By Steve Holland and Alexandra Alper
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Americans “to get out there” and not fear COVID-19 as he returned to the White House on Monday after a three-night hospital stay to be treated for the virus and removed his white surgical mask to pose for pictures.
Asked how he felt on arrival at the White House, where his staff has been hit by infections and his re-election campaign dogged by the pandemic, Trump said: “Real good,” according to a pool report by a journalist covering his return on behalf of other media.
Trump wore a mask as he left the helicopter that flew him back from a military hospital outside Washington and climbed the stairs of the White House South Portico, where he removed it and posed for pictures, waving, saluting and giving thumbs-up signs.
He then turned to walk into the White House, his mask still in his pocket, TV footage showed.
Trump has played down a disease has killed more than 1 million people worldwide and more than 209,000 in the United States alone – the highest death toll of any country.
The Republican president, running for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 U.S. election, was admitted to the Walter Reed Medical Center on Friday after being diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it,” Trump said in a recorded video message. “We’re going back, we’re going back to work. We’re going to be out front. … Don’t let it dominate your lives. Get out there, be careful.”
Shortly after his return, a video with thunderous orchestral music posted to his Twitter handle showed him arriving at the White House and saluting from the South Portico as Marine One flew off. The video was quickly viewed nearly a million times.
Trump has repeatedly flouted social-distancing guidelines meant to curb the virus’ spread. He also mocked Biden at last Tuesday’s presidential debate for wearing a mask at events, even when he is far from others.
While it was unclear if Biden had seen Trump’s latest video, the Democrat, who leads in national opinion polls, stressed the seriousness of the disease and emphasized the importance of wearing masks.
“I would hope the president – having gone through what he went through and I’m glad he seems to be coming along pretty well – would communicate the right lesson to the American people. Masks matter,” Biden told an NBC News town hall in Miami.
Trump, 74, has not had a fever in more than 72 hours and his oxygen levels are normal, his medical team told reporters at the hospital where he was treated. The doctors declined, however, to discuss any toll the disease could have on the president’s lungs or disclose when Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus.
The team added that the president had received supplemental oxygen twice in recent days.
“He may not entirely be out of