On Sunday, President Trump greeted supporters outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from his motorcade, leaving his hospital suite to make a “surprise” visit despite undergoing treatment for the coronavirus.
On Sunday evening he tweeted a video in which he said he planned to go say hello to the dozens of supporters who had gathered across the street from the hospital.
Just A few moments later, video emerged of the president’s motorcade passing by, with a masked Trump visible waving from the backseat. The decision triggered immediate safety concerns — and outrage — as the president is infected with a highly contagious virus that has killed more than 205,000 Americans.
Two Secret Service agents could be seen in the vehicle with him. Both were wearing masks.
The pool of reporters that travels with the president whenever he moves from one location to another was not notified of Trump’s drive-by. White House Correspondents’ Association President Zeke Miller said in a statement that it was “outrageous” for Trump to have left the hospital without a protective pool.
“President Trump took a short, last-minute motorcade ride to wave to his supporters outside and has now returned to the Presidential Suite inside Walter Reed,” deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.
Deere also said that “appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the President and all those supporting it, including PPE. The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.”
He declined to say whether the president requested the motorcade, if the president met with anyone in-person on Sunday and why the press pool was not notified.
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 are typically required to self-isolate for 10 days from the time symptoms appeared to avoid infecting others. The patients should also avoid interacting with others until they’ve gone 24 hours with no fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and have seen improvement in other symptoms.
The President’s positive test was first publicized on Friday morning, and he has been symptomatic since then, meaning he is likely still contagious.
“Why is a sick President riding in an SUV waving to supporters outside Walter Reed, jeopardizing the Secret Service agents inside the car with him?” presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted.
An attending physician at Walter Reed, James Phillips, tweeted that the drive-by photo op was “insanity.”
“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” he tweeted. “They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. This is insanity.”
But the president appeared eager to express his appreciation to supporters who have gathered across the street from Walter Reed. The crowd has steadily grown over the last few days, with many waving Trump flags or carrying handmade signs. Reporters spotted one sign that referenced the QAnon conspiracy theory.
In a 73-second video recorded at the hospital, Trump praised those outside the hospital as “great patriots.”
The president added in the video that he has “learned a lot” about the virus while in the hospital.
“I learned about it by really going to school,” he said. “This isn’t the ‘let’s read the book’ school. And I get, and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing.”
The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has infected more than 7 million Americans, by far the most reported cases of any country in the world.
The president has been at Walter Reed since Friday, when he was taken to the hospital after requiring supplemental oxygen. White House doctors and aides have sent conflicting signals about Trump’s health since revealing his positive test, concurrently telling reporters that he is feeling well and could be discharged while acknowledging he has been symptomatic and has seen his blood oxygen levels drop at least twice.
On Sunday Doctors announced that Trump is now on the steroid dexamethasone in response to the low oxygen levels. The president has also been given the antiviral drug remdesivir and an experimental antibody therapy from Regeneron.