President Donald Trump surprised supporters on Sunday afternoon with a drive outside of Walter Reed Medical Center, where he has been hospitalized with Covid-19 since Friday.
The masked president was captured on video waving from inside a black SUV in his presidential motorcade, which passed by a throng of cheering people on the street who were standing close to one another, many of them not wearing masks.
The short trip caught the pool of reporters who typically travel with the president and monitor his movements by surprise. The White House had called a lid shortly after 3 p.m., meaning the president wasn’t expected to travel or make public appearances.
“The pool was not informed of this ahead of time, and we have not been called back to the White House or Walter Reed,” a pool report said.
Trump instead previewed his surprise in a 73-second video he tweeted to coincide with his appearance.
In the clip, Trump said he had “been getting great reports from the doctors” and praised the hospital, its medical staff, soldiers and first responders.
“I also think we’re gonna pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street, and they’ve been out there for a long time, and they’ve got Trump flags, and they love our country,” the president said, smiling and appearing more robust than the previous two days. “So I’m not telling anybody but you, but I’m about to make a little surprise visit.”
Trump suggested in the video that his supporters had “more enthusiasm than maybe anybody” and seemed to speak as if his bout with Covid-19 was over, as he conveyed a new understanding of a deadly virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Trump’s medical team told reporters on Sunday morning that the president could be discharged as early as Monday, and in television interviews, his allies repeatedly painted pictures of the president as a tough, strong figure who will overcome the virus.
“It’s been a very interesting journey. I learned a lot about Covid,” Trump said in his video on Sunday. “I learned it by really going to school — this is the real school; this isn’t the ‘let’s read the book’ school. And I get it, and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing and I’m gonna be letting you know about it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that anyone spending 15 minutes or more within six feet of a confirmed Covid patient is at high risk of contracting the disease. The president’s appearance on Sunday in a vehicle with those protecting him alarmed some medical experts.
“That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, wrote on Twitter. “The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.”