Donald Trump’s doctor has walked back comments made on Saturday about the president’s health, including when he first tested positive for Covid-19, after a team of physicians appeared to dodge questions about whether he was treated with supplemental oxygen.
It came as Mr Trump’s chief of staff admitted his condition a day earlier had been “very concerning”, contradicting the picture painted by Mr Trump’s doctors and the White House over a chaotic two days in Washington. And, late on Saturday, the president released his own video statement on Twitter, insisting he would be back to work “soon” and was feeling better.
Sean Conley, the White House physician, released a statement which sought to clarify comments in which he suggested Mr Trump received his Covid-19 diagnosis “72 hours” before the briefing on Saturday.
Had the president been diagnosed on Wednesday, that would mean he attended a fundraiser in Minneapolis, held a rally later that night and flew on Air Force One to attend another fundraiser in New Jersey the next day, all while being infected with the coronavirus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
But Mr Conley said he “incorrectly used the term ‘72 hours’ instead of ‘day three’” while referring to when the president was diagnosed with Covid-19.
According to the White House, Mr Trump tested positive for coronavirus late on Thursday and began reportedly suffering symptoms associated with the virus on Friday when he was flown to Walter Reed Medical Centre in Maryland.
Mr Conley also sought to clarify comments previously made at the briefing about when the president received a Regeneron treatment, writing: “The president was first diagnosed with Covid-19 on the evening of Thursday, October 1st and had received Regeneron’s antibody cocktail on Friday, October 2nd.”
Doctors also refused to say whether Mr Trump was on steroids, what his heart and lung scans had revealed and what his fever reached when he began suffering symptoms associated with Covid-19.
Mr Conley also appeared to be mistaken in comments he made surrounding the treatment Mr Trump received, which he called a polyclonal antibody cocktail.
In a statement to NBC News, the makers of the therapy said: “It is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies — meaning each was produced by making identical copies, or clones, of an antibody gene in a single B cell. Polyclonal antibody cocktails refer to antibodies made by mixtures of B cells.”
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, briefed reporters after Mr Conley’s address to say that Mr Trump had gone through a “very concerning” period on Friday and that the next 48 hours “will be critical” in his hospital care. “We’re still not on a clear path yet to a full recovery,” Mr Meadows told the Associated Press.
His comments went against the rosy assessment of Mr Trump’s condition offered by his staff and doctors, who said he was “doing very well” and took pains not to reveal whether the president had received supplemental oxygen at the White House before his hospital admission.
Yet Mr Meadows also told Reuters on Saturday: “The president is doing very well. He is up and about and asking for documents to review. The doctors are very pleased with his vital signs. I have met with him on multiple occasions today on a variety of issues.”
AP reported that Mr Trump received supplemental oxygen on Friday at the White House, citing an anonymous source. The Trump administration did not confirm whether the president received oxygen as of Saturday afternoon.
Later in the day, the president’s Twitter account posted several updates, hailing the medical staff at Walter Reed and even calling for Congress to work together and pass a stimulus package amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Doctors, Nurses and ALL at the GREAT Walter Reed Medical Center, and others from likewise incredible institutions who have joined them, are AMAZING,” one tweet read. “Tremendous progress has been made over the last 6 months in fighting this PLAGUE. With their help, I am feeling well!”
Another tweet calling for bipartisan coronavirus legislation read: “OUR GREAT USA WANTS & NEEDS STIMULUS. WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE. Thank you!”
Finally, on Saturday evening Mr Trump released a video statement on Twitter to say he felt “much better”. He said: “We’re working hard to get me all the way back. “I have to be back because we still have to make America great again.”
Though bullish and apparently on usual form – he touted what he suggested were miracle treatments “coming down from God” – the president did sound a note of caution in his video. “You don’t know, over the next period of a few days, I guess that’s the real test and we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days,” he said.
On Saturday, a group of the president’s supporters gathered outside the medical centre where he is staying for treatment to offer their wishes. Many were not wearing face masks.
About a dozen members of Mr Trump’s circle have now also contracted Covid-19, from White House advisor Hope Hicks to a slew of GOP allies, including Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel and senators Mike Lee, Ron Johnson and Thom Tillis.
Kellyanne Conway, the former White House advisor, was the latest to report a positive test. Ms Conway said she had mild symptoms and felt well, after her daughter announced the news on TikTok. Chris Christie, the ex-governor of New Jersey and a Trump confidant, took himself to hospital on Saturday after also testing positive.
Several who have reported testing positive for coronavirus had attended a recent Rose Garden speech the president delivered in which he officially nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Some experts have now labelled the ceremony, delivered to a largely mask-less crowd, a “super-spreader” event. Judge Barrett has tested negative.
Joe Biden also tested negative for Covid-19 on Friday. The Democrat’s campaign has committed to publicly announcing if he ever does contract Covid-19. The same goes for his vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, who also wished the president well in a tweet and said she was keeping him and “the entire Trump family in our thoughts” following the diagnosis.
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