Donald Trump's doctors say he could soon be discharged from hospital, but his medical status remains unclear

Doctors not involved in Mr Trump’s treatment said they suspected his condition might be worse than the White House physician is letting on.

President Donald Trump could be discharged from the hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19 as soon as Monday, according to his doctors.

President Donald Trump could be discharged from the hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19 as soon as Monday, according to his doctors. Source: AP

President Donald Trump could be discharged from the hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19 by Tuesday, according to his doctors, although his condition remains unclear and outside experts warn that his case may be severe.

Mr Trump’s doctors have said his health is improving and he could be sent back to the White House overnight.

Yet they are treating Mr Trump, 74, with a steroid, dexmethasone, that is normally used only in the most severe cases. He is also just two days into a five-day course of an intravenous antiviral drug, remdesivir.

Dr. Sean P. Conley, the White House physician, said Mr Trump’s condition had been worse than he had previously admitted. Dr Conley said Mr Trump had run a high fever on Friday morning and he had been given supplemental oxygen after his blood oxygen levels had dropped.

Doctors not involved in Mr Trump’s treatment said they suspected his condition might be worse than Conley let on. As an overweight, elderly man, Mr Trump is in a category that is more likely to develop severe complications or die from the disease.

It comes after Mr Trump waved at supporters from a motorcade on a short drive outside the hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19.

The outing came minutes after the president had announced "a surprise" for fans, and it appeared designed to personally take back the narrative on his improving health after a weekend of confused and contradictory messaging from the White House and Mr Trump's medical team.

Seen in a dark face mask and waving, the president rolled past delighted supporters before returning to the Walter Reed military hospital near Washington.

"We're going to pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street," Mr Trump had said in a video posted to Twitter moments earlier.

"I'm about to make a little surprise visit."

Mr Trump, who has been repeatedly rebuked for flouting public health guidelines and spreading misinformation on the pandemic, added that he had "learned a lot about COVID" by "really going to school", as he has battled the virus.

"This is the real school. This isn't the 'let's read the books school,' and I get it, and I understand it, and it's a very interesting thing," he added. 

Donald Trump briefly leaves hospital

Confused messaging

The episode came hours after a briefing by Mr Trump's medical team, who said he had "continued to improve" and could be returned to the White House, which has all the necessary equipment and expertise to continue his treatment, as early as Monday.

"The president has continued to improve," said his White House physician, Sean Conley.

"As with any illness, there are frequent ups and downs over the course."

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows holds the door for Dr Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump and other doctors.
Source: AP

Health experts have complained that the messaging from the administration - and particularly Mr Trump's medical team - has caused widespread confusion.

Mr Conley admitted Sunday that in a briefing a day earlier he'd kept from the public the fact that the president had been given extra oxygen, in a bid to reflect an "upbeat attitude".

Adding to the confusion, Mr Conley gave a rosy account of Mr Trump's progress on Saturday only for White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to tell reporters immediately that Mr Trump's condition had been "very concerning" and that he was "still not on a clear path to a full recovery".

And while the medical updates have come regularly, questions remain over the drugs Mr Trump has been given and their implications, how bad his fever became, when he last tested negative and whether there is any lung damage.

"You don't start dexamethasone, Remdesivir and (give) an experimental antibody cocktail to the president in the setting of low oxygen 'dips' unless there's COVID Pneumonia," tweeted Vin Gupta, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

"What did his chest imaging show? The American people deserve basic information on their president."

Donald Trump received oxygen twice since diagnosis

'Cracking jokes'

With a tough election campaign against Democratic rival Joe Biden in its final month, Mr Trump and his advisors have done their best to project a sense of continuity.

The president has resumed making calls and tweeting from hospital. He posted a video Saturday from the business suite in the hospital, saying he was improving and would be "back soon".

His deputy campaign manager Jason Miller told ABC Sunday he had spoken to Trump for a half-hour Saturday and that the president was "cracking jokes".

National security adviser Robert O'Brien told CBS any discussion of a potential transfer of power to Vice President Mike Pence, as happened when other presidents underwent surgery or were sedated, was "not something that's on the table" for now.

Mr Pence has been close to some of those testing positive but says he has regularly tested negative. Mr Biden also tested negative on Sunday.

As Mr Trump has had to freeze or rework his campaign, the vice president is continuing a busy schedule of appearances.

Compounding frustration over the medical messaging, controversy has been mounting over the possibility that Trump might have exposed numerous others to COVID-19 even after a close aide tested positive. 

A timeline provided by his advisors and doctors suggested he met more than 30 donors on Thursday in Bedminster, New Jersey even after learning that Hope Hicks had COVID-19 - and just hours before he announced his own positive test.

There were more than 200 people at the fundraiser and a contact-tracing operation underway in New Jersey is looking at potentially thousands of people who may have been exposed.


Low point

All this came in a week when one poll, taken in the two days after a bruising presidential debate with Biden, but before news emerged of Mr Trump's illness, showed his approval rating hitting a low point for the year.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC survey gave Biden a significant a 53-39 per cent lead among registered voters.

News of Mr Trump's hospitalisation has drawn widespread sympathy but also fuelled a sense among some that he was paying a price for months of consistently downplaying the severity of the pandemic.

He mocked Mr Biden's mask-wearing during their debate Tuesday, even as his family members in the audience violated rules requiring masks.

"You can't just say we need to do something but we're going to let the virus run free. Now it has even run free in the White House," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CBS. 

Dozens of supporters have gathered outside the hospital, many waving pro-Trump placards and banners. 

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Saturday that Donald Trump's condition had aides worried on Friday, but that he had since improved.

He added that there was never a risk Mr Trump would have to hand power to Mr Pence.

As well as Ms Hicks, numerous White House insiders and at least three Republican senators have tested positive, along with First Lady Melania Trump, who has not experienced severe symptoms.

Public health experts have expressed alarm at the "White House cluster," which has been linked to the 26 September Rose Garden celebration of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court.

Democrats have called for Barrett's Senate confirmation hearings to be postponed, but Judiciary Committee chair Senator Lindsey Graham said they would go ahead.

Mr Biden, who has recently tested negative, has made Mr Trump's frequent downplaying of the COVID-19 crisis and mixed messaging on mask-wearing a central campaign theme.

With almost 210,000 coronavirus deaths in the US and Mr Trump now laid low, the president has been unable to change the conversation ahead of the 3 November election.

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Published 5 October 2020 at 6:33am, updated 5 October 2020 at 10:01pm