Trump ‘not out of woods,’ but doctors cautiously optimistic on virus fight

Head physician says president to remain under observation Sunday, but not running a fever or requiring oxygen and has made substantial progress since initial diagnosis

US President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departure from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, October 2, 2020, as he heads to Walter Reed Military Medical Center, after testing positive for Covid-19.(SAUL LOEB / AFP)
US President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departure from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, October 2, 2020, as he heads to Walter Reed Military Medical Center, after testing positive for Covid-19.(SAUL LOEB / AFP)

BETHESDA, Maryland — US President Donald Trump is “not yet out of the woods” from the coronavirus, his physician said in an update Saturday night, but added that the medical team is “cautiously optimistic.”

“President Trump continues to do well, having made substantial progress since diagnosis,” Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley said in a statement, hours after the president and his chief of staff offered slightly conflicting views of his condition.

“While not yet out of the woods, the team remains cautiously optimistic,” Conley said, adding that Trump continued to be fever-free and off supplemental oxygen and had completed a second dose of the experimental drug remdesivir.

He reported that Trump had been up and around at his medical suite during the day and had been conducting business.

“The plan for tomorrow is to continue observation between doses of remdesivir,” Conley said.

Trump on Friday began a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug currently used for moderately and severely ill patients. He has also been given a single dose of a drug Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. is testing to supply antibodies to help his immune system fight the virus.

US President Donald Trump leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the South Lawn of the White House on October 2, 2020 in Washington, DC (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

The drugs work in different ways — the antibodies help the immune system rid the body of virus and remdesivir curbs the virus’ ability to multiply.

Conley said Trump’s blood oxygen level remained between 96 percent and 98%, which is in the normal range.

Medical experts say the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19, can become more dangerous as the body responds to the infection over time.

Hours earlier Trump released a video from Walter Reed Medical Center outside of Washington, where he is being treated for the disease, in which he said he was feeling better and hoped to be back at work soon.

“I’m starting to feel good. You don’t know over the next period of a few days, I guess that’s the real test, so we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days,” he said.

“We’re working hard to get me all the way back,” he added.

The video, in which Trump appeared upbeat and relaxed but sounded raspy, was a counterpart to a less sanguine update from his chief of staff Mark Meadows, who told reporters that the president had entered a “critical” two days in his fight against COVID-19.

“The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We’re still not on a clear path yet to a full recovery,” Mark Meadows told reporters outside the hospital.

The president was angry at Meadows’ public assessment of his health and, in an effort to prove his vitality, Trump ordered up the video and authorized longtime confidant Rudy Giuliani to release a statement on his behalf that he was feeling well, according to a Republican close to the White House not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.

Trump is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has infected more than 7 million people nationwide and killed more than 200,000 people in the US.

First lady Melania Trump remained at the White House to recover from her own bout with the virus. She was “really handling it very nicely,” Trump said in the video, noting with a touch of humor that she was “just a little tiny bit younger” — in fact, 24 years younger.

Backdropped by a billboard supporting President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, people wave flags on a bridge during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

Conley’s message late Saturday did little to clear up questions about when Trump was diagnosed and how much treatment he had required on Friday that have dogged the White House since his positive test was result was announced at 1 a.m. on Friday.

Trump’s administration has been less than transparent with the public throughout the pandemic, both about the president’s health and the virus’ spread inside the White House. The first word that a close aide to Trump had been infected came from the media, not the White House. And aides have repeatedly declined to share basic health information, including a full accounting of the president’s symptoms, what tests he’s undertaken and the results.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump rally outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 3, 2020, in Bethesda, Maryland. (Alex Edelman/Getty Images/AFP)

During an afternoon press briefing, Conley repeatedly refused to say whether the president ever needed supplemental oxygen, despite repeated questioning, and declined to share key details including how high a fever Trump had been running before it came back down to a normal range. Conley also revealed that Trump had begun exhibiting “clinical indications” of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, earlier than previously known.

Conley spent much of the briefing dodging reporters’ questions, as he was pressed for details.

“Thursday no oxygen. None at this moment. And yesterday with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen,” Conley said.

But according to a person familiar with Trump’s condition, Trump was administered oxygen at the White House on Friday morning, well before he was transported to the military hospital by helicopter that evening. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity.

Dr. Sean Conley, physician to US President Donald Trump, briefs reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, October 3, 2020. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Conley said that Trump’s symptoms, including a mild cough, nasal congestion and fatigue, “are now resolving and improving,” and said the president had been fever-free for 24 hours. But Trump also is taking aspirin, which lowers body temperature and could mask or mitigate that symptom.

Meadows himself had insisted Friday morning that Trump had only “mild symptoms” as the White House tried to project an image of normalcy. It was unclear whether Trump already had received oxygen when Meadows spoke.

“President Trump remains in good spirits, has mild symptoms and has been working throughout the day,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said late in the day on Friday. She said Trump had only been sent to Walter Reed as a precaution.

This combination of file pictures created on October 3, 2020 shows (L-R, top to bottom) US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, on October 1, 2020; US First Lady Melania Trump in Washington, DC, on August 27, 2020; former communications director Hope Hicks in Washington, DC, o on March 29, 2018; US Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, in Washington, DC on December 13, 2018; Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway in Washington, DC on August 26, 2020; Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel in Washington, DC, on August 24, 2020; US Senator Thom Tillis, republican of North Carolina, in Aliaga, Turkey, on April 16, 2018;
US Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, in Bratislava on May 27, 2017; Trump Campaign manager Bill Stepien aboard Air Force One on August 28, 2020. As of October 3, 2020, all nine have tested positive for Covid-19 in the last two days. (Photos by AFP)

Conley declined to say when Trump had last been tested before he was confirmed to have COVID-19 late Thursday. He initially suggested that Trump was 72 hours into the diagnosis — which would mean that he was confirmed infected Wednesday. Conley later clarified that Trump was administered an accurate test for the virus on Thursday afternoon, after White House aide Hope Hicks was confirmed to be positive and Trump exhibited “clinical indications” of the virus.

The White House has said Trump was expected to stay at the hospital for “a few days” and would continue to work from its presidential suite, which is equipped to allow him to keep up his official duties. In addition to accessibility to tests and equipment, the decision to move to the hospital on Friday was made, at least in part, with the understanding that hurrying there later could send a worrying signal if he took a turn for the worse.

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