WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Monday that he would be leaving Walter Reed Medical Center, four days into his COVID-19 diagnosis and days before experts expect he will know whether his condition declines.
Despite receiving experimental treatments that suggest a sharp decline in recent days, Trump pronounced himself fit, while again downplaying the severity of the pandemic.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he tweeted, announcing a 6:30 p.m. ET departure. “Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
Earlier on Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced that she has tested positive for the coronavirus, another sign that the virus that has put Trump in the hospital and killed more than 210,000 Americans is spreading through the White House.
Two other members of Trump’s press staff also tested positive, according to a senior White House official, although it wasn’t clear when their tests were conducted.
In addition to the president and first lady Melania Trump, at least a dozen Trump aides, campaign officials, Republican lawmakers and recent contacts now have tested positive for the coronavirus, an outbreak that makes the White House a hot spot for the contagion.
The official said Trump’s doctors would likely give an update on Trump’s health later Monday. His Twitter account was active with unrelated political messages, mostly in all-capital letters, urging supporters to vote. It is unclear whether Trump or his social media aide Dan Scavino wrote them.
The White House has taken pains to portray the president as working while at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was hospitalized Friday.
Trump spent Monday morning in teleconferences with senior staff, discussing negotiations with Congress over breaking an impasse to get a new round of COVID-19 funding, the senior official said, and was briefed remotely by his national security staff Sunday.
In a statement on Twitter, McEnany said she “tested positive for COVID-19” but was “experiencing no symptoms.” She said she would begin to quarantine and work from home.
McEnany said she “definitively had no knowledge” that senior Trump aide Hope Hicks had tested positive for the coronavirus before McEnany held a press briefing Thursday without a mask, a decision that has come under scrutiny for potentially exposing reporters and others present.
Although the presidential election is only a month away, the growing cluster around Trump who have tested positive, as well as his own illness, has put the president’s second debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, in doubt.
Biden, who traveled to Miami on Monday for campaign events, said he was reluctant to weigh in on Trump’s health, and that he would proceed with the debate if medical experts give the OK.
“If the scientists say that it’s safe, the distances are safe, then I think that’s fine,” he said. “I’ll do whatever the experts say is the appropriate thing to do.”
Biden and Trump have disagreed sharply for months over the president’s response to the pandemic. Trump has mocked Biden relentlessly for wearing a mask, while Biden has repeatedly warned that the president was being reckless by refusing to do so.
On Monday, as Trump appeared to drop further in polls, some Republicans expressed concern with Trump’s management of the crisis.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and close ally of Trump who is seeking reelection, told the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board that Trump “let his guard down” in his desire “to demonstrate that we are somehow coming out of this and the danger is not still with us.”
“I think he got over his skis,” Cornyn said.
Trump and other White House officials have been criticized throughout the pandemic for their blasé handling of the disease and mixed messages about the level of threat and need for precautions.
As recently as Sunday, McEnany spoke with reporters without a mask. A White House communications adviser, Ben Williamson, defended her on Twitter on Monday, saying she only took two questions in an exchange that lasted 58 seconds and was socially distanced from reporters in the area.
At least three White House reporters have tested positive in recent days. White House Correspondents’ Association President Zeke Miller wished McEnany well in a statement that urged members to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, “especially when at the White House.”
Trump has been eager to send the message that he is fully engaged, releasing pictures and videos of himself sitting at a table at Walter Reed, sometimes with papers in front of him.
His most audacious gambit, a joyride in the presidential motorcade Sunday evening, has drawn sharp criticism for endangering Secret Service agents and others involved in keeping him safe.
Though the disease has taken Trump off the campaign trail for the final stretch, his advisers say they are continuing at least some activities without interruption.
Tim Murtaugh, who heads campaign communications, said in an email that Bill Stepien, the campaign manager, remains in charge despite a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“His symptoms are mild and he is heavily engaged, as always, while working remotely,” Murtaugh wrote.
Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, has also tested positive and Brad Parscale, the former campaign manager who had remained in charge of digital operations, left the campaign after a recent psychiatric episode.
Murtaugh also said there would be no change in the campaign’s door-knocking operations, despite the potential risk of further disease spread.
Hogan Gidley, the campaign’s press secretary, said others would “pick up the slack” while Trump is absent from the trail, including added virtual and in-person events beginning Monday hosted by Trump family members and surrogates.
At least three Republican senators have tested positive for the virus, while others are in quarantine.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., again criticized Republican leaders’ plans to move forward with hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett next week, demanding, in a statement mandatory testing and that “every Senator and relevant staff must have negative tests on two consecutive days and have completed the appropriate quarantining period” during the hearings.
The Senate provides access to testing but it is not mandatory under current rules.
©2020 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.