Doctors say Trump on steroid therapy, health improving after brief ‘episodes’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s medical team said Sunday in a press conference that Trump’s conditions were improving after multiple “episodes” over the weekend and after he was placed on a steroid therapy typically used with more severe Covid-19 cases.

“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 that the president could be discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as soon as Monday.

Trump’s doctors said that the president was on dexamethasone, the steroid used for the sickest Covid-19 patients. The medical team said the president took his first dose of the drug on Saturday and would remain on it for the “time being.”

Conley said that Trump had a high fever late Friday morning and was administered supplemental oxygen for about an hour while at the White House. Later that day, Conley said, Trump appeared to be improving but doctors still felt the best course of action was to move the president to Walter Reed. Trump has remained without a fever since Friday morning and his vital signs are stable, according to the president’s doctors.

Conley said that the president’s oxygen levels dipped for a second time Saturday, but it was unclear if Trump was again administered oxygen. When pressed by reporters, Conley said “I’d have to check with the nursing staff.” Conley and other members of the president’s medical team also dodged questions about what they found on Trump’s lung scans.

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 NIH recommends against using the steroid for patients who don’t require supplemental oxygen.

Sunday’s update follows a dizzying 24 hours chock-full of conflicting accounts from the White House on the state of the president’s health, leaving the American public with little information on the country’s leadership as the nation continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic in the final few days of a pivotal presidential campaign.

Conley acknowledged leaving out important information from Saturday’s briefing in order 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.”

Conley said in a televised briefing on Saturday that Trump was not currently receiving supplemental oxygen but refused to answer reporters’ questions whether Trump had ever been on oxygen.

Conley also offered a conflicting timeline on Saturday of when Trump had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, indicating that the president had tested positive on Wednesday rather than late Thursday night. Dr. Brian Garibaldi, another member of the president’s medical team, suggested in the same briefing that Trump had begun treatment Thursday morning.

The White House was forced to issue a statement from Conley Saturday afternoon aiming 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, based on Conley’s initial account, it 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 portrayed a rosy assessment of the president’s health on Saturday, which was immediately contradicted by a White House aide.

“The president’s vitals over the 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 on Saturday. “We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”

Conley said Sunday he felt such statements were “misconstrued.”

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.

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.”

Sunday’s update comes as 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 on Sept. 26 have since been diagnosed with the virus. On Sunday, NBC News learned that Nick Luna, the president’s body man, had also tested positive for the virus.

Although the Trump campaign has promised to keep their 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.

Joe Biden’s national lead over Trump nearly doubled after Tuesday’s presidential debate, with voters saying by a 2-to-1 margin that the Democratic nominee has the better temperament to be president, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday.

While presidents can often experience a boost in their ratings during a time of national crisis, 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 amount, 72 percent, say Trump did not take appropriate precautions regarding his personal health.

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