Trump back in Oval Office, aims to return to campaign trail next week despite Covid-19

VIDEO: REUTERS
Trump pulls off his face mask as he poses on the Truman Balcony after returning to the White House on Oct 5, 2020.
Trump pulls off his face mask as he poses on the Truman Balcony after returning to the White House on Oct 5, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Oct 7) declared that catching the coronavirus was a “blessing from God” that exposed to him to experimental treatments he vowed would become free for all Americans, in his first video message since leaving hospital.

Trump, eager to revitalise his ailing re-election campaign, repeatedly stressed how well he felt so far in his recovery from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. It was unclear if he was still testing positive for the virus.

“I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. This was a blessing in disguise,” Trump said, adding that his use of the medication from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc had allowed him to experience first-hand how effective it could be.
  
Trump, who has been widely criticised for a slow response to the pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans and putting his own staff at risk by discouraging the use of masks in the White House and on the campaign trail, also cited similar medication from Eli Lilly and Co. 

“I want to get for you what I got. And I’m going to make it free,” Trump said.

Trump returned to the Oval Office on Wednesday for briefings, despite remaining under treatment for Covid-19 and potentially contagious.

Trump’s doctor said earlier that he had not experienced any symptoms of the disease in 24 hours. He was discharged from the hospital after three days of treatment on Monday.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that patients with mild to moderate Covid-19 isolate themselves for at least 10 days after their symptoms first appear. But Trump has been agitating since Tuesday to return to the Oval Office, over the objections of some of his staff.

A White House spokesman, Brian Morgenstern, said that while in the Oval Office, Trump was briefed on stimulus talks and the latest hurricane to threaten US shores.

In a tweet, Trump said he had spoken with the governors of Texas and Louisiana about the storm, Hurricane Delta. He did not indicate whether his briefing or the calls took place in the Oval Office.

While the White House physician, Sean Conley, has not said definitively if Trump remains contagious, he is being treated as if he could spread the disease. 

Only his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and social media director, Dan Scavino, are sharing the Oval Office with the president, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Anyone in Trump’s vicinity will use full personal protective equipment, the person said.

Trump entered the Oval Office from the outside of the White House, instead of walking through the West Wing, the person said.

Meadows told reporters earlier on Wednesday that if Trump returned to the Oval Office, “we’ve got safety protocols there, that are not only from a PPE standpoint but from a ventilation standpoint in the Oval, where we can actually work to that end as well.”

Trump announced on Tuesday that he had pulled out of stimulus talks with House Democrats, after failing to bridge differences between their US$2.2 trillion (S$3 trillion) Bill and the position of Senate Republicans, many of whom want to spend far less money.

It wasn’t clear what specifically he was briefed on Wednesday, though he has also said he’d like narrower measures to provide money to airlines, small businesses and individual Americans.

“The stimulus negotiations are off,” Meadows told reporters earlier. “Obviously, we’re looking at the potential for standalone Bills.” 

The president has not appeared in public since making a made-for-television return to the White House late on Monday, and his doctors have not fielded questions about his condition since then, including whether he is still on a steroid, dexamethasone, that sometimes is accompanied by psychiatric side effects.

Tuesday was the first day since Trump fell ill that he didn’t appear in public or release a video address.

The White House physician said earlier that Trump’s oxygen levels and respiratory rate are stable, in a statement that omitted several key details about the president’s condition.

“His physical exam and vital signs, including oxygen saturation and respiratory rate, all remain stable and in normal range,” the physician, Sean Conley, wrote in a memorandum.

Conley added that Trump has been fever-free for more than four days and “has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalisation.” 

Trump was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre on Friday.

On Monday, the White House released specific measures of some of Trump’s vital signs, such as his blood oxygen level, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and breathing rate. Wednesday’s letter from Conley did not include any of those specific details.

The White House also has not confirmed whether Trump received a planned fifth and final dose of Gilead Science's remdesivir, one of three drugs administered to help him fight the virus.

Conley’s letter Wednesday said that Trump, in samples taken Monday, had “detectable levels” of antibodies as compared to samples taken Thursday, when the president had tested positive. Conley has previously said that he gave Trump an 8 gram dose of a Regeneron Pharmaceuticals antibody treatment on Friday.

The company said in a statement Wednesday that its treatment may have caused the positive antibody test.

Conley’s letter on Wednesday began: “The president this morning says ‘I feel great!’”

Trump has called on Americans not to fear the virus that has killed more than 210,000 people in the US this year. He has been eager to return to the campaign trail, as Democratic nominee Joe Biden widens his lead in the presidential race.

On Tuesday, Trump unleashed a flurry of tweets, including one that halted talks with Democrats over a stimulus Bill to aid people suffering from the economic calamity brought on by the pandemic.

LIKELY STILL CONTAGIOUS

Trump is still at a stage in his illness in which a patient would likely be contagious, and as of Monday was still taking dexamethasone. The White House has declined to say this week whether he continues to take the drug, even as aides try to paint a positive picture of the president's health.

"We actually spent some time together yesterday working very hard from the residence, and I can tell you that he's fully engaged and feeling great," Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox on Wednesday morning.

Trump, who typically avoids anything he sees as a show of weakness, is anxious to get back to normal even as he remains in an unknown stage of his fight with the virus. The crucial window in a recovery is between seven and 10 days, according to National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, who had Covid himself and was dispatched to interviews Sunday and Monday to discuss it.

For Trump, that period runs from Thursday to Sunday, if he indeed fell in on Thursday, Oct 1. The White House has refused to say when his last negative test was before he became ill, raising the chance that he contracted the virus earlier than believed.

The White House has not scheduled any press briefings since Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive on Monday. Several of her aides have also tested positive, and many White House officials are working remotely, leaving the West Wing with far fewer people inside than is typical.

Meadows acknowledged that Trump is eager to return to the Oval Office and may do so as soon as Wednesday - still during the time frame in which the virus is typically active and the case severity unknown.

"He wanted to go to the Oval yesterday. If he decides to go to the Oval, we've got safety protocols there," Meadows told reporters at the White House Wednesday morning.