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President Trump’s doctor said Trump is not currently on oxygen, but would not say whether he ever received oxygen since his COVID-19 diagnosis.

USA TODAY

In the first public briefing since President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley would not answer several questions about whether the president had been on oxygen at any point previously, if he had lung damage or when he last received a negative coronavirus test.

Conley, who has served as Physician to the President since 2018, appeared with a team of nine clinicians outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for less than 20 minutes Saturday morning and fielded dozens of questions from reporters. Doctors said the president had been fever-free for over 24 hours, had received an experimental antibody therapy and was undergoing a five-day course of the drug remdesivir. 

“We remain cautiously optimistic, but he’s doing great,” Conley said.

But he also created confusion about the timeline of Trump’s diagnosis and the severity of his disease. Health and national security experts said the obfuscation was unnecessary and could continue to erode the administration’s credibility.

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Asked repeatedly whether Trump had been on oxygen at any point, Conley gave at least eight variations of answers, ranging from “He’s not on oxygen right now” to “Right now, all indicators are that he’ll remain off of oxygen going forward.”

Ultimately, Conley said: “Thursday no oxygen, none at this moment, and yeah, yesterday with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen.”

However, Trump was administered oxygen at the White House on Friday before leaving for Walter Reed, the Associated Press reported citing an unnamed source. White House officials declined to answer questions from USA TODAY about whether oxygen was administered.

In sharp contrast to Conley’s depiction, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told the Associated Press on Saturday that the president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were “very concerning” and the next 48 hours will be critical for his care.

Several health experts said it’s not uncommon for people with COVID-19 to have intermittent oxygen needs.

Early on in the course of the disease, the coronavirus can cause injury to the lungs by damaging the cells that allow oxygen to pass into the bloodstream, said Dr. Russell Buhr, a professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

“If those cells are damaged, we compensate by administering supplemental oxygen so the lungs are getting more oxygen than they would from the air in the room,” said Buhr, who has cared for over 100 patients with COVID-19. 

Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 tend to need a bit of oxygen when they first arrive at the hospital, often when they’ve already been sick at home for between three days and a week. 

Dr. Matthew G. Heinz, a hospital physician in Tucson, Arizona, said it’s standard procedure to provide any patient with oxygen