By Danny R. Johnson – Political News Editor
WASHINGTON–President Donald Trump left the Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s presidential suite Sunday afternoon in a motorcade to wave to supporters, potentially exposing several Secret Service agents to the coronavirus. After teasing a “little surprise visit” via video on Twitter, Trump left the hospital to wave to supporters from the back seat of an SUV.
“It’s been a fascinating journey. I learned a lot about COVID,” Trump, who is still suffering from the coronavirus, said in the video. “I learned it by really going to school, this is the real school, this isn’t the ‘lets the read book’ school, and I get it, and I understand it,” he added.
“In general, if someone is ill enough [with the coronavirus] that they need to be in the hospital for observation, it’s probably not wise to send them out on [non-essential care] trips,” Dr. Timothy Brewer, an epidemiologist at the UCLA School of Public Health and former adviser to the WHO, NIH, and CDC, told the Associated Press. “The primary focus for any patient who’s sick enough to be in the hospital from COVID-19 should be recovering.”
As for the possibility of the president transmitting the virus to the agents in his vehicle, Brewer said, “Being inside a vehicle means you’re going to be close together even if you have all the windows open. You’re essentially in an indoor environment, even if you have air conditioning or ventilation.”
Via Twitter, Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, was more explicit in his condemnation of Trump’s actions. “That presidential SUV is not only bulletproof but hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” Phillips wrote. “The risk of COVID-19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding.”
In an earlier tweet, Phillips wrote that the agents in the car would now need to be quarantined for 14 days after having been put at risk of severe illness or death “for political theater.”
The joyride was the latest sign of how the White House and Republicans have been trying to manage the president’s illness’s optics. Trump’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, admitted on Sunday that he hid from the public how high the president’s fever got and the fact that he needed supplemental oxygen before being hospitalized because he wanted to present an “upbeat attitude.” After initially insisting that Friday’s trip to Walter Reed was purely precautionary, Conley disclosed on Sunday that it was, in fact, the combination of a spiking fever and the oxygen crisis that triggered the move.
From the very beginning, Trump has denied the severity of this disease. His ignorance of the science and mockery of preventive safety measures has arguably left millions of Americans unnecessarily vulnerable to infection. Instead of enacting a robust testing regime and programs for social and economic assistance, Trump spread harmful misinformation about treatments and discouraged protections as essential as mask-wearing. Rather than holding himself and his government accountable, he has blamed his political opponents at every turn.
The president and first lady have entire teams of people to sweep every room before they enter and screen every person they meet. The bathrooms they use are meticulously scrubbed and sanitized to ward off disease. And, unlike most Americans, they have immediate and unfettered access to COVID-19 tests. Yet still, their willingness to defy basic health protocols like wearing masks and social distancing may have landed them where they are today, as vulnerable as any among us.
Until we acknowledge our responsibility to stop spreading the virus—until we each do our part by wearing masks, accepting quarantines, and declining invitations to large gatherings—we will never contain COVID-19. Though it has thrown the nation into chaos, the fact that Trump has contracted the coronavirus should not be especially surprising. After all, he has been careless about controlling the virus and protecting his health for months. Nor should it come as a surprise that the White House and the Republican Party’s political machine offer partial, misleading, and contradictory information. That has been a reliable theme of the Trump presidency and the Republicans.
The reckless disregard the president has shown even for his closest aides and donors this past week should dispel the impression that he cares. It doesn’t matter how packed with the president you are—there should be no expectation that he will make an effort to protect you from a deadly disease, or that this administration will act to inform you or help you if you’ve been exposed. After this week, why would anyone believe that Trump has their best interests at heart?