WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Doctors treating President Donald Trump for COVID-19 sent conflicting signals about the severity of his condition on Sunday, hours before the president surprised supporters gathered outside the hospital with an impromptu motorcade.
Trump, 74, wore a mask as he waved from the back seat of a black SUV that crawled in a caravan of vehicles in front of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, while supporters waving Trump 2020 flags chanted: “USA! USA!”
Trump, who said on Friday morning he had the infectious disease, was swiftly criticized for risking the health of support staff.
It was Trump’s first appearance in public since he was evacuated to the hospital on Friday.
“It’s a very interesting journey. I learned a lot about COVID,” he said in a video posted on Twitter shortly beforehand.
Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden tested negative again for the disease that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, his campaign said on Sunday. The former vice president, who shared a debate stage with Trump last Tuesday, previously tested negative in two tests on Friday, the day Trump disclosed his coronavirus infection.
Doctors said the president was improving, although they were monitoring the condition of his lungs after he received supplemental oxygen. They said he could be sent back to the White House as soon as Monday.
But Dr. Sean P. Conley said the president’s condition had been worse than he previously admitted. Conley said Trump’s blood oxygen levels had dropped in prior days and that he had run a high fever on Friday morning.
Asked what tests had revealed about the condition of Trump’s lungs, Conley replied: “There’s some expected findings, but nothing of any major clinical concern.”
Conley’s response suggested the X-rays revealed some signs of pneumonia, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University.
“The expected finding is that he has evidence of pneumonia in the X-ray. If it was normal they would just say it is normal,” Adalja said.
Other doctors not involved in Trump’s treatment said there was evidence his case was severe. Trump is being given dexmethasone, a steroid used in severe COVID cases, as well as the intravenous antiviral drug Remdesivir and an experimental antibody treatment from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
“It would be very unlikely for him to be out and about, and on the campaign trail in less than 14 days,” said Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at New York’s Northwell Health.
Administration officials have given contradictory assessments of Trump’s health. Conley and other doctors delivered a positive prognosis on Saturday, which was promptly undercut by Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
“I was trying to reflect an upbeat attitude of the team and the president about the course his illness has had,” Conley told reporters on Sunday. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction.”
Trump spent much of the year downplaying the risks of the COVID-19