President Donald Trump, wearing a mask and not saying a word to assembled reporters, walked onto a waiting helicopter on the White House lawn and was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center on Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after he tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out,” Trump said in a prerecorded 18-second video tweeted not long after he left the White House.
The difference in Trump's tone and behavior on Friday afternoon simply cannot be overstated. Usually, on his way to his helicopter, Marine One, Trump stops and talks to assembled reporters, often spreading false information. He rarely, if ever, wears a mask. And his recorded videos are often longer and more spirited or combative.
Instead, Trump boarded the helicopter with a quick thumbs-up and wave to reporters and his aides and a salute to the service members who staff Marine One. When he landed at Walter Reed, he saluted again and then got into a waiting SUV.
Trump will spend "several days" at the medical facility "working," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
“President Trump remains in good spirits, has mild symptoms, and has been working throughout the day. Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the President will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days. President Trump appreciates the outpouring of support for both he and the First Lady,” McEnany said.
Trump’s hospitalization comes after he spent months downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19, holding large campaign rallies, and refusing to wear a mask with rare exceptions. He continued traveling and campaigning in recent months, including flying on Air Force One with multiple White House officials to a campaign event in New Jersey on Thursday after his top aide Hope Hicks had tested positive.
Trump had canceled his entire schedule on Friday — an incredible development after he insisted on pandemic rallies where masses of people, many unmasked, crammed in to see him. Pence — defying the CDC’s quarantine guidelines — will continue campaigning.
The president did not make any public appearances on Friday before boarding the helicopter. He has also tweeted only once since announcing his positive diagnosis just before 1 a.m. on Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham said they had spoken to Trump by phone on Friday about the Supreme Court vacancy.
Trump's son Eric tweeted Friday before the president took off for the hospital that his father is a "true warrior" and asked Americans to join in "praying for his recovery."
If the president becomes incapacitated, Vice President Mike Pence can take over Trump’s duties under a process outlined in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution and serve in an acting role if the president authorizes the action. (A different section of the 25th Amendment allows the vice president and cabinet to force the issue, but that part of the amendment has never been invoked.) Pence most recently tested negative for the virus on Friday, according to his spokesperson.
Trump’s physician offered a brief statement about his condition on Friday, less than 15 hours after the president said he had contracted COVID-19, a disease that just months ago he insisted would just “disappear.”
The White House physician, Sean P. Conley, wrote in a memo Friday that Trump remained “fatigued but in good spirits.”
That notion lightly conflicted with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s comments to Fox News that Trump staffers needed to “hold him back a little here because he is hard at work." And it didn’t include reporting from White House journalists who say Trump is experiencing a low-grade fever, a light cough, and congestion.
Trump, as a precautionary measure, “received a single 8 gram dose of Regeneron’s polyclonal antibody cocktail,” Conley wrote, adding he’s also been taking “zinc, vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and a daily aspirin.”
Recent results from Regeneron's experimental synthetic antibody treatment have indicated that when administered early in an infection to nonhospitalized patients, the treatment could reduce the amounts of virus in the body and lead to shorter hospital stays. No treatments for COVID-19 have yet been approved by the FDA. But companies can grant emergency access to experimental treatments under FDA’s “compassionate use” guidelines. Regeneron’s CEO is a longtime acquaintance of Trump’s.
“He’s being evaluated by a team of experts,” Conley said, adding they will recommend next steps soon. First lady Melania Trump, who also tested positive, has a “mild cough” and headache.
It’s unclear how severe Trump’s illness is. At 74, the president has a higher risk of a severe case of COVID-19 due to his age and his weight; his medical disclosure in June puts him at 244 pounds, just over the threshold for obesity for his height. It is unknown if he has any underlying medical conditions that would also contribute to his risk of severe illness. Trump will, however, have access to the best medical care in the world.
As recently as mid-September, Trump touted herd immunity as a way to combat the coronavirus, suggesting the virus was “going away.” His administration’s mishandling of the pandemic has led to more than 200,000 deaths in the US.
There is a month left before the election. Trump is scheduled to meet former vice president Joe Biden for their second presidential debate on Oct. 15. There was no immediate decision on whether it would be postponed or canceled due to his illness.
Trump’s diagnosis has spread, almost literally, across the nation. The head of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, announced she tested positive. Utah Sen. Mike Lee did as well. And the University of Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, also announced he has the coronavirus. All three had been around Trump as recently as last Friday.
It also set off a mad scramble at the highest levels of government. Vice President Mike Pence, former vice president Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Bill Barr, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and 14-year-old Barron Trump all tested negative, their representatives said.
That doesn’t mean the people who tested negative are actually COVID-free, given their potential exposure to the president. The virus can incubate for up to 14 days, and their test results could change, which is why the CDC recommends a 14-day quarantine for anyone who has come into contact with someone who tests positive.
Still, the president’s diagnosis did not stop members of the Republican Party from ignoring basic coronavirus protocols, including those recommended by Trump’s own administration scientists. The White House will reportedly not mandate that staffers wear masks on campus — Trump was tested only after it was revealed Hicks was positive — calling it “a personal choice.” Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, briefed the press at the White House on Friday without a face covering. Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of the GOP's most senior members, said he would not take a test despite being in proximity to Sen. Mike Lee recently.
Trump’s diagnosis also means scores of journalists — including several top leaders of Trump’s cheerleader network, Fox News — Secret Service agents, and attendees and workers at Tuesday’s debate need to get tested.
In April, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the ICU, 10 days after testing positive for the coronavirus and having his symptoms worsen. Five days later, Johnson was released. He has since recovered.
There is still no cure for COVID-19, and there are no approved treatments. But since April, options for managing severe symptoms have improved considerably, leading to a decline in death rates and better outcomes for those hospitalized.
Many patients will require help getting oxygen to their lungs, initially administered nasally or through a mask, or by flipping them onto their stomachs, which can help open up their lungs to breathe. If a patient is in severe respiratory distress, doctors could choose to move them onto a ventilator, a machine that mechanically moves air in and out of the lungs. Since using ventilators is a more invasive procedure that requires intubating patients, doctors are still divided on when they are a necessary intervention.
But for hospitalized patients, two treatments have so far proven the most helpful: a cheap steroid called dexamethasone, which was shown to reduce deaths in severely ill patients by a third, and an antiviral drug called remdesivir, which received emergency authorization by the FDA in May. Neither has yet gone through the FDA’s rigorous approval process, which would require conclusive evidence that they are safe and effective.
So far, Trump’s physician has disclosed that he has been receiving Regeneron’s experimental antibody treatment. A second synthetic antibody treatment made by Eli Lilly has also shown promise.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump boosted several treatment options that are unproven or considered dangerous, at one point suggesting that experts shine ultraviolet light inside the body to eliminate the virus or inject people with disinfectants.
Most notably, amid pressure from Trump, the FDA issued an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, later revoking it after studies showed that it was ineffective and could cause heart problems. In August, Trump pushed for the FDA to issue an emergency authorization for convalescent plasma, an intervention that uses the antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID-19 but has not yet been shown to be effective in rigorous clinical trials.