President Donald Trump’s doctor said he is doing “very well” as he spends the weekend at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment of COVID-19.
Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley, physician to the president, said Trump has been fever-free for 24 hours as he updated the nation on the president’s condition from the hospital Saturday morning. Trump was admitted Friday after testing positive for the coronavirus.
However, Trump went through a “very concerning” period Friday and the next 48 hours “will be critical” in his care as he battles the coronavirus at a hospital, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Saturday. Meadows' comments contradicted the rosy assessment of Trump’s condition offered by his staff and doctors, who took pains not to reveal the president had received supplemental oxygen at the White House before his hospital admission.
“We’re still not on a clear path yet to a full recovery,” said a weary Meadows.
It was a dramatically different picture than the one painted by the White House staff since Trump revealed his diagnosis as well as by his doctors, who updated the public at a press conference at Walter Reed.
The briefing by Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley and other doctors raised more questions than it answered as Conley repeatedly refused to say whether the president ever needed supplemental oxygen, despite persistent questioning, and declined to discuss exactly when he fell ill. Conley also revealed that Trump began exhibiting “clinical indications” of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, earlier than previously known.
“Thursday no oxygen. None at this moment. And yesterday with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen,” Conley said.
But according to a person familiar with Trump’s condition, Trump was administered oxygen at the White House on Friday before he was transported to the military hospital. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity,
Conley said Trump’s symptoms, including a cough and nasal congestion, “are now resolving and improving,” and said the president had been fever-free for 24 hours. But Trump also is taking aspirin, which lowers body temperature and could mask or mitigate that symptom.
“He’s in exceptionally good spirits,” said pulmonary critical care doctor Sean Dooley.
Trump is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has infected more than 7 million people nationwide and killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S alone.
White House officials, including Meadows, had insisted Friday that Trump had only “mild symptoms” as they tried to project an image of normalcy.
“President Trump remains in good spirts, has mild symptoms and has been working throughout the day,” said press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She said Trump had only been sent to Walter Reed as a precaution.
Also present as members of the president’s medical team were pulmonologists Brian Garibaldi and Robert Browning; infectious disease specialists Jason Blaylock and Wesley Campbell; anesthesiologist John Hodgson; and a number of Army and Navy nurses.
In a memo released shortly before midnight, Conley reported that Trump had been treated at the hospital with remdesivir, an antiviral medication, after taking another experimental drug at the White House.
No change in the Pentagon’s reaction
Physicians at Walter Reed typically handle medical appointments and other responsibilities for the president and other government leaders. White House officials emphasized that there has been no decision to have Trump step aside from any of his normal duties and have Vice President Mike Pence assume executive branch authority.
The president is staying in Walter Reed’s presidential suite, which includes an intensive care unit, kitchen, living room, secure conference room, dining room, bedroom, and work spaces so the president can carry on with his duties.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Friday morning that “the U.S. military stands ready to defend our country and interests. There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command and control structure is in no way affected by this announcement.” He added Friday that news of the president’s hospitalization would not change the Pentagon’s readiness or alert status.
When asked for comment on Saturday, Hoffman told Military Times that he had no new statements to offer.
Marines supporting the president as part of Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron One, also referred to as HMX-1, will be tested for COVID-19, and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance will go into quarantine while awaiting the results, a Marine Corps official confirmed on Friday.
Members of HMX-1 provide the president and vice president with helicopter transportation, including the president’s flight to Walter Reed on Friday evening.
“HMX-1′s top priority is mission readiness and the health of its passengers and personnel,” Capt. Joseph Butterfield, a spokesman for Headquarters Marine Corps, said in a Friday email.
Jordyn Phelps, ABC News White House reporter, traveled with the president aboard Air Force One Thursday, the day before he announced he was sick. She wrote about what she saw on the plane:
“Onboard, the traveling press corps were the only ones wearing masks,” she wrote. “No members of the president’s staff, the Secret Service, or members of the fight crew wore one.”
Officials with the Air Force’s 89th Airlift Wing, which flies the president round the world, refused to directly answer a question about whether aircrew members who were aboard the aircraft this week are now in quarantine.
“The 89th Airlift Wing has established safety procedures for day-to-day operations incorporating Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) public health guidance and frequent COVID-19 testing of the Air Force One flight crew members,” according to a statement from the 89th’s public affairs office. “In the event any Air Force One personnel are exposed, become symptomatic, or test positive, the 89th Airlift Wing would follow the guidelines established by the CDC.”
On Sunday, many of the military’s top leaders — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger — attended a Gold Star Families event with the president.
All officials listed have since tested negative for COVID-19 and have not reported exhibiting any symptoms.
Military Times reporter Leo Shane, Marine Corps Times reporter Philip Athey and Air Force Times reporter Stephen Losey contributed to this report.
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.