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Trump enters ‘uncharted territory,’ returning to White House at fraught moment in his recovery

The president returns to the White House at a fraught moment in his recovery — before he has seemingly escaped a period when some patients are known to crash.

“The problem with covid-19 is that people’s condition can deteriorate rapidly, even after days of stability,” said Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and health-care researcher at Yale University and Yale New Haven Hospital. “And so we are more accustomed to be cautious with people with high risk.”

The president has received care accessible to few other Americans. He was given a brew of laboratory-made antibodies that fewer than 10 other patients have received outside of clinical trials. And for him, returning home means arriving at a place that can be adapted to cater to his needs, Krumholz and others said.

Jonathan Reiner, a George Washington University Hospital cardiologist, said that in an emergency, the White House medical unit “can do what an emergency room can do in the first 15 minutes” — someone could be resuscitated and stabilized during a heart attack, for example, and then transferred to a hospital. Still for ongoing treatment, he said, it would be wise for Trump to remain hospitalized.

“It makes zero sense to move him from Walter Reed,” Reiner said.

At a Monday news conference, White House physician Sean P. Conley said doctors were “cautiously optimistic and on guard” about Trump’s discharge. But he said the benefits of returning to the White House outweighed the risks.

“Every day a patient stays in the hospital unnecessarily is a risk to themselves,” Conley said. “And right now there’s nothing that’s being done upstairs here that we can’t safely conduct down home.”

But Conley acknowledged that the medical team is in “uncharted territory” with the mix of medications the president has been given and that the dangerous period for the infection is not over. He’s “looking to this weekend” for assurance that Trump has cleared rough waters.

“If we can get through to Monday” of next week, he said, doctors will “take that final deep sigh of relief.”

Conley declined for the third briefing in a row to answer additional questions about X-rays and other images taken of Trump’s lungs, and about other key data, such as when he last received a negative coronavirus test before falling ill. Instead, Conley emphasized symptoms the president was not experiencing: A “slight cough” was gone. There were never complaints of muscle aches. And fever-reducing drugs had not been deployed for at least 72 hours.

“He’s up and back to his old self, predominantly,” Conley said.

In the White House, Trump’s doctors will be vigilant for sudden changes, specialists predicted.

“You would want to be prepared to take care of any sudden unanticipated or very concerning event,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, an infectious-diseases expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The biggest risk, she said, would be the sudden onset of acute respiratory distress syndrome, which sometimes occurs with covid-19. Patients’ lungs fill with fluid, and they can’t breathe on their own.