Confusion over President’s condition as White House contradicts his doctors
There is growing confusion over US President Donald Trump’s condition, with his doctors and the most senior staff member in the White House providing contradictory information about the world’s highest profile coronavirus patient.
Mr Trump posted an upbeat message online today, telling Americans he “wasn’t feeling so well” when he went to hospital, but his condition had improved since.
“I came here, wasn’t feeling so well. I feel much better now. We’re working hard to get me all the way back,” Mr Trump said.
“I just want to tell you that I’m starting to feel good. If you don’t know, over the next period of a few days, that’s the real test. So we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days.
“So that’s where it is. I’m doing well, I want to thank everybody.”
Mr Trump heaped praise on the staff at Walter Reed Medical Centre.
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A pretty optimistic update from the President himself, then.
The confusion we’re talking about here was generated by a series events earlier in the day.
It started when the doctors treating Mr Trump, led by White House physician Dr Sean Conley, held a media briefing outside Walter Reed around midday, local time.
They, too, painted a sunny picture of the President’s health.
“The President is doing very well,” Dr Conley said.
“At this time, the team and I are extremely happy with the progress the President has made. (On) Thursday he had a mild cough and some nasal congestion and fatigue, all of which are now resolving and improving at this time.
“It’s important to note the President has been fever free for over 24 hours. We remain cautiously optimistic, but he’s doing great with that.
“One other note, it should be clear that he’s got plenty of work to get done and he’s doing it.”
Dr Sean Dooley, a pulmonary critical care doctor, stressed that Mr Trump was in “exceptionally good spirits”.
“The President this morning is not on oxygen; not having difficulty breathing or walking around the White House medical unit,” said Dr Dooley.
“In fact, as we were completing our rounds this morning, the quote he left us with was: ‘I feel like I could walk out of here today.’ And that was a very encouraging comment from the President.”
Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
But as Dr Conley fielded questions from reporters, things got a bit cagey. And immediately after the briefing, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows gave the press pool a far less rosy picture of Mr Trump’s health.
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DOCTOR REPEATEDLY AVOIDS QUESTIONS
Let’s start with Dr Conley’s answers during the briefing, and then we’ll go through Mr Meadows’ remarks in more detail.
The first eyebrow-raising moment came as the journalists tried to ascertain whether Mr Trump had received any supplemental oxygen.
“He is receiving no – he has not received any supplemental oxygen?” a reporter asked.
“He is not on oxygen right now. That’s right,” Dr Conley replied.
“He’s not received any at all?” the reporter pressed.
“He has not needed any, uh, this morning, today at all. That’s right,” Dr Conley said.
“At the moment, all indicators are that he will remain off oxygen going forward.”
There was an interlude from that particular interrogation as the press conference moved on to other subjects, but a couple of minutes later the reporters tried again.
“Can we please (clear up) one thing. Has he ever been on supplemental oxygen?” one of them asked.
“He – right now, he is not on oxygen,” Dr Conley told them.
“I understand, I know you keep saying ‘right now’, but should we read into that the fact he had been previously?” said the reporter.
“Yesterday and today he was not on oxygen,” Dr Conley said.
“So he has not been on it during his COVID treatment?”
“He’s – he’s not on oxygen right now.”
Not the clearest of answers, there.
Another reporter asked Dr Conley how high the President’s fever had been.
“You said he’s fever free now. What was his fever when he had one, sir?” they asked.
“I’d rather not give any specific numbers,” said the White House physician.
“But he did have a fever Thursday into Friday, and since Friday morning, he’s had none.”
Asked whether Mr Trump had ever experienced difficulty breathing, as a source told CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta yesterday, Dr Conley was emphatic.
“No. No, he has not. Never did. He had a little cough; he had the fever. More than anything, he has felt run down,” he said.
He declined to say when the President had last tested negative for the virus (the White House says it does frequent testing).
And while Dr Conley acknowledged the medical team was doing daily ultrasounds and lab work to check for lung damage, he declined to “go into specifics” about the results.
There was also some confusion over the timing of Mr Trump’s diagnosis and treatment.
Dr Conley said the President was “72 hours into the diagnosis”, which would mean he tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, US time. That test actually happened on Thursday night.
And Dr Brian Garibaldi, a pulmonologist from Johns Hopkins, told the reporters Mr Trump had received an experimental coronavirus treatment, a polyclonal antibody cocktail, “about 48 hours ago”.
That would have been in the middle of the day on Thursday, US time, hours before Mr Trump’s diagnosis.
Dr Conley issued a clarification after the briefing, saying he and Dr Garibaldi had misspoken.
“This morning while summarising the President’s health, I incorrectly used the term ‘72 hours’ instead of ‘day three’ and ‘48 hours’ instead of ‘day two’ with regards to his diagnosis and the administration of the polyclonal antibody therapy,” Dr Conley wrote in a statement released to the media.
“The President was first diagnosed with COVID-19 on the evening of Thursday, October 1 and had received Regeneron’s antibody cocktail on Friday, October 2.”
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WHITE HOUSE CONTRADICTS TRUMP’S DOCTORS
Now we come to the really baffling part.
Immediately after the doctors’ briefing, Mr Meadows approached the White House press pool and gave a much more sober assessment of his boss’s condition in recent days.
“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. We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery,” he said.
Mr Meadows initially provided this quote on condition of anonymity, with the pool reporters describing him as “a person familiar with the President’s health”.
This caused no small measure of frustration among political reporters, several of whom demanded the anonymous source identify himself.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Meadows’ cover was blown as video footage emerged of him approaching the press pool and asking to speak off the record.
Mr Meadows then gave The Associated Press another quote, on the record this time.
“We’re still not on a clear path yet to a full recovery,” he said.
TRUMP WAS GIVEN OXYGEN YESTERDAY
Believe it or not, we aren’t done yet.
In the wake of Dr Conley’s briefing, during which he dodged all those questions about Mr Trump receiving supplemental oxygen, multiple US media outlets – including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press and ABC News – confirmed the President was indeed given oxygen yesterday.
They also directly contradicted Dr Conley’s insistence that Mr Trump had “never” had trouble breathing.
“Two people close to the White House said in separate interviews that the President had trouble breathing on Friday and that his oxygen level dropped, prompting his doctors to give him supplemental oxygen while at the White House and transfer him to Walter Reed, where he could be monitored with better equipment and treated more rapidly in case of trouble,” Maggie Haberman reported for The New York Times.
Dr Conley did not see fit to mention any of that when he spoke to the media.
Adding to her reporting on Twitter, Haberman said the White House physician had “now jeopardised his own ability to be believed by the public”.
“It is in part because he is adhering to the wishes of a patient who does not want the information about yesterday disclosed, according to people briefed on what has taken place so far,” she said.
The mixed messaging on Mr Trump’s condition has baffled Americans.
“I am stunned that the White House put the President’s doctor out there and then issued a contradictory statement,” Scott Jennings, a conservative political commentator who worked for George W. Bush, told Politico.
“You can’t do that. This just invites questions about what’s going on there.
“You cannot have inconsistent reports about the President’s health.”