Severity of Trump's illness unclear four weeks ahead of election

by Reuters
Monday, 5 October 2020 15:46 GMT

(Adds Meadows, Murphy comments, White House spokeswoman testing positive)

By Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Monday began a fourth day of treatment for COVID-19 at a military hospital outside Washington, with the severity of his illness unclear barely four weeks before Americans go to the polls to decide whether to reelect him.

Trump's announcement of his diagnosis landed like a bombshell on Friday, some 48 hours after his first presidential debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden, highlighting the uncertainty that has marked a highly unusual campaign during a deadly pandemic.

Doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, are treating Trump, 74, with a steroid, dexmethasone, that is normally used only in the most severe cases. Trump was running a high fever on Friday and had been given supplemental oxygen after his blood oxygen levels dropped, Dr. Sean P. Conley, the White House physician, said on Sunday.

But the Republican president's medical team, which has painted a rosy picture of his condition, will weigh whether he can leave the hospital later on Monday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox News, adding that he was optimistic Trump would be discharged.

Meadows also defended the decision to allow Trump to leave his suite briefly on Sunday to take part in a drive by to greet supporters outside the hospital. Critics said the action put Trump's security officers at risk.

Even if discharged, Trump will need to continue treatment as he is still undergoing a five-day course of an intravenous antiviral drug, remdesivir. The normal quarantine period for anyone testing positive for the novel coronavirus is 14 days.

Trump frequently downplayed the threat of the pandemic which has now infected 7.4 million Americans and killed more than 209,000. In recent days, he released a series of videos to reassure the public he is recovering from the disease caused by the virus.

On Monday, his Twitter account released a stream of more than a dozen messages encouraging Americans to vote for him in the November election, including posts that read "LAW & ORDER. VOTE!" and "RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. VOTE!"

The coronavirus outbreak around Trump grew on Monday when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement she had tested positive for the virus and would begin the quarantine process. McEnany is a well-known figure at the forefront of the White House's often combative dealings with the media.

TRAILING IN POLLS

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday showed Trump trailing Biden nationally by 10 percentage points. About 65% of Americans said Trump would not have been infected had he taken the virus more seriously.

Trump has repeatedly flouted social-distancing guidelines meant to curb its spread.

He is under fire for a statement that he met with soldiers and first responders at the hospital - moves that potentially exposed even more people to the virus, as well as the drive-by on Sunday.

"Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential 'drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days," James Phillips, an attending physician at the Walter Reed facility. "They might get sick. They may die. For political theater."

A return to the White House might help Trump project a sense of normalcy in his difficult battle to win re-election on Nov. 3.

U.S. stock markets were trading higher on Monday amid hints of Trump's potential release and signs of progress with a new fiscal stimulus bill. Wall Street's main indexes slumped on Friday after Trump's announcement that he had COVID-19.

But doctors not involved in Trump's treatment said the president's condition might be worse than his team let on. As an overweight, elderly man, Trump is in a category that is more likely to develop severe complications or die from the disease.

Biden, 77, has tested negative for the disease several times since sharing the debate stage with Trump. He is due to resume in-person campaigning on Monday in Florida, where polls show a tight race in a crucial election battleground.

Trump's wife, Melania, who also tested positive for COVID-19, said in tweet that she would continue to rest at home in the White House.

Three Republican U.S. senators, two of whom were at a Sept. 26 White House public event where Trump introduced his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, have tested positive for the coronavirus as have others who work in the White House.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife again tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday, an administration official said.

There is growing concern about a fundraising trip that Trump made on Thursday to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, which was attended by about 100 people,

"A group of folks from out of state coming in knowingly having been exposed to someone who is COVID-positive is really, really frustrating, it's complicated," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told CBS' "This Morning" show.

"The thing that should have happened is nobody should have come to New Jersey. That trip should have been canceled," said Murphy, who added that the state, which was one of the early epicenters of the U.S. pandemic, was now conducting contact-tracing for those who attended the fundraiser.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Andrea Shalal; additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and Tim Ahmann; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.