was “fairly adamant he didn’t need it.” Trump, he said, received oxygen for “about an hour” and improved quickly, moving about the White House residence hours later.
“Despite this,” he added, “everyone agreed the best course of action was to go to Walter Reed.”
The rundown provided official confirmation for the first time about episodes that were only rumored or discussed anonymously by White House officials throughout Saturday, muddling any understanding of Trump’s true condition.
It began in the morning, when Conley and Trump’s medical team came out to paint a rosy picture for reporters of Trump’s status, proclaiming he was “doing very well.”
But within minutes, the White House started undermining that message. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gave reporters on the scene an anonymous quote saying that Trump’s condition had been “very concerning” over the previous day and warning, “the next 48 hours will be critical.” Soon, indications were piling up that Trump may have received supplemental oxygen while at the White House on Friday, even though Conley had said Trump had not been on supplemental oxygen the prior day.
Conley also created potential discrepancies in the timeline he laid out for Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis. He initially indicated Trump had first tested positive over a full day before he stopped working and traveling maskless in tight quarters, before later clarifying that he had meant to say “day 3” instead of “72 hours,” confirming that Trump was diagnosed on Thursday.
That night, Trump himself tried to set the record straight.
In a discursive, four-minute video released on Twitter, he contradicted Meadows and other officials who had framed his health status as worrisome before he left the White House. “I just didn’t want to stay in the White House,” he said. “I was given that alternative.” The White House then buttressed the video with two photos of the president sitting at his desk, reading and signing papers.
Later that evening, Meadows went on Fox News to say Trump had improved Saturday but again noted he and Trump’s doctor were “very concerned” on Friday about the president’s fever and oxygen saturation levels.
And then late Saturday night, the White House released another memo from Conley saying the president “continues to do well,” without a fever and not requiring supplemental oxygen. “While not yet out of the woods, the team remains cautiously optimistic.”
Conley noted Trump had completed his second dose of the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has been shown to shorten recovery time in hospitalized coronavirus patients. Trump has also received an infusion of an experimental antibody drug produced by Regeneron, and is taking aspirin, zinc and vitamin D.
Sunday morning, Trump campaign surrogates blitzed the news shows, attempting to stabilize the uncertain narrative that has unfolded since Friday. Across several networks, they defended the precautions the White House and campaign have taken to keep people safe from coronavirus. Those protocols have come under scrutiny after several largely maskless GOP gatherings that flouted social distancing and crowd size guidelines were linked to the outbreak that ensnared Trump.
“We believe that masks are very useful, the president has worn them on many occasions, including visiting the hospital where he is now a patient, [and] when he was visiting as commander in chief as a guest to visit soldiers there, he wore a mask. So we believe in masks,” Steve Cortes, a campaign senior adviser, said on Fox. “We also believe in some element of individual choice.”
Yet over on ABC, Jason Miller, another top campaign aide, accused Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival for president, of wearing masks when he doesn’t need to. “Too often, he’s used masks as a prop,” he said.
Meanwhile, the viral outbreak among senior Republican figures and their aides has continued to expand.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped Trump prep for the first presidential debate last week, was hospitalized on Saturday after testing positive. And early Sunday it emerged that Trump’s body man, Nicholas Luna, had tested positive.
White House officials have said they are bracing for more cases to crop up in the coming days.
Anita Kumar contributed to this report.