President Donald Trump declared this Sunday that he was healthy enough to return to the election campaign, a day after the White House doctor said he was no longer at risk of transmitting the coronavirus, but did not explicitly say whether Trump had tested negative.
Trump, who was ready Monday to host his first rally following his COVID-19 diagnosis, declared that he was now “immune” to the virus, a claim that was impossible to prove and that comes amid a series of pending questions about the health of the president.
“I am immune,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News. “The president is in great shape to fight the battles.”
In a memo released Saturday night by the White House, Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley said Trump met the criteria of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to safely interrupt isolation. and that according to “currently recognized standards” it was no longer considered a transmission risk. The memo did not state that Trump had tested negative for the virus.
Some medical experts had been skeptical that Trump could be declared free of the risk of transmitting the virus so early in the course of his illness. Just 10 days after the initial infection diagnosis, there was no way to know for sure that someone was no longer contagious, they said.
The memo was released after Trump’s first public appearance since returning to the White House after being treated for the coronavirus in a military hospital. Hundreds of people gathered Saturday afternoon on the South Lawn for Trump’s speech on his support for law enforcement from a White House balcony.
Less than a week since he left the hospital and without clarifying whether he has tested negative for COVID-19, the president accelerates his campaign events with less than a month left before the presidential elections.
Trump removed a mask moments after stepping onto the balcony to address the crowd on the lawn below, his first step back on the public stage with just over three weeks to go on Election Day. He again scoffed at his own government’s safety advice days after acknowledging that he was on the brink of the “bad things” from the virus and claiming that his attack on the disease allowed him to better understand it.
His return was brief. With visible bandages on his hands, likely due to an IV, Trump spoke for 18 minutes, far less than his normal rallies of more than an hour. He looked healthy, if perhaps a little hoarse, when he delivered what was, for all intents and purposes, a short version of his campaign speech despite the executive mansion setting.
“I feel great,” Trump told the crowd, adding that he was grateful for their good wishes and prayers as he recovered. He then declared that the pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans, was “disappearing” even though he is still recovering from the virus.
“And now I’m better, and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know …”, said the president.
Whether in an act of defiance or simply to tempt fate, officials staged the event just steps from the Rose Garden, where exactly two weeks ago the president held another grand gathering to formally announce his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. That gathering is now being viewed as a potential COVID-19 super-spreader, as more than two dozen people in attendance contracted the virus.
His return to full-blown rallies will be in Florida on Monday, a return that comes with the president facing a stubborn deficit in the polls. The Trump campaign and the White House have not indicated that additional security measures will be taken to prevent transmission of the virus among those traveling on Air Force One or at the rally site.
When Trump returned to the public stage, Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist and department director at the Yale School of Public Health, said the White House appeared to be following CDC guidelines on when it is appropriate to terminate to isolation after mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.
But Ko cautioned that those who have had severe cases of the disease should isolate themselves for 20 days. He noted that Trump was treated with the steroid dexamethasone, which is normally reserved for patients with severe COVID. Ko added that the White House had issued “complicated” statements about Trump’s health that left many questions unanswered, including whether the president ever had pneumonia.
The memo said that Trump had reached day 10 from symptom onset, had been fever free for more than 24 hours, and that all symptoms had improved. People who have had COVID-19 can continue to test positive for weeks or more after they are no longer infectious.
Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, said the tight deadline set by the White House makes it seem like “they’re really just pushing to get him out of isolation” and back on the campaign trail.
Trump will follow the Florida rally with trips to Pennsylvania and Iowa in the following days. The White House has steadfastly refused to release detailed information about the lung scans.
taken while Trump was hospitalized or saying when his last negative test was before his Oct. 2 diagnosis, raising questions about how often the president was tested and whether he potentially carried the virus for days before it was detected.
Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign said the nominee again tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday. Biden was potentially exposed to the coronavirus during his Sept. 29 debate with Trump, who announced his positive diagnosis just 48 hours after the debate.
The president had not been seen in public – except in videos produced by the White House – since his return last Monday from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received experimental treatments for the coronavirus.
District of Columbia virus restrictions prohibit outdoor gatherings of more than 50 people, although that rule has not been strictly enforced. Masks are required outdoors for most people, but the regulations don’t apply on federal land and the Trump White House has openly flouted them for months.
While reports of reinfection in COVID-19 victims are rare, the CDC recommends that even people recovering from the disease continue to wear masks, stay away, and follow other precautions. It was unclear whether Trump, who has refused to wear masks in most settings, would abide by that guidance.