US President Donald Trump greeted supporters outside the military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he is undergoing treatment for Covid-19, in an unannounced drive-by on Sunday evening that raised concern about the safety of those accompanying him, particularly his Secret Service detail.
Trump wore a mask and sat in the back of an SUV. He waved to his supporters and gave out fist bumps as his cavalcade crawled by in front of the Walter Reed Military Medical Center. The cavalcade didn’t stop and the US president had no in-person interactions.
Trump was shifted to the hospital on Friday after his oxygen levels had dropped and he developed high fever. He has been fever-free since, but had another episode of oxygen-level drop and is on a cocktail of drugs, including remdesivir, an anti-viral that cuts recovery period for hospitalised patients, and dexamethasone, a steroid recommended by the World Health Organization to treat severely ill patients.
The medical team treating Trump has conveyed a rather optimistic picture of the US president’s health and said he was feeling better, was in good spirits and could be discharged as early as Monday to continue the treatment at the White House.
But a leading member of the team, Sean Conley, the US president’s physician, has admitted to tailoring updates of Trump’s condition to keep them “upbeat”.
The US president’s drive-by, which he spoke of in a video message he released later, was greeted by a storm of criticism.
“That presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” tweeted James P Phillip, an attending physician at Walter Reed. “The risk of Covid-19 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.”
Critics called the drive-by a photo-op staged by Trump to project strength at a time when he was feeling weak and vulnerable. To many, it appeared to be a strategic move to keep him in public view with Election Day less than a month away. Visuals of the drive-by played in a loop on TV news all evening, even though it was accompanied by commentary critical of the move.
As criticism mounted, the White House pushed back. “Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the president and all those supporting it, including PPE,” spokesperson Judd Deere said. “The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.”
In the video message that Trump tweeted on Sunday, the US president spoke of his experience as a Covid-19 patient.
“I learned a lot about Covid. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn’t the let’s-read-the-books school. And I get it, and I understand it and it’s a very interesting thing,” Trump said.
Since the first coronavirus case was reported in the US on January 21, Covid-19 has killed nearly 210,000 Americans and infected more than 7.4 million. For the US president to “get it” now, only because he was among those infected, was cited by critics as indication of his mishandling of the pandemic.
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