BETHESDA, Md. – Infected and contagious, President Donald Trump briefly ventured out in a motorcade on Sunday to salute cheering supporters, a move that disregarded precautions meant to contain the deadly virus that has forced his hospitalization and killed more than 209,000 Americans.
Hours earlier, Trump’s medical team reported that his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days and that they gave him a steroid typically only recommended for the very sick. Still, the doctors said Trump’s health is improving and that he could be discharged as early as Monday.
With one month until Election Day, Trump was eager to project strength despite his illness. The still-infectious president surprised supporters who had gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, driving by in a black SUV with the windows rolled up. Secret Service agents inside the vehicle could be seen in masks and other protective gear.
The move capped a weekend of contradictions that fueled confusion about Trump’s health, which has imperiled the leadership of the U.S. government and upended the final stages of the presidential campaign. While Trump’s physician offered a rosy prognosis on his condition, his briefings lacked basic information, including the findings of lung scans, or were quickly muddled by more serious assessments of the president's health by other officials.
In a short video released by the White House on Sunday, Trump insisted he understood the gravity of the moment. But his actions moments later, by leaving the hospital and sitting inside the SUV with others, suggested otherwise.
“This is insanity,” Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed who is a critic of Trump and his handling of the pandemic. “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die.”
“For political theater,” the doctor added. “Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump’s trip outside the hospital “was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.” He added that precautions were taken, including using personal protective equipment, to protect Trump as well as White House officials and Secret Service agents.