Hospitalized with COVID-19, Trump thanks supporters, says his 'real test' lies ahead

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s condition is improving as he is being treated for COVID-19 at a military hospital, his medical team said on Sunday, as they provided more details of the toll the lung illness has taken on him.

Trump, 74, who was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday, could return as early as Monday to the White House, where doctors would continue his five-day course of the intravenous antiviral drug Remdesivir.

Dr. Sean P. Conley told reporters Trump had received supplemental oxygen on Thursday and Friday and is also being given the steroid dexamethasone. The briefing came the day after contradictory messages from the White House caused widespread confusion about the president’s condition.

Trump spent much of the year downplaying the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected 7.4 million Americans, killed more than 209,000, and caused an economic downturn that has thrown millions out of work.

His illness has upended his re-election campaign as it seeks to fend off Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the final month of the race, and rattled financial markets. Several members of his inner circle have also tested positive for the disease, including three Republican members of the U.S. Senate.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday found Biden had opened a 10 point lead over Trump nationally, slightly wider than it has been for the past two months. Some 65% of Americans said Trump likely would not have been infected had he taken the virus more seriously — a view that half of registered Republicans polled supported. Some 55% said they did not believe Trump had been telling the truth about the virus.

DEXAMETHASONE STEROID TREATMENT

Doctors said the president has not run a fever since Friday, though he had a high fever on Friday morning, and that his liver and kidney function remained normal after the second dose of Remdesivir.

Dr. Brian Garibaldi said Trump was given the steroid dexamethasone in response to “transient low oxygen levels.”

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“He received his first dose of that yesterday and our plan is to continue that for the time being,” Garibaldi said.

Dexamethasone is shown in studies to improve survival for patients hospitalized with critical COVID-19 who need extra oxygen. But it should not be given in mild cases since it can limit the body’s own ability to combat the virus, according to guidelines from the Infectious Disease Society of America.

Asked what tests had revealed about the condition of Trump’s lungs, Conley replied, “There’s some expected findings, but nothing of any major clinical concern.”

Trump is also being given an experimental treatment, Regeneron’s REGN-COV2, as well as zinc, Vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and aspirin, his doctors have said.

“Today he feels well, he’s been up and around. Our plan for today is to have him eat and drink, be up out of bed as much as possible, to be mobile,” Garibaldi said. “And if he continues to look and feel as well as he does today our hope is that we can plan for a discharge as early as tomorrow to the White House where he can continue his treatment course.”

Trump released a four-minute video on Saturday in which he said the “real test” of his condition will come over the next few days.

“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,” Trump said into the camera, looking tired and wearing a jacket and open-necked shirt.

He tweeted thanks to his supporters on Sunday.

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Differing assessments of Trump’s health from administration officials on Saturday left it unclear how ill the president had become since he tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday night.

Conley commented on the contradictory assessments on Sunday.

“I was trying to reflect an upbeat attitude of the team and the president about the course his illness has had,” Conley told reporters on Sunday. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction and in doing so, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which isn’t necessarily true.”

‘AGGRESSIVE’ CAMPAIGN CONTINUES

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Trump’s campaign vowed that Vice President Mike Pence, who would assume the presidency if Trump were unable to carry out his duties, would have an “aggressive” campaign schedule this week, as would Trump’s three oldest children.

“We can’t stay in our basement or shut down the economy indefinitely. We have to take it head-on,” Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

With Trump off the campaign trail indefinitely, his campaign announced “Operation MAGA,” based on his slogan “Make America Great Again,” which will see high-profile allies including Pence and Trump’s elder sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, take over in-person campaigning this week.

Pence, who tested negative on Friday, is scheduled to debate Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Wednesday.

Biden, who largely avoided direct criticism of Trump during a campaign trip to Michigan on Friday, took a more aggressive tone on Saturday while speaking to a transit workers’ union, even as he wished the president well.

“I’m in a little bit of a spot here, because I don’t want to be attacking the president and the first lady now,” Biden said, adding he hoped Trump and his wife Melania, who also has the illness, make a full recovery.

But he quickly turned to Trump’s response to the pandemic, calling it “unconscionable” and blasting Trump’s comment in an interview this summer that “it is what it is” when asked about the death toll.

Biden, who tested negative on Friday, told reporters he would next be tested on Sunday. His campaign will begin releasing the results of each test, a spokesman said.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington and Jeff Mason in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Katanga Johnson, Daphne Psaledakis, Steve Holland, Richard Cowan, Idrees Ali, Diane Bartz, Trevor Hunicutt and Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis