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Doctors, White House staff offer conflicting messages on President Trump’s health

By Celine Castronuovo, THE HILL, 10/03/20

The White House on Saturday sent conflicting signals about the president’s battle with the coronavirus, raising questions over the seriousness of his illness. 

Doctors Saturday afternoon offered a rosey assessment of Trump’s health less than 24 hours after he was checked into Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. 

But statements the Associated Press and other outlets later attributed to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and other sources gave a more alarming account of the president’s health. 

Adding to the confusion, the doctors themselves sent mixed messages over basic facts about the president’s treatment. 

Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus late Thursday night after top White House aide Hope Hicks tested positive for the disease. The president and first lady Melania Trump announced early Friday morning that they tested positive for COVID-19. 

Friday afternoon, the president was taken via Marine One to Walter Reed “out of an abundance of caution” according to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. The president was seen on camera walking out of the White House in a suit, blue tie and mask, where he waved to the press and boarded Maine One. 

At the time, White House physician Sean Conley released an update stating that the president was experiencing fatigue. 

But on Saturday, the White House staff and physicians began issuing mixed messages. 

At Saturday’s press conference outside Walter Reed, White House physician Sean Conley told reporters Trump was doing “very well.” 

“At this time the team and I are extremely happy with the progress the president has made,” Conley said. “Thursday, he had a mild cough and some nasal congestion and fatigue, all of which are now resolving and improving.” 

“He’s in exceptionally good spirits,” Dr. Sean Dooley said following Conley, adding that Trump’s heart, kidney and liver seemed normal and that he was not experiencing any trouble breathing or walking around.

Moments after the press conference, however, a source familiar with the president’s health who was not initially on the record said that the president’s vitals over the past day had been “very concerning,” describing the next 48 hours as “critical in terms of his care.” 

“We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery,” the person, now reported as Meadows, said. The chief of staff was caught on camera outside Walter Reed talking to reporters and asking to go off the record to discuss the president’s health. 

These remarks from Meadows contrasted his statements Friday, when he said Trump was experiencing “mild symptoms” but was “very energetic.” 

Conley also raised new questions about the timeline of Trump’s diagnosis when he described Trump as “72 hours” into his diagnosis. A White House official later claimed that Conley meant to say that it is day three of the president’s diagnosis, not 72 hours.

Conley later issued a memo correcting his statement, saying that Trump was diagnosed Thursday evening and prescribed an experimental antibody cocktail on Friday. 

Additionally, Conley’s dodging of questions on whether the president has received supplemental oxygen has added another level of uncertainty about the level of treatment Trump has received since his diagnosis was first announced early Friday morning. 

When asked by reporters whether the president had ever been on oxygen, Conley repeatedly said that the president was not currently on it. He later added that Trump had not been on it on Friday at Walter Reed. 

But multiple reports from different outlets said that sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed Trump had received supplemental oxygen since contracting the virus. 

The AP reported Saturday that a person familiar with Trump’s condition who requested to speak on the condition of anonymity said that doctors administered oxygen to the president on Friday morning, several hours before he arrived at Walter Reed later that day. 

CNN also reported that Trump was given oxygen Friday, and ABC News said multiple sources confirmed that Trump “had been given supplemental oxygen and experienced shortness of breath.” 

According to CNN, multiple sources familiar with the matter also said that Trump was initially hesitant to go to Walter Reed on Friday, with the president reportedly saying he didn’t want to be “hospitalized.” The sources told CNN that White House advisers made a last-minute push to get Trump to board Marine One as it sat on the South Lawn. 

In response to these reports, White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement to CNN that “the White House is fully committed to providing transparent and regular updates on the President’s condition and recovery.” 

A press release issued by Conley Saturday evening reiterated his earlier positive descriptions of Trump’s condition, adding that the president has “made substantial progress since diagnosis.” The physician said that Trump had received a second dose of his coronavirus treatment, called Remdesivir, and “remains fever-free and off supplemental oxygen.” 

“He spent most of the afternoon conducting business, and has been up and moving about the medical suite without difficulty,” Conley continued. “While not yet out of the woods, the team remains cautiously optimistic.” 

The update echoed remarks from Trump himself in a tweeted video address from Walter Reed Saturday evening, saying that he was feeling “much better now.” 

“We’re working hard to get me all the way back,” the president said in the four-minute video clip. “I have to be back because we still have to make America great again.”

Trump then added that treatment throughout the coming days would be critical for his health as he combats the virus. 

“Over the next period of a few days, I guess that’s the real test,” he said. “So we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days.”

The president said he was given the option to isolate at the White House after testing positive for the virus and undergo treatment from the residence, but said he eventually decided against it, adding “we have to confront problems. As a leader, you have to confront problems.” 

The contradicting reports on Trump’s condition come as a growing number of the president’s inner circle and top Republicans have also tested positive for COVID-19, drawing renewed scrutiny on the U.S.’s handling of the pandemic. 

On top of the president, Melania Trump and Hicks, former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has contracted the virus. Both Hicks and Conway had been in close contact with the president to assist in preparation for Tuesday night’s presidential debate. 

This debate preparation group also included former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who announced Saturday that he had checked himself into a local hospital hours after he tested positive for COVID-19. 

“In consultation with my doctors, I checked myself into Morristown Medical Center this afternoon,” the former governor tweeted early in the evening Saturday. “While I am feeling good and only have mild symptoms, due to my history of asthma we decided this is an important precautionary measure.” 

Christie added in a follow-up tweet, “I am thankful for our hardworking medical professionals and look forward to coming home soon.”

Both Christie and Trump are overweight, leaving the two at higher risk for complications from the virus that has already infected more than 7.3 million people in the U.S. and left more than 208,000 dead. 

Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) all tested positive within the past couple days, as well as Trump’s reelection campaign manager, Bill Stepien. 

Vice President Pence tested negative for the coronavirus on both Friday and Saturday. Pence is scheduled to fill in for Trump at campaign rallies and is scheduled to host an event in Peoria, Ariz., on Thursday. 

A spokesperson for Eric Trump, the president’s son, and his wife Lara Trump said the two had tested negative for the virus on Saturday, a day after his sister Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner tested negative. 

Attorney General William Barr, who tested negative for COVID-19 on both Friday and Saturday, said that he would not self-quarantine despite potential exposure at last Saturday’s White House ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. 

Several people who have tested positive, including Lee, Hicks and Conway, all attended the event as well.

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