U.S. President Donald Trump remained out of sight for a second day Wednesday recovering from COVID-19, but he made his presence known on social media as he tweeted broadsides against Democrats, floated false disease figures and pushed lawmakers to take up piecemeal economic aid proposals after nixing negotiations on a broader assistance package.
White House aides said that Trump was itching to get back to the Oval Office, and preparations are under way to allow him to do so while minimizing risk to those around him. His doctor on Wednesday reported that the president continued to make progress in his recovery.
His physician, Dr. Sean Conley, after his latest examination of the president, reported that Trump had declared, “I feel great!”
Conley added in a memo that Trump had been symptom-free for over 24 hours, and that his oxygen saturation level and respiratory rate were normal. The memo also said that antibodies against the coronavirus were detected in blood drawn from Trump on Monday, suggesting he may be fighting off the infection. The Friday before, he had been given an experimental treatment that contained manufactured antibodies.
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Aides were instructed to take extensive precautions to prevent themselves from catching the coronavirus from the president. And while aides say he is working, White House officials have offered scant details of what he’s up to.
It’s unclear if Trump, since returning to the White House, has been able to receive the daily summary and analysis of national security issues produced for the president and key Cabinet members and advisers. White House officials did not answer questions about whether he’s been briefed on Hurricane Delta approaching the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Amidst the national public health crisis, a personal one, and warning flares from leading economists that the virus-scarred economy badly needs stimulus, Trump pushed out more than four dozen tweets by midday praising supporters and eviscerating his opponents.
He again publicly played down the virus on Twitter after his return from a three-day hospitalization, though even more aides tested positive, including one of his closest advisers, Stephen Miller. All told, more than a dozen White House staffers have tested positive.
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Even as the White House has become a ghost complex this week because of the disease, Trump pushed out video of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaking of her decision to resist COVID-19 restrictions in her state and thanked a supporter who tweeted she “would wade though a sea of COVID infested water to vote for President Trump on November 3rd.”
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In one significant national coronavirus action, Trump declared Tuesday there would be no action before the election on economic-stimulus legislation — an announcement that came not long after the Federal Reserve chairman said such help was essential for recovery with the nation reeling from the human and economic cost of the pandemic. Stocks fell on the White House news. He later tweeted his support for a range of piecemeal stimulus proposals that appear to be a political non-starter before Election Day.
Meanwhile, Trump was grappling with next political steps exactly four weeks from Election Day. Anxious to project strength, Trump, who is still contagious with the virus, tweeted Tuesday that he was planning to attend next week’s debate with Democrat Joe Biden in Miami and “It will be great!”
Biden, for his part, said he and Trump “shouldn’t have a debate” as long as the president remains COVID positive. Biden told reporters in Pennsylvania that he was “looking forward to being able to debate him” but said “we’re going to have to follow very strict guidelines.”
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Elsewhere in the government, the scope of the outbreak was still being uncovered. On Tuesday, the nation’s top military leaders including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and the vice chairman, Gen. John Hyten, were in quarantine after exposure to Adm. Charles W. Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard.
It was not known how Ray contracted the virus, but he attended an event for military families at the White House on Sept. 27. The Coast Guard said in a statement that Ray felt mild symptoms over the weekend and was tested on Monday.
Also testing positive Tuesday was Miller, a top policy adviser and Trump speechwriter, who has been an architect of the president’s restrictive immigration measures.“ Miller’s wife, Katie Miller, who serves as communications director to Vice-President Mike Pence, had the virus earlier this year. She had been in Salt Lake City with Pence where he is preparing to debate Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris, but she left as soon as she found out about her husband’s diagnosis, officials said. She tested negative on Tuesday.
Trump on Monday made clear that he has little intention of abiding by best containment practices when he removed his mask before entering the White House after his discharge from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Waiting aides were visible when he entered the Blue Room without a face covering.
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Trump’s attitude alarmed infectious disease experts. And it suggested his own illness had not caused him to rethink his often-cavalier attitude toward the disease.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday, “When I saw him on the balcony of the White House, taking off his mask, I couldn’t help but think that he sent the wrong signal, given that he’s infected with COVID-19 and that there are many people in his immediate circle who have the virus.”
Trump, for his part, falsely suggested that the virus was akin to the seasonal flu.
“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” he tweeted. “Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”
In fact, COVID-19 has already proven to be a more potent killer, particularly among older populations, than seasonal flu, and has shown indications of having long-term impacts on the health of younger people it infects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that influenza has resulted in far fewer yearly deaths than Trump said — between 12,000 and 61,000 annually since 2010.
Trump was working out of makeshift office space on the ground floor of the White House residence, in close proximity to the White House Medical Unit’s office suite, with only a few aides granted a face-to-face audience. The West Wing was largely vacant, as a number of Trump’s aides were either sick or quarantining after exposure to people infected with the virus, or otherwise working remotely as a precaution.
First lady Melania Trump was isolating upstairs in the White House.
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