Updated: October 3, 2020 11:36:43 pm
Written by Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman
US President Donald Trump’s vital signs Saturday were concerning as doctors mounted an aggressive effort to treat him and he was not out of danger, a person close to the situation said, even as the coronavirus infected an ever-widening swath of the president’s aides and allies.
While doctors maintained during a televised briefing that Trump was “doing very well” after a night at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, they refused to provide critical details and left open the impression that the president was known to be sick a day earlier than previously reported.
Shortly after the upbeat briefing by the doctors, a person familiar with the president’s health gave a more sober assessment to reporters at Walter Reed on the condition of anonymity.
“The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning, and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care,” this person said. “We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
Two people close to the White House said in separate interviews with The New York Times that the president had trouble breathing Friday and that his oxygen level dropped, prompting his doctors to give him supplemental oxygen while at the White House and decide to transfer him to Walter Reed where he could be monitored with better equipment and treated more rapidly in case of trouble.
Dr Sean P Conley, the White House physician, told reporters outside Walter Reed that the president was not currently on supplemental oxygen Saturday but repeatedly declined to say definitively whether he had ever been on oxygen.
“None at this moment and yesterday with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen,” he said, seeming to suggest that there was a period Friday when he was.
Conley likewise seemed to suggest that the president was first diagnosed with the virus Wednesday rather than Thursday night when Trump disclosed that he had tested positive on Twitter. While describing what he said was the president’s progress, he said Trump was “just 72 hours into the diagnosis now,” which would mean midday Wednesday.
Asked about that, Conley did not clarify but said that Thursday afternoon “we repeated testing and, given clinical indications, had a little bit more concern.” Late that night, he said “we got the PCR confirmation that he was” positive. Trump attended campaign events on both Wednesday night and Thursday, which would be after the point 72 hours earlier.
The confusion came from a briefing where Conley and his team offered a relentlessly positive assessment of Trump’s condition.
“This morning the president is doing very well,” Conley said. “At this time, the team and I are extremely happy with the progress the president has made.”
The doctors said Trump had been free of fever for 24 hours and had blood pressure and heart rates that were normal for him. Asked why he moved Trump to the hospital, Conley said, “Because he’s the president of the United States.”
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Dr Sean N Dooley, another physician treating the president, said Trump was feeling optimistic.
“He’s in exceptionally good spirits,” Dooley said. He added that the president told his doctors, “I feel like I could walk out of here today.”
The outbreak claimed a third Republican senator Saturday as Ron Johnson of Wisconsin reported testing positive as did former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. Other Republicans close to Trump were being tested and awaiting results as the weekend opened. In the course of barely 24 hours, the president, his wife, his campaign manager, his party chairperson, his senior adviser, his former counselor and now three Republican senators have all tested positive for the virus, along with several reporters.
The White House medical unit was investigating Trump’s announcement of his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court last weekend as a likely source of the virus’s spread. More than a half-dozen people who attended the event Sept. 26 or were with the president on Air Force One flying to a campaign rally in Pennsylvania later in the evening have now tested positive.
While the ceremony itself was outdoors in the Rose Garden, most of the people in attendance other than reporters were not wearing masks or keeping socially distant. A number of people also joined Trump and Barrett inside the White House for a reception, again without masks and in some cases shaking hands and hugging without evident regard for the dangers of the virus.
With the election just 31 days away, White House officials sought Saturday to project as much of a business-as-usual image as possible, insisting that the president can govern the country from his hospital bed and that there was no need to transfer power to Vice President Mike Pence. Even as doctors hovered over Trump, his staff Friday night issued a report on his buy-American drive and announced some minor appointments. On Saturday morning, the White House announced that the president had signed two bills appointing members to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution.
Trump has been suffering from a cough, congestion, fatigue and a fever, according to people informed about his condition, and some of the symptoms worsened as Friday progressed, including the drop in oxygen level that alarmed the president. Plans for him to convalesce at the White House were abruptly scrubbed in favor of sending him to the hospital for what officials said would be a few days.
One reason, according to an administration official, was that it would be better for the president to leave while he could still walk on his own power to the helicopter rather than risk getting sicker and having the politically damaging image of needing assistance to be transported to the hospital later.
Once at Walter Reed, the president’s breathing improved, according to the people knowledgeable about his situation. In a tweet just before midnight Friday, Trump gave a positive but vague update.
“Going well, I think!” he wrote. “Thank you to all. LOVE!!!”
Conley afterward released a statement reporting that Trump was “doing very well” and “not requiring supplemental oxygen.” The doctor said that the president had “completed his first dose” of remdesivir and was “resting comfortably.”
The use of remdesivir came after a variety of other treatments were administered at the White House on Friday before the president was flown to Walter Reed. Trump received a single 8-gram dose of polyclonal antibody combination, an experimental treatment that the White House obtained special permission to try, as well as zinc, vitamin D, an anti-heartburn medicine called famotidine, melatonin and aspirin.
Melania Trump, the first lady, who also is sick, remained at the White House while the rest of the president’s family members have tested negative but were being retested to confirm those results since it can take some time before the virus is detectable.
“Thanks to all those who so lovingly have reached out about @realDonaldTrump and the rest of the family,” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “It truly means a lot to us. I tested negative so I’ll give it a few more days out of and abundance of caution and test again and if I’m clear I’ll be back to work asap.”
Among those who tested positive Saturday was Christie, who helped Trump prepare for his campaign debate Tuesday.
“I just received word that I am positive for COVID-19,” Christie wrote on Twitter. He added: “I will be receiving medical attention today and will keep the necessary folks apprised of my condition.”
Two of the three senators who have now tested positive for the virus, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, were at the Barrett announcement and serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee that will consider her nomination, further complicating a confirmation drive that was already testing speed limits and a razor-thin majority to get done before the election, as Trump has insisted.
Johnson was not at the event because he was quarantining from a previous exposure to someone with the virus. He emerged from 14 days of quarantine after testing negative and returned to Washington on Tuesday, his office said, but attended lunch with other Senate Republicans that put him in the same room with Lee and Tillis. He was tested again Friday.
“This test came back positive,” Ben Voelkel, a spokesperson for the senator, said in a statement. “Senator Johnson feels healthy and is not experiencing symptoms. He will remain isolated until given the all-clear by his doctor.”
If all three Republicans were unable to vote, then Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, would not have enough support to force through confirmation of Barrett. Because two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have already indicated that they oppose installing a new justice before the election, that would leave McConnell with 48 Republicans to 49 Democrats and the two dissenting Republicans.
But Republican leaders vowed to push ahead with the confirmation on the hope that the infected senators would not get sick and therefore be able to return in time for a preelection vote. One option being discussed was holding the Judiciary Committee vote in the Senate chamber with the infected senators perched in the galleries overlooking the floor, far from their colleagues.
The president’s illness forced him off the campaign trail with just a month until the Nov. 3 election. Trump’s events have been canceled, as have those of his immediate family for the moment while they confirm negative test results, leaving it to Pence, who has tested negative for the virus, to pick up the burden of the contest against former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee.
The Trump campaign announced Saturday that Pence would host an unspecified campaign event Thursday in Peoria, Arizona.
“Joe Biden has turned his back on Arizonans by advocating for the far-left’s agenda of harsh regulations and high taxes,” the statement said.
Biden has said he is praying for Trump’s speedy recovery, and his campaign has taken down negative television advertisements assailing the president’s handling of the coronavirus crisis that has killed more than 208,000 people in the United States so far. But the candidate was not backing off his own campaign schedule.
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