The world’s attention turned to U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, when we learned via his early morning tweet that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. That set off a whirlwind of events: Trump was given an infusion of an experimental drug—a monoclonal antibody “cocktail” that, while promising, has not been fully vetted. The President was hospitalized at Walter Reed. There, doctors administered the antiviral treatment Remdesivir. The chaotic, unexplained actions were not accompanied by any direct communication from Trump’s medical team, save for two very brief written notes from the White House.
It took until Saturday morning—what his doctor Sean Conley told us was “72 hours into the diagnosis”—for Trump’s medical team to speak to the public about the President’s status. Unfortunately, Conley proved to be quite evasive. He would not answer repeated questions about whether the President had received supplemental oxygen at any point. He would not speak to the results of any lung scan, which would very likely have been done. He would not even tell us how high Trump’s fever had spiked. These are all reasonable things for the American public to know when their President is in the clutches of a potentially fatal disease, especially with an election only weeks away.
In just a few days, we’ve gone from what has emerged as a COVID-19 superspreader event at the Rose Garden to a very rosy picture of the President’s health status. But after Saturday’s press conference, we were left without any medical explanation as to why the President received an experimental monoclonal antibody cocktail; Conley only said that “For the President, I didn’t want to hold back.” We also don’t know why he was transferred to the hospital in the first place; Conley only said that Trump was hospitalized “because he’s the President of the United States.” Perhaps there was a sign of clinical deterioration at some earlier point—immediately following Conley’s press conference, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters that Trump’s vitals over the last 24 hours were “very concerning,” but Conley was unwilling to answer a simple question about Trump’s need for supplemental oxygen (the Associated Press reported later Saturday that Trump was given supplemental oxygen at the White House on Friday.) The mixed messaging led to undue confusion and speculation that has exacerbated the ongoing crisis.
Ironically, the most disturbing information shared during Saturday’s press conference was a disclosure: Conley said that, as of Saturday morning, 72 hours had passed since Trump’s diagnosis. That timeline would bring us back to Wednesday, potentially before Trump traveled to events in Minnesota and New Jersey, where he interacted with many people and, if that timing is accurate, may well have contributed to further spread of the virus. (In a statement sent after Saturday morning’s press conference, Conley said he misspoke and that Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday night and received the antibody cocktail on Friday.)
Read more: What If Trump’s Condition Worsens? ∙ Mike Pence Steps Into the Spotlight ∙ Physician Briefing Raises More Questions Than Answers ∙ Trump’s Unique COVID-19 Treatment ∙ White House’s Silence Worries Diplomats ∙ U.S. Adversaries Exploiting Trump’s Illness ∙ How Trump’s Diagnosis Could Change the Campaign ∙ Aides Wonder If More Could Have Been Done to Protect Trump ∙ What to Know About Regeneron ∙ Where Trump Has Been Since Monday ∙ At 74, President Trump Is at Higher Risk of COVID-19 Complications ∙
It is indeed good news that the President is “doing very well,” as Conley said. But we are left with a patient of utmost importance who remains at high risk as Americans are left in a state of high confusion. Whichever timeline is accurate, it should not have taken multiple days after Trump’s diagnosis for his medical team to speak to the public and answer questions from journalists, and his doctors should have given straightforward answers. Instead, what they did amounts to deliberate under-transmission of important information. The entire affair is consistent with Trump’s handling of the pandemic from its start: not telling us all that he knows, denying the importance of masks and distancing, and underplaying the real and persisting danger the virus poses. The rosy picture that Trump had been painting about the virus in recent weeks will soon disappear. After all these long months of evasion and denial, this moment, this crisis, would be an opportune time for Trump to change his ways.
Correction, Oct. 7
The original version of this story misstated the name of President Trump’s physician in one instance. It is Sean Conley, not Sean Coney.