BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — President Donald Trump declared, “I get it,” in a message to the nation Sunday evening before briefly leaving the hospital to salute cheering supporters from his motorcade, a surprising move that raised new questions about the president's understanding of the coronavirus that has 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 treatment typically only recommended for the very sick. The doctors also said his health is improving and that he could be discharged as early as Monday.
“It’s been a very interesting journey. I learned a lot about COVID,” Trump said, standing in his hospital room in a video posted on social media. “I learned it by really going to school.”
He added, “I get it, and I understand it."
Before the video was posted, the infected president cruised by supporters in his bulletproof SUV, windows rolled up, driven by Secret Service agents in protective gear who were potentially exposed to the disease that has swept through the White House in recent days.
“This is insanity,” tweeted Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Trump has been hospitalized since Friday evening.
“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," the doctor wrote. “For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater.”
Trump's doctors earlier in the day sidestepped questions about exactly when Trump’s blood oxygen dropped — an episode they neglected to mention in multiple statements the day before — or whether lung scans showed any damage.
It was the second straight day of confusion and obfuscation from a White House already suffering from a credibility crisis. And it raised more doubts about whether the doctors treating the president were sharing accurate, timely information with the American public about the severity of him condition.
Campaign says Biden again tests negative for virus
Joe Biden’s campaign says the Democratic presidential nominee tested negative for coronavirus Sunday.
The results come five days after Biden spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with President Donald Trump. The president was diagnosed with COVID-19 days after the debate, and he remains hospitalized.
Biden had two negative tests on Friday, as well.
Biden is scheduled to travel Monday to Florida. His campaign said it will continue to observe public health guidelines on masks, social distancing and crowd sizes.
What we know, and what we don't, about Trump's diagnosis
A White House physician's comments on Sunday about the health of President Trump amid his coronavirus diagnosis added a new layer of confusion even as the doctor sought to clarify contradictory statements from the day before.
Here's what we know and what we don't know:
WHAT WE KNOW: TRUMP’S MEDICAL CONDITION
Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician, said Trump was given a steroid dexamethasone after his blood oxygen level had dropped suddenly twice in recent days, but he “has continued to improve” since then. Conley said Trump could be discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as early as Monday.
Conley said Trump had a “high fever” and a blood oxygen level below 94% on Friday and during “another episode” on Saturday.
Conley was evasive when asked whether Trump’s blood oxygen level had dropped below 90%: “We don’t have any recordings here on that.” The level currently stands at 98%, Trump’s medical team said.
Blood oxygen saturation is a key health marker for COVID-19 patients. A normal reading is between 95 and 100. A drop below 90 is concerning.
Trump's team said Sunday that Trump received oxygen at the White House on Friday. They were not clear on whether he received any Saturday.
The additional details emerged after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Saturday said some of Trump’s vital signs were “very concerning” Friday. That disclosure contradicted a rosy assessment Trump's doctors had initially provided.
Along with a steroid, Trump has been treated with two experimental drugs, doctors said.
On Friday, Trump was given a single dose of a drug that Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. is testing to supply antibodies to help his immune system fight the virus. Trump also has taken two doses of a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug currently used for moderately and severely ill patients.
Trump's team said Sunday that Trump is “up and around” and doing well. They said if things continue to go well, Trump will be able to return to the White House on Monday to continue his treatment.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: TRUMP’S MEDICAL CONDITION
Trump's medical team continued to dodge many questions Sunday, such as the specific timing of the president’s dip in oxygen and the impact of the disease on his lungs.
Asked repeatedly about what lung scan tests found and whether there have been any signs of pneumonia or other damage, Conley responded: “We’re tracking all of that. There’s some expected findings but nothing of any major clinical concern.”
Conley also hasn't specified where Trump is in the “disease course” of COVID-19. Days seven to 10 typically are a time of higher concern, he said.
WHAT WE KNOW: WHEN TRUMP FELL ILL
Trump started showing symptoms by Thursday, a full day before the White House announced what were initially called “mild symptoms.”
Conley said Trump showed some common signs of COVID-19 on Thursday — a mild cough, stuffy nose and fatigue. The president tested positive that evening, the doctor said.
The timeline matters as an indication of how transparent Trump, his staffers and doctors are being about the president's health and whether Trump should have known he may have been spreading the virus as he mingled with campaign donors, staffers and others Thursday.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: WHEN TRUMP FELL ILL
Conley declined to say when Trump had last been tested before Thursday’s test confirmed COVID-19.
WHAT WE KNOW: HOW TRUMP WAS INFECTED
It's not clear, but attention is focusing on a White House event Sept. 26 introducing Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Trump gathered more than 150 people in the Rose Garden, where they mingled, hugged and shook hands — overwhelmingly without masks. Photos also show several indoor receptions, where Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, her family, senators and others gathered in the close quarters in the White House.
Among those who attended who have now tested positive: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, the president of the University of Notre Dame and at least two Republican lawmakers — Utah Sen. Mike Lee and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW: HOW TRUMP WAS INFECTED
There's no way to know for sure if the Rose Garden event was where Trump — who typically shuns a mask and has kept holding big public gatherings during the pandemic — was exposed. The president had a full week of official and campaign events before his hospitalization Friday.
A third Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, announced his positive test Saturday, and he had not attended Barrett’s nomination kickoff.
The administration says a White House medical team is tracing contacts.
Contact tracing underway in New Jersey
State and county officials in New Jersey are contacting more than 200 people who were at Trump's Bedminster golf club for Thursday’s campaign fundraiser and asking them to monitor for possible coronavirus symptoms.
If they were in close contact with the president or his staff, they are being asked to quarantine for 14 days. Officials recommend waiting five to seven days from the event to get a COVID-19 test to prevent false negatives.
Trump announced early Friday that he and his wife had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. According to a statement issued Sunday, the White House sent the New Jersey officials a list of 206 attendees.
Meanwhile, Somerset County officials are contacting employees who worked the event, most of whom live in the county.
State and county officials said the federal government is also conducting contact tracing.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that a full contact tracing, consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was completed for the president's Bedminster trip. Trump did not have any interactions with Bedminster staff or guests that would be considered to be “close” based on the guidelines, Deere said.
All White House staff considered to be in close contact during the trip have been identified, contacted and recommended to quarantine, Deere said.
Photos: A look at Trump's busy week leading up to positive coronavirus test
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.