U.S. President Trump waves from the back of a car outside of Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland on October 4, 2020.
Alex Edelman | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump ventured into a motorcade just outside Walter Reed Hospital on Sunday to greet cheering supporters, a move that doctors have condemned for apparently disregarding precautionary measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
74-year-old Trump posted a series of videos over the weekend to reassure voters that he is recovering after testing positive for Covid-19.
"It was a very interesting trip. I learned a lot about Covid," Trump said in a video posted on Twitter on Sunday. The president also suggested "surprise a little" some of the great patriots we have on the streets.
Shortly thereafter, the presidential motorcade passed the edge of the Walter Reed National Medical Center, with Trump seen through the window of an SUV wearing a face-mask and waving to supporters.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat from the pandemic, criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden just last week for wearing a protective mask, despite the virus infecting millions of people and killing more than 200,000 Americans.
"Every single person in the vehicle has to be quarantined for 14 days during this completely unnecessary drive by the president. They could get sick. They could die. For political theater," said Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician with Walter Reed and a doctor of emergency medicine at George Washington University, said on Sunday via Twitter.
"Ordered by Trump to put your life in danger for the theater. This is insane," he said.
In a second tweet, Phillips added that the risk of Covid-19 transmission in the car was "as high as outside of medical procedures". The president's SUV is not only bulletproof, but also hermetically sealed against chemical attacks.
"The irresponsibility is amazing. My mind is forced to gamble with the Secret Service," said Phillips.
In response to criticism, White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Associated Press that Trump's trip outside the hospital "has been approved as safe by the medical team."
Deere added that precautions were in place, including the use of personal protective equipment, to protect the president, White House officials and intelligence agents.
The president's doctors said Trump's health had improved and even touted a possible return to the White House as early as Monday.
However, the White House medical team has also reported that the president's blood oxygen levels have suddenly dropped twice in the past few days and he is being treated with a steroid that is usually recommended for severe Covid-19 cases.
U.S. President supporters hold U.S. and Trump 2020 flags as they gather outside Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where the President is under treatment for Covid-19 on October 4, 2020. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo by)
ALEX EDELMAN | AFP via Getty Images
50-year-old first lady Melania Trump, who also tested positive for the coronavirus, would not leave the White House to visit her husband in the hospital, NBC News reported Monday, citing a White House official.
The official said the first lady would stay at the residence to avoid exposing intelligence agents who would drive her to see Walter Reed and the medical staff who would lead her to the president.
"I'm not that concerned about the joy of his own health. If he was really stable today, which after all he was, his oxygen levels were okay, then the fact that he's been on the road for 10 minutes isn't a huge one Thing, "said Dr. Robert Wachter, chairman of the medical department at the University of California at San Francisco, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Monday.
"What worries me is that he's sitting in a hermetically sealed Secret Service van … with, I believe, eight or nine Secret Service agents while he's actively contagious. The Secret Service agents take a vow to him to protect, but they don't. " I don't swear I'll be protected from him, and I think he's putting her at absolutely unnecessary risk, "said Wachter.
"By taking a pleasure ride outside of Walter Reed, the president is putting his intelligence detail at great risk," said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, Professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University's Medical and Health School, on Sunday via Twitter.
"When we come into close contact with a COVID patient in the hospital, we wear full PPE: dress, gloves, N95, eye protection, hat. This is the level of irresponsibility," said Reiner.
Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, told CNBC via email that Trump's excursion "appears reckless from both a medical and public health perspective."
"A patient who is sick enough to be hospitalized and treated with strong medications such as dexamethasone should not leave the hospital for a non-essential drive prior to discharge," he added.
"Traveling in a car with multiple employees while they are still in isolation also carries the risk of infecting these other exposed passengers. There was no obvious justification for this action," Baker said.
The White House Doctor, Dr. Sean Conley said over the weekend that Trump's medical team had started treating the president with dexamethasone, a steroid that shows promise for the seriously ill but can harm those with less severe cases of Covid-19.
To date, the US has registered more than 7.4 million cases of the coronavirus, including 209,725 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.