Coronavirus | Ignoring concerns, Donald Trump takes a car ride

The President’s visit came shortly after he promised his supporters a surprise in a video posted a video on social media.

Updated - October 05, 2020 09:56 pm IST

Published - October 05, 2020 03:55 am IST - Bethesda

U.S. President Donald Trump waves to supporters as he briefly rides by in the presidential motorcade in front of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S. October 4, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump waves to supporters as he briefly rides by in the presidential motorcade in front of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S. October 4, 2020

Infected and contagious, President Donald Trump briefly ventured out in a motorcade on Sunday to salute cheering supporters, a move that disregarded precautions meant to contain the deadly virus that has forced his hospitalisation and killed more than 2,09,000 Americans.

With one month until election day, Mr. Trump was eager to project strength despite his illness. The President surprised supporters who had gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, driving by in a black SUV with the windows rolled up. Secret Service agents inside the vehicle could be seen in masks and other protective gear.

The move capped a weekend of contradictions that fuelled confusion about Mr. Trump’s health, which has imperilled the leadership of the U.S. government and upended the final stages of the presidential campaign. While Mr. Trump’s physician offered a rosy prognosis on his condition, his briefings lacked basic information, including the findings of lung scans, or were quickly muddled by more serious assessments of the President’s health by other officials.

‘This is insanity’

In a short video released by the White House on Sunday, Mr. Trump insisted he understood the gravity of the moment. But his actions moments later, by leaving the hospital and sitting inside the SUV with others, suggested otherwise.

“This is insanity,” Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed who is a critic of Mr. Trump and his handling of the pandemic. “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,” the doctor added. “Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Mr. Trump’s trip outside the hospital “was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.” He added that precautions were taken, including using personal protective equipment, to protect Mr. Trump as well as White House officials and Secret Service agents.

Joe Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, said the Democratic presidential nominee again tested negative for COVID-19 on Sunday. The results come five days after Mr. Biden spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden, who has taken a far more cautious approach to in-person events, had two negative tests on Friday.

For his part, Mr. Trump still faces questions about his health.

It was the second straight day of obfuscation from a White House already suffering from a credibility crisis. And it raised more doubts about whether the doctors treating the president were sharing accurate, timely information with the American public about the severity of his condition.

Conflicting messages

Pressed about conflicting information, Dr. Sean Conley said that he had tried to present a sunnier description of the President’s condition.

“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, 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, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”

Medical experts said Dr. Conley’s revelations were hard to square with his positive assessment and talk of a discharge.

“There’s a little bit of a disconnect,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

According to CDC guidelines, “In general, transport and movement of a patient with suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection outside of their room should be limited to medically essential purposes.”

Even before Mr. Trump’s motorcade outing on Sunday, some Secret Service agents have expressed concern about the lackadaisical attitude toward masks and social distancing inside the White House, but there isn’t much they can do, according to agents and officials who spoke to.

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