President Donald Trump returned to the White House on Monday evening after being treated for Covid-19 for three days at Walter Reed Medical Center — and immediately took off his mask to pose for pictures before walking in.
The highly choreographed moment on the Truman Balcony came hours after Trump suggested online that the disease is not that serious a threat.
Trump walked out of the hospital's main entrance shortly after 6:30 p.m. in a mask and a suit and tie and pumped his fist for the cameras before being driven to Marine One for the short trip back to the White House. He declined to answer questions from reporters.
At the White House, he went up the exterior stairs and posed in front of an array of flags on the balcony, where he immediately took off his mask. Trump kept the mask off even as he was greeted by mask-wearing White House staffers, and shot two videos that he later released on social media.
"I learned so much about the coronavirus," he said in one of the videos, where he described the top-of-the-line treatment he'd received as proof the virus could be contained. "Now I'm better. Maybe I'm immune. I don't know," Trump said, even though his doctors warned his condition could worsen in the coming days.
Health experts say coronavirus patients should wear masks to avoid infecting others, and the president is still believed to be contagious.
A source told NBC News that the president is expected to only stay in the residence while he's being treated for the virus, as opposed to spending any time in the West Wing.
Trump abruptly announced earlier in the day on Twitter that he would be leaving Walter Reed.
"I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M," Trump tweeted in the afternoon. "Feeling really good!"
"Don't be afraid of Covid," he continued. "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!"
The virus has so far killed more than 211,000 people in the United States.
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and two of her deputies were confirmed to have tested positive for Covid-19, among 11 people tied to the president who have contracted the virus in recent days.
Shortly before his departure, Trump tweeted, "Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!"'
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines stipulate that a person should quarantine for 10 days after symptoms first appear. The president first said he began feeling sick Thursday, about five days ago. The CDC says those "who are severely ill" with the virus may need to quarantine for up to 20 days.
The president's physician, Dr. Sean Conley, briefed the news media Monday afternoon, saying the president has improved to the point that he could recommend returning to the White House, although he said Trump is not quite in the clear yet. Conley said the president would continue to take remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug, later Monday and on Tuesday.
"Though he may not be entirely out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations, and most importantly, his clinical status, support the president's safe return home," Conley said. He declined to say when the president last tested negative for the virus.
Asked about the results of the president's chest X-ray, Conley said he could not discuss it, citing health privacy laws. But he seemed to do so selectively, having released other information that would be protected by the law. It was not clear why Conley did not want the public to know about the X-ray, which could indicate whether signs of pneumonia are present.
On Sunday, Conley acknowledged in a briefing that he had not been completely forthcoming about Trump's condition at a briefing Saturday to "reflect the upbeat attitude" of the White House.
Later Sunday, White House strategic communications director Alyssa Farah defended the mixed messaging by saying, "When you're treating a patient, you want to project confidence, you want to lift their spirits, and that was the intent."
Conley said Trump experienced a high fever Friday morning and was administered supplemental oxygen later in the day. He added that Trump's oxygen levels dipped for a second time Saturday, but he could not answer whether Trump required supplemental oxygen that day. Doctors said that Trump has not had a fever since Friday and that his vital signs are stable.
Trump left Walter Reed later in the day on Sunday to drive by a crowd of supporters, a move that was swiftly criticized by medical experts who said he may have put his security staff at risk.
Trump first said he tested positive overnight Thursday and was taken to Walter Reed on Friday. In addition to McEnany, several others in Trump's orbit, including first lady Melania Trump and longtime aide Hope Hicks, also announced positive tests in recent days. Three Republican senators have tested positive.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday found that 72 percent of Americans believe Trump did not take the risk of contracting Covid-19 seriously enough and that he did not take the appropriate precautions. That included 43 percent of Republicans.