WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump held his first public event on Saturday since he was diagnosed and hospitalized with the coronavirus, sparking fresh criticism that the president was not taking the pandemic seriously and was all too willing to put his supporters and staffers at risk of the highly contagious virus.
Hundreds of guests from around the country filed onto the South Lawn Saturday afternoon as Trump spoke briefly from a White House balcony. Attendees were not tested for Covid-19 and social distancing was not enforced. While more people appeared to be wearing face masks than at past Trump events, it was not required.
"It is disappearing," Trump said of the coronavirus, downplaying his own experience with the virus even though he was given oxygen and a steroid treatment, and making no mention of the more than 210,000 Americans that have died.
"I want you to know our nation is going to defeat this terrible China virus," Trump continued. "We're producing powerful therapies and drugs and we're healing the sick and we're going to recover and the vaccine is coming out very, very quickly."
Those invited to the event were involved with conservative activist Candace Owens' group "Blexit," which aims to get black voters to leave the Democratic Party.
The president, who has been reluctant to wear a face covering and has spread false information about their effectiveness, walked out of the White House wearing a blue surgical mask and visible bandages on his hand, likely from the treatment he received at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He removed the mask for his speech.
Trump has been eager to return to the campaign trail after spending more than a week in Washington recovering the virus. Democratic nominee Joe Biden continues to outperform the president in national and key battleground state polls, with just a few weeks left in the campaign.
The president used his roughly 20-minute speech on Saturday to return to familiar attacks, complaining about mail-in ballots, Covid-19 lockdowns, socialism, globalists, the Democratic ticket, among other topics.
"If the left gains power, they will launch a nationwide crusade against law enforcement," Trump claimed.
Trump has come under scrutiny in recent days for hosting White House events and campaign rallies that flout health guidelines.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, on Friday called a Rose Garden ceremony on Sept. 26 in honor of Trump's Supreme Court nominee a "superspreader event" after multiple attendees later tested positive for Covid-19.
The Minnesota Department of Health also said on Friday that nine positive Covid-19 cases were associated with a Trump campaign rally in Bemidji last month, sending one person into intensive care. The health department is monitoring for potential cases from a rally in Duluth held nearly two weeks later.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people with a moderate or severe case of the coronavirus can remain infectious for up to 20 days or longer after testing positive and should isolate themselves during that time.
The president has not said yet whether he has tested negative for the coronavirus, but he told Fox News on Friday night that he was being tested.
The Biden campaign said the former vice president tested negative for the virus on Saturday, the fourth negative test he has received since participating in the presidential debate almost two weeks ago.
Trump is expected to resume campaign travel on Monday, with a rally scheduled in Florida. He is also expected to travel to Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Iowa on Wednesday.