After spending three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, following his COVID-19 diagnosis, President Trump returned to the White House on Monday.
Trump’s sudden hospitalization on Friday evening came less than 24 hours after he announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had both tested positive for the coronavirus. Over the next few days, as a number of high-ranking administration officials tested positive, Trump’s diagnosis became a blip in the longer timeline of a major COVID-19 outbreak in the White House.
The first indication of a potential outbreak came last Thursday when Bloomberg News reported that former White House communications director Hope Hicks had tested positive for the virus.
In an interview with Sean Hannity two hours after the article was published, Trump confirmed the reporting about Hicks. According to Bloomberg, sources had “asked not to be identified because Hicks’s infection had not been publicly announced until Trump’s interview.”
What soon emerged was a pattern of reporters breaking news that many expected to hear directly from the White House, and a trend of administration officials obscuring information about Trump’s condition and the extent of a viral spread inside the White House.
Less than two hours after Trump revealed his positive test result, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins reported that a small group of White House officials were aware of Hicks’s diagnosis as early as Thursday morning.
But in his Fox News interview on Thursday evening, Trump claimed he had “just heard about” her positive test. And he had spent that very afternoon mingling with donors at a large fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., raising questions about potential exposure to the 206 attendees. On Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the state is investigating whether the gathering violated restrictions on indoor event capacity.
Prior to his hospitalization on Friday evening, the White House claimed Trump’s symptoms were “mild” and said he had “been working throughout the day.”
But that afternoon, Collins reported that Trump was not on a call regarding coronavirus support for seniors that was listed on his public schedule. Vice President Mike Pence took his place in leading the call, which was the only event on the schedule for the day.
News of the outbreak continued to surface, with former aide Kellyanne Conway and Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien receiving positive results that evening, too. Stepien’s results were reported by Politico, confirmed later by campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. Conway’s diagnosis was first revealed by her daughter, Claudia Conway, on the social media platform TikTok, and later confirmed on Twitter.
Early Saturday afternoon, Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley, who serves as Trump’s physician, gave an update on his condition. Conley said Trump had been fever-free for 24 hours, was not currently receiving supplemental oxygen, and his symptoms of a cough and congestion were “resolving and improving.”
Conley declined to note whether the president had ever been on oxygen, despite repeated questioning by reporters. Conley also avoided inquiries about how high Trump’s fever was, when and how specifically he became infected, and the date of his last negative test.
Just minutes later, however, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that some of Trump’s vital signs were “very concerning” and that the next 48 hours were critical — contradicting Conley’s portrayal of a recovering, but fairly healthy president.
The Washington Post reported that after hearing Meadows’s comments, Trump became upset and “asked aides to reassure the public by offering rosy depictions of his condition.”
And questions on when exactly Trump was first diagnosed came up too. “We are now 72 hours into this diagnosis for President Trump,” Conley said at the Saturday afternoon press conference. Yet Trump’s announcement that he had tested positive for the virus was, at the time, just 36 hours old.
Conley also said Trump’s mild symptoms of a cough and fatigue were present as early as Thursday.
The next day, Conley revealed that Trump had started receiving dexamethasone, a powerful steroid, on Saturday after his blood oxygen level had suddenly dropped twice in recent days. He refused to say precisely how much Trump’s blood oxygen levels had fallen, opting instead to specify they had not fallen into “the low 80s.”
Normal blood oxygen levels range between 95 and 100 percent, and any readings below 90 percent are considered low, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In another blow to the White House’s credibility, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Trump had already received a positive result from a rapid antigen test before his primetime interview on Fox, and did not disclose it.
Trump also tried to keep the news from leaking too, reportedly telling one adviser: “Don’t tell anyone.”