Trump’s doctors told Americans must be able to ‘trust’ their statements on president’s health

Oliver O'Connell
·6-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

There are calls for Donald Trump’s doctors to be honest with the American people following misleading and conflicting accounts on his health after his coronavirus diagnosis.

On Sunday, the president’s medical team spoke to the press at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Bethesda, Maryland where he was admitted on Friday. The team, led by Mr Trump’s physician, Dr Sean Conley, was pressed about conflicting accounts of the president’s condition.

The doctors had presented a rosy description of the president’s health on Saturday in contrast to remarks by the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Dr Conley acknowledged on Sunday that he had tried to present an “upbeat” description. He went on to admit that Mr Trump’s blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days, but that he “has continued to improve” since then. He also said that Mr Trump had received supplemental oxygen on two occasions – contradicting a previous statement.

The president was given two litres of oxygen at the White House on Friday morning when he also had a high fever, the doctor said. He added that the president had at first been adamant that he did not want it. The president was also given oxygen on Saturday while in hospital.

During Saturday’s medical update, Dr Conley told reporters that Mr Trump had not had trouble breathing, and was not given oxygen at Walter Reed. Pressed on Sunday about when the second dip in oxygen levels occurred, Dr Conley did not answer directly, nor did he respond to questions about signs of lung damage on scans that might indicate pneumonia, nor why none of this had been mentioned during earlier briefings.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the doctors treating the president must provide trustworthy information to the public. She told CBS’ Face the Nation: “We need to have trust that what they’re telling us about the president’s condition is real.” Ms Pelosi said she feared the information the doctors are relaying to the public “has to be approved by the president. That’s not very scientific”.

Mr Trump’s doctors on Sunday also suggested that the president could be discharged from the hospital as early as Monday. He is also being treated with a steroid, dexamethasone, shown in studies to improve survival for patients hospitalised with critical Covid-19 who need extra oxygen.

However, guidelines from the Infectious Disease Society of America say that it should not be given in mild cases since it can limit the body's own ability to combat the virus, further muddling the emerging picture of the president’s health.

Mr Trump also received a second dose in a five-day course of Remdesivir, the intravenous antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences that can shorten hospital stays, but the treatment must be administered in a medical facility indicating that early discharge is unlikely.

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Dr Sanjay Gupta said that there are a lot of inconsistencies in what is being revealed to the public and that the medical team is “hiding things”. The treatments Trump is receiving indicate a serious level of concern, said Dr Gupta, a surgeon and medical reporter. “You’ve got to be transparent,” he added.

Mr Trump’s physicians, however, say that he has been without a fever since Friday morning and his vital signs are stable.

Dr Conley said that Mr Trump’s current oxygen level is at 98 per cent and that there were no recordings of the level dropping below 90 per cent. In one episode his oxygen level fell below 94 per cent and in the other 93 per cent.

Mr Trump’s doctors were asked to explain why their assessment of the president’s medical condition contradicted remarks made by his chief of staff Mark Meadows on Saturday.

“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team, that the president, that his course of illness has had. Didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” Dr Conley said. “And in doing so, came off like we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”

At Saturday morning’s briefing, Mr Trump's condition was said to be improving and that he was already talking about returning to the White House. However, Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, told CBS's Face the Nation that he had spoken with Mr Trump earlier on Sunday morning and that, while he feels well and wants to get back to work at the White House, "he's going to stay at Walter Reed for at least another period of time".

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pictured during Sunday's briefing on the health of the presidentREUTERS
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pictured during Sunday's briefing on the health of the presidentREUTERS

While his doctors were causing controversy with evasive messaging, the president himself was not to be outdone: Mr Trump left hospital briefly in a motorcade to greet supporters outside, waving from his armoured SUV. He had teased the move in a Twitter video in which he claimed he had learned a great deal about Covid-19 from his experience, calling Walter Reed “the real school”.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Sunday found that some 65 per cent of Americans said the president likely would not have been infected had he taken the virus more seriously — a view that half of registered Republicans polled supported. Some 55 per cent said they did not believe Mr Trump had been telling the truth about the virus.

In terms of the election, Democratic former vice president Joe Biden has surged ahead in the polls.

On Sunday morning an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters conducted after the first debate, but before Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, put Biden ahead by 14 points 53 per cent to 39 per cent — up from an eight-point lead pre-debate.

That gives Mr Biden his largest lead in national opinion polling in the 2020 election campaign.

It was driven by almost half of all voters (49 per cent) who thought Mr Biden did a better job in the first debate, compared to just 24 per cent who favoured Mr Trump.

With confusion over the severity of Mr Trump's condition and symptoms, questions remain over whether the second presidential debate will take place in two weeks.

Mr Biden’s team confirmed on Sunday that he would be there.

"We are looking forward to the debate in Miami on October 15th and it’s a town hall, and Joe Biden loves a good town hall," campaign adviser Symond Sanders said on CNN's State of the Union.

Both Joe and Jill Biden have tested negative for the coronavirus.

On Wednesday Mike Pence is set to go head-to-head with Kamala Harris in the vice presidential debate. Both the vice president and his Democrat opponent, and their spouses have tested negative for the virus.

First lady Melania Trump remains at the White House to recover from her own Covid-19 infection. The list of senior administration figures that have contracted the virus spiked after the Rose Garden ceremony to introduce Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, last weekend.

Few people were wearing masks and there was no social distancing.

To date, 7.41 million Americans have been confirmed to have coronavirus, and there have been more than 209,000 officially recorded deaths.

Additional reporting by agencies

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