Donald Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, dodges questions during media briefing
Donald Trump’s physician held his first briefing on the President’s condition today, where he answered questions from reporters.
Actually, I’ll rephrase that – he answered most of their questions.
The team of doctors treating Mr Trump, led by White House physician Dr Sean Conley, spoke to the media outside Walter Reed Medical Centre.
They 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.”
But as Dr Conley fielded questions from reporters, things got a bit cagey.
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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.
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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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In the wake of Dr Conley’s briefing, 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.