WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's medical team said Sunday that Trump's condition was improving after multiple "episodes" over the weekend while also disclosing that Trump was placed on a steroid therapy typically used in more severe Covid-19 cases.
The update came as Trump sought to portray himself as unaffected by the deadly disease, posting photos of himself working from the hospital and taping multiple different video addresses in which he reassured the public he was doing well. On Sunday evening, he left the hospital grounds for a short motorcade ride to wave to supporters gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"Since we spoke last, the president has continued to improve. As with any illness, there are frequent ups and downs over the course, particularly when a patient is being so closely watched," said Dr. Sean Conley, a White House physician, adding at a news conference that the president could be discharged from Walter Reed as soon as Monday.
Trump's doctors said the president was on dexamethasone, the steroid used for the sickest Covid-19 patients. The medical team said the president took his first dose Saturday and would remain on it for the "time being."
Conley said Trump had a high fever late Friday morning and was administered supplemental oxygen for about an hour at the White House. Later in the day, Conley said, Trump appeared to be improving, but doctors still felt that the best course of action was to move him to Walter Reed. Trump has remained without a fever since Friday morning, and his vital signs are stable, according to his doctors.
Conley said Trump's oxygen levels dipped for a second time Saturday, but it was unclear whether he was again administered oxygen. Pressed by reporters, Conley said, "I'd have to check with the nursing staff." Conley and other members of Trump's medical team also dodged questions about his lungs, including whether they had found signs of pneumonia or other abnormalities.
Dexamethasone works by reducing inflammation in and around the lungs, which can make it difficult to get enough oxygen into the blood. The treatment is not recommended for mild illness, because, in some cases, it can make the infection worse by helping the virus replicate. The National Institutes of Health recommends against using the steroid for patients who do not require supplemental oxygen.
Sunday's update follows a dizzying 24 hours chock-full of conflicting accounts from the White House about the state of the president's health, leaving the public with little information about the country's leadership as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic in the final few days of the presidential campaign.
Conley acknowledged having left out important information during Saturday's briefing to convey an "upbeat" picture.
"I didn't want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction," he said. "In doing so, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn't necessarily true. The fact of the matter is he is doing really well."
White House strategic communications director Alyssa Farah also downplayed the inconsistent messaging, telling reporters Sunday that the administration was striving to be "as transparent as we can" and claiming that it was "a very common medical practice that you want to convey confidence and you want to raise the spirits of the person you're treating."
Conley said at briefing Saturday that Trump was not receiving supplemental oxygen, but he refused to answer reporters' questions about whether Trump had ever been on oxygen.
Conley also offered a conflicting timeline Saturday about when Trump had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, indicating that he had tested positive Wednesday rather than late Thursday. Dr. Brian Garibaldi, another member of Trump's medical team, suggested at the same briefing that Trump had begun treatment Thursday morning.
The White House was forced to issue a statement from Conley on Saturday afternoon to clarify that Trump first tested positive Thursday night after he had returned from a campaign fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey.
The timing of Trump's diagnosis is critical because Conley's initial account would have meant that Trump continued to hold in-person campaign events knowing he was ill and that he withheld his diagnosis from the public for a significant amount of time.
Conley and his team of doctors also gave a rosy assessment of the president's health Saturday, which was immediately contradicted by a White House aide.
"The president's vitals over last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care," the aide said in a statement provided to the White House press pool Saturday. The pool is a small group of reporters who travel with the president on behalf of all the news outlets that cover the White House. "We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery."
Conley said Sunday that he felt such statements were "misconstrued."
Trump addressed the country Saturday night for the first time since he was admitted to Walter Reed, posting a four-minute video to his Twitter account reassuring the public that he was feeling "much better."
The number of people in Trump's circle who have tested positive for the coronavirus continues to grow. At least eight people who attended a Rose Garden ceremony Sept. 26 have since been diagnosed with the virus. NBC News learned on Sunday that Nick Luna, the president's "body man," had also tested positive.
Although the Trump campaign has promised to keep its operation at "full speed" while the president is in the hospital, deploying the vice president and other top surrogates around the country for in-person events, there are warning signs for the president's re-election chances.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden's national lead nearly doubled after Tuesday's presidential debate, with voters saying by a 2-to-1 ratio that he has the better temperament to be president, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday.
While presidents can often experience boosts in their ratings during national crises, an ABC News/Ipsos poll suggests that is not the case for Trump.
Only 27 percent of Americans believe Trump has taken the risk of contracting the coronavirus seriously enough, according to the poll, while 72 percent say he did not take the risks seriously. A similar proportion, 72 percent, say Trump did not take appropriate precautions regarding his personal health.