President Donald Trump compared COVID to the flu on Tuesday telling Americans to ‘live with it’ – as he faces a storm of criticism for underplaying the very virus for which he was treated in Walter Reed hospital.
In a tweet sent from the White House East Wing which he returned to Monday night he claimed that ‘many people’ die every year from the flu and said: ‘Are we going to close down our country?
‘No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!’
The tweet vastly overstated flu deaths, which averaged between 12,000 and 61,000 each year in the last decade – but spelled out his new determination to move past COVID and urge the country to live with it, while he is himself treated with experimental drugs by his own personal physicians.
It underplayed the scale of COVID deaths. More than 210,000 Americans have died of COVID so far and the rate is now going back up, not down.
It also misleadingly claimed that COVID is ‘in most populations far less lethal.’ Some studies have suggested that it has a lower fatality rate than flu among children and possibly younger people, but the CDC has warned there is no firm data to be certain about that.
And it has warned that COVID has a much higher mortality rate among the general population, and particularly among people with age and weight-related co-morbidities – which includes Trump himself, who is obese and 74.
His tweet shows that he is doubling down on what he said on Monday night about not being ‘afraid’ of COVID which he believes he has beaten, and demanding that Americans do not ‘let it dominate their lives.’ It suggested that Trump is backing a ‘herd immunity’ approach to COVID, which scientists have warned could cost as many as two million lives.
Trump tweeted from a White House which has turned into a superspreader event, with the press briefing room fumigated Monday night by staff in hazmat suits, one of his military assistants being diagnosed with COVID, and Michelle Obama slamming him for putting Secret Service agents and White House staff at risk.
He is in the East Wing with a medical suite, doctors and nurses on call, and everyone around him wearing N-95 masks – conditions unavailable to ordinary COVID patients. He is being given experimental treatments which are not widely available, in a combination which may never have been tried on anyone else.
President Donald Trump appeared to confuse the flu and COVID after his dramatic return to the White House on Monday night
But the link between his own approach of tearing off his mask and claiming to be ‘immune’ and his wider policy strategy appeared to be coming into focus Tuesday, and centering on ‘heard immunity,’ the idea that once enough people have been infected with the coronavirus, its transmission will slow and deaths fall off.
The cost on the way is high numbers of infections and deaths – but its backers see it as better than lockdowns which harm the economy. The economy is the only metric Trump retains any edge on in polls, which have seen him slip further and further behind Biden nationally.
The highly-controversial immunity theory has been pushed by radiologist Dr. Scott Atlas, a Hoover Institution fellow who was put on the coronavirus task force after Trump saw him on Fox News.
Atlas’ influence was revealed to be growing Tuesday, as The Hill reported that he had organized a meeting between HHS Secretary Alex Azar and three academics who believe herd immunity is the approach to take.
The three epidemiologists – Jay Bhattacharya, like Atlas, from Stanford, Martin Kulldorff from Harvard and Sunetra Gupta, a professor at Oxford – believe that high-risk groups can be isolated from the virus and those who are less high-risk can resume their lives.
Their approach would fall in sync with Trump’s own discharge from hospital and give him some academic cover to push it as a policy.
But Trump himself would be locked down under the academics’ approach for his positive diagnosis and his pre-existing conditions – age and weight.
Trump’s doctors said he was ‘not out of the woods’ when they let him leave Walter Reed after just three nights despite having falling oxygen and being given three experimental drugs, two of which are normally only for inpatients.
He made a dramatic return, exiting Marine One to walk up the steps of the South Portico where he removed his face mask.
But the president’s breathing appeared to be labored after the climb of a couple of dozen stairs, when he stood at the top to wave at the cameras. He seemed to grimace as he struggled to breathe, with one doctor saying he was ‘clearly in some distress with his breathing’.
Conflicting information about the president’s health along with his hospital departure have led to many questions including: the level of severity of his infection, the exact course of treatment he’s getting and how the several hundred resident and White House staff will be protected from being infected by him.
Trump is on a heavy cocktail mix of drugs as part of his treatment plan, including the steroid dexamethasone, which is typically not used unless someone needs a ventilator or supplemental oxygen.
He’s also scheduled to receive his last dose of remdesivir, a five-day course of antiviral medication that is believed to help in recovery, on Tuesday at the White House.
And he got an 8 gram dose of Regeneron’s experimental antibody therapy on Friday before he entered the hospital.
Neither the Regeneron drug nor remdesivir have been approved by the FDA to treat COVID but are allowed on with a ‘compassionate’ request.
The president is in the high risk category due to his age, 74, his being male and the fact he is overweight.
But the heavy dose of drugs has led to questions about how bad Trump’s case of COVID really is although the aggressive treatment could be due to the fact he is the president.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden led a chorus of condemnation last night after Trump told Americans not to be ‘afraid’ of COVID, which has killed 200,000 people, and whipped off his face mask for a photo-op.
Trump declared he felt ‘great’, told people not to let the virus ‘dominate your lives’ and claimed he could even be immune from COVID-19 in a video filmed at the White House after his theatrical return from Walter Reed.
The president’s dismissive message – ‘don’t be afraid of COVID, don’t let it dominate your life’ – immediately met with anger from critics who said it was putting Americans at risk.
Biden, 77, said on Monday night that the president was ‘responsible’ for his COVID-19 infection and blasted the president’s ‘macho’ attitude of avoiding mask-wearing.
‘Anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying, masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter, I think is responsible for what happens to them,’ Biden said after Trump posed without a face covering.
‘What is this macho thing, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask?’ What’s the deal here? Big deal, does it hurt you? Be patriotic for god’s sake! Take care of yourself, but take care of your neighbors,’ the Democratic nominee said.
Some medics who watched Trump’s return thought he appeared to be short of breath after his coronavirus infection
The president gave his trademark pose of two thumbs up as he returned home after his hospital treatment
Donald Trump arrived back at the White House on Monday evening, taking his face mask off despite being infectious
In full: Trump’s message on his return to the White House
‘I just left Walter Reed Medical Center, and it’s really something very special, the doctors, the nurses, the first responders, and I learned so much about coronavirus.
‘And one thing that’s for certain: Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines, all developed recently, and you’re going to beat it.
‘I went, I didn’t feel so good, and two days ago – I could have left two days ago – two days ago, I felt great, better than I have in a long time. I said just recently, better than 20 years ago.
‘Don’t let it dominate, don’t let it take over your lives. Don’t let that happen. We have the greatest country in the world. We’re going back, we’re going back to work, we’re going to be out front.
Donald Trump arrived back at the White House on Monday night and immediately filmed a campaign video
‘As your leader I had to do that. I knew there’s danger to it but I had to do it. I stood out front, I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did.
‘I know there’s a risk, there’s a danger but that’s okay. And now I’m better and maybe I’m immune, I don’t know.
‘But don’t let it dominate your lives. Get out there, be careful, we have the best medicines in the world and it all happened very shortly, and they’re all getting approved, and the vaccines are coming momentarily.
‘Thank you very much – and Walter Reed, what a group of people. Thank you very much.’
Biden also said he ‘wasn’t surprised’ when Trump tested positive for the virus, amid a White House outbreak which has infected more than a dozen of the president’s associates including senior adviser Hope Hicks and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
‘For the last three months, three times a week, I’m on the telephone and on Zoom with some of the leading immunologists in the nation, and they go through everything that’s happening,’ Biden said at a town hall in Miami.
‘And so the idea that COVID does not spread in proximity when you don’t have a mask on, when you’re not socially distancing, when there’s large groups of people, when you’re inside in particular and even when you’re outside, that’s not surprising.’
Biden said during the NBC town hall on Monday night that he was glad Trump seemed to be recovering well, ‘but there’s a lot to be concerned about – 210,000 people have died. I hope no one walks away with the message that it’s not a problem.’
Bernie Sanders, Biden’s defeated rival in the Democratic primary, said that Trump’s urging of Americans not to ‘be afraid’ of the virus was ‘absurd’.
‘Where millions of people have lost their jobs, where people are facing hunger and eviction, to say don’t be afraid of the COVID-19 (disease) is an absurd statement,’ he told the Detroit Free Press.
‘Of course, we should be afraid of it. It has wreaked havoc on our economy and on all of our lives.
‘I would suggest to you that one of the key issues in this campaign is which candidate will be better able to turn this virus around, to get a handle on it and to regrow the economy once we do that. And I think the answer is, obviously, Joe Biden.’
Former Obama aide David Axelrod branded Trump a ‘super spreader of dangerous untruths’, adding: ‘Do not follow his advice. Yes, BE afraid of COVID, and act accordingly: masks; social distancing; frequent hand-washing.’
Dr Susan Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, warned last night that ‘the only thing we have to fear is complacency’.
‘More than 200,000 of our loved ones have died because of COVID-19, and it has caused suffering and illness to countless more – sometimes with long-term health consequences,’ she said.
‘We know vigilance is the best response to the COVID-19 pandemic because this virus doesn’t feed on fear; it feeds on complacency.’
Liza Billings, a New York City nurse whose brother died because of COVID-19, told ABC News that Trump’s message was ‘a slap in the face’ to bereaved families.
‘It’s a callous and dangerous remark that will do nothing to stop this horrifying pandemic, and may even make it worse,’ she said.
Another bereaved citizen, Kristin Urquiza, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention about her father’s death from COVID-19, retorted to Trump that ‘at this point the only thing we should be afraid of is you’.
There was also criticism from Hollywood, with Captain America star Chris Evans describing Trump’s remark as ‘reckless to a shocking degree, even for you’.
‘Don’t be afraid of Covid?! You’ve been under round-the-clock care by the best doctors using the best drugs,’ Evans said.
‘Do you really think everyone has access to that?! Sadly, I’m sure you’re aware of that disparity, you just don’t care.’
A cleaning worker wearing protective gear including a mask and white suit sprays a press area of the White House on Monday
Trump, upon his return to the White House on Monday evening, started filming a video on the balcony of the South Portico.
He returned to an executive mansion where multiple aides and household staff also have the virus, and from where he promises he will soon leave to hit the campaign trail.
Removing his mask capped a jarring three days of drama, which saw him medevaced to Walter Reed on Marine One on Friday, revealed to have been on oxygen repeatedly, and treated with drugs not available to ordinary Americans.
‘I’m feeling great’ says infected Kayleigh McEnany
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has spoken out for the first time since testing positive for COVID-19 and praised President Donald Trump for showing Americans that the US will overcome the coronavirus.
During an interview on Fox News’ Hannity, McEnany, who announced her positive test results on Monday, said that she’s ‘feeling great’ and ‘having no symptoms’ of the virus.
‘You know I’m very blessed to have a mild case or really just an asymptomatic case. You know my heart goes out to all those who have been really affected by this and all those who have lost their lives,’ McEnany said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has spoken out for the first time since testing positive for COVID-19
She then said she was ‘pleased to see that our commander-in-chief is doing well’.
‘Watching him on that balcony just showing that we will overcome, America will overcome, just as he is overcoming this illness was a really nice moment for our country to see,’ she told Sean Hannity.
Her remarks come just a day after she briefed the press without wearing a face mask on Sunday even though one of her deputies had tested positive for the virus a few days earlier.
Trump also declared that he was ‘better’ and could even be immune from Covid-19, despite his physician’s warning that the president ‘may not entirely be out of the woods yet’.
As Trump entered the White House, two staffers were visible behind him: official photographer Andrea Hanks photographed his arrival back to the executive mansion with a videographer standing by for a campaign video.
Having gone inside, Trump went back out to the balcony almost immediately, apparently to reshoot the video – extending the exposure of his aides to the virus.
Less than half an hour later the video emerged: a slow-motion, cinematic production showing an apparently vital commander-in-chief’s return, with only the site of Marines in masks giving away the fact that Trump was so ill that he was given oxygen and steroids normally reserved for people on ventilators.
Trump stood to face the camera, filming his message with Marine One behind him.
Even as he stood on the balcony, Trump appeared to be wincing in pain as he breathed, with medics who saw the video saying the president appeared to be ‘short of breath’.
British general practitioner Dr Zoe Norris told BBC Breakfast that Trump ‘doesn’t look well’.
‘If you look at the video from the balcony of the White House, he is clearly in some distress with his breathing. That is not a man who is better,’ she said.
Another medical worker said: ‘As an ICU nurse, what do I see? I see a man using his accessory muscles to take a deep breath.
‘His sternocleidomastoid neck muscles stretching, his intercostal chest and shoulder muscles in use. Grimacing every two seconds. He still has labored breathing.’
Also waiting his arrival Monday night was White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, 71, who stood at the entrance.
Navarro is himself at elevated risk thanks to his age but he has been an advocate of hydroxychloroquine in the past.
As Trump returned, a cleaning crew outfitted in hazmat suits sanitized the West Wing including the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.
The briefing room was used Thursday by Kayleigh McEnany, who is among the latest Trump aides to contract COVID-19 after attending the September 26 Rose Garden event which has been linked to the spread of the virus. She also traveled on Air Force One twice last week with Trump and Hicks.
At least 15 people have tested positive since attending the Saturday Rose Garden event, where Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and guests mingled in close proximity without wearing masks.
Nonetheless, a a White House official told the New York Times that tracing efforts would go no further than notifying people who had been in close contact with Trump in the 48 hours before he tested positive – not including the garden event.
Trump’s return was on the day that the CDC officially warned that the coronavirus is spread through the air.
The president claimed in his video message that a vaccine was coming ‘momentarily’, after the White House blocked FDA guidelines that would have made approval before the election nearly impossible.
The FDA’s planned instruction said that patients enrolled in trials had to be monitored for at least two months before emergency approval could be granted.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has been attempting to shore up public confidence in the FDA’s vaccine review for weeks, vowing that career scientists, not politicians, will decide if the shots are safe and effective.
But a senior administration official confirmed the White House veto on Monday evening, saying the White House believed there was ‘no clinical or medical reason’ for the additional requirement.
Trump has repeatedly insisted that a vaccine could be authorized before Election Day, even though top government scientists working on the administration’s vaccine effort have stated that that timeline is very unlikely.
The White House was readied for Trump’s return by workers in protective suits, spraying disinfectant
A member of the White House cleaning staff sanitizes the press area of the building after reporters also fell ill from COVID
Former Vice President Joe Biden blasted the ‘macho’ refusal to wear masks just minutes after President Trump staged a photo-op and returned to the White House from the hospital and then removed his own mask.
Trump returns to a White House which has been devastated by the virus since he left. Inside the residence is the sick First Lady; upstairs in the housekeeping department two staff have tested positive.
In the West Wing, in addition to McEnany, two of her aides have tested positive – after she tested negative for days and spent the time briefing reporters without a mask – along with others members of his inner circle.
His bodyman Nick Luna, one of the few staff who moves between the East and West Wings is positive; his attorney general Bill Barr, 70, is self-isolating after going to the Barrett nomination.
Hollywood stars slam Trump for downplaying Covid-19
Hollywood stars have slammed President Donald Trump for taking his mask off on the White House balcony and for saying ‘don’t be afraid of Covid-19’ after his release from the Walter Reed Medical Center.
Several high-profile actors and directors expressed their frustration over his comments and the staged performance of his return.
‘Don’t be afraid of Covid?! You’ve been under round-the-clock care by the best doctors using the best drugs,’ wrote Captain America star Chris Evans.
‘Do you really think everyone has access to that?! Sadly, I’m sure you’re aware of that disparity, you just don’t care This is reckless to a shocking degree, even for you.’
This is Us star Mandy Moore called the president the ‘cruelest’ in her rebuke, calling on her followers to vote him out in the upcoming elections.
‘Don’t be afraid of covid? Tell that to the 210,000 families who have lost loved ones. To the Black, Brown and Indigenous folks disproportionately affected,’ she wrote.
‘With tens of millions of jobs lost and the economy tanked. Many of us isolated for months. You’re the cruelest. #votehimout.’
Patti LuPone took a swipe at the president’s staged return to the White House, comparing it to her Don’t Cry for me Argentina scene on the balcony of the Argentine presidential palace in the Broadway musical Evita.
‘I still have the lung power and wore less makeup’, LuPone wrote. ‘The revival is closing November 3rd.’
‘Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been killed by covid. Hundreds of thousands of families are now in deep grief,’ wrote Mia Farrow.
‘Covid effects are likely to last for a long time- maybe for the rest of your life. Be very afraid of this disease.’
”Don’t be afraid of Covid’ America!’, wrote Frozen actor Josh Gad.
‘With a helicopter at your disposal and access to treatments only a President can get, you too will get [through] this just fine in time to get back to your state of the art in-house medical facility with 24 hour care and the best doctors around!’
Chris Christie, who was also at that super spreader event and prepared Trump for his debate, is in the hospital after testing positive. Three Republican senators, two clerics – a Catholic priest and an evangelical pastor – and his former aide Kellyanne Conway are all positive after the same event.
Outside his polls have plunged again, his rival Biden hit the campaign trail and then national television with a town hall with NBC’s Lester Holt from Florida, where Republicans are fighting a rearguard action against a tide of Democratic cash.
Before he left Walter Reed Trump tweeted ‘do not let it dominate your life’ after receiving the combination of experimental treatments. The U.S. death toll stood at 210,013 and earlier in the day Dr Anthony Fauci warned that the country was ‘not in a good place.’
On Monday evening his campaign released a parody video of the president dodging what appeared to be the coronavirus before scoring a touchdown.
In the clip, which is a parody of a San Francisco 49ers game highlight, shows Trump’s face on the body of rookie wide receiver, Brandon Aiyuk.
The video shows Trump hurdling a defender that appeared to be the coronavirus.
Trump is then seen making a touchdown before being tackled by another player.
The real moment occurred during an NFL game between the 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.
The Eagles – the virus – won 25-20.
Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that Americans should not ‘trivialize COVID-19’ after Trump left hospital just days after testing positive for the virus.
‘I think anybody who is looking at this realistically has to say this is a very serious situation. Even though it’s confused by the fact that such a substantial portion of people generally do quite well. But it is a very serious disease that we need to reckon with,’ he said on Monday, speaking at The New Yorker festival.
Fauci was asked about Trump’s messaging and how it should be perceived.
‘Obviously, the message should be that we should try as best as we can to avoid infection. No matter who you are, how old you are, or what your underlying condition is, we should not trivialize it,’ Fauci said.
Trump has also faced criticism from Republican senator John Cornyn of Texas, who told the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board that Trump ‘let his guard down’ on the coronavirus and is responsible for ‘confusion’.
In the interview, which was published about an hour before Trump’s release, the senator called the president ‘his own worst enemy.’
‘I think he let his guard down, and I think in his desire to try to demonstrate that we are somehow coming out of this and that the danger is not still with us – I think he got over his skis and frankly, I think it’s a lesson to all of us that we need to exercise self-discipline,’ Cornyn told the paper.
Meanwhile, New Jersey’s Democratic governor Phil Murphy blasted Trump for ‘putting lives at risk’ during a fundraiser at his Bedminster golf club on Thursday.
Confusion reigned over the weekend after Trump’s doctors suggested he had been receiving treatment for coronavirus before he attended the fundraiser.
‘The actions leading up to and following this event have put lives at risk,’ Murphy said at an afternoon news conference on Monday. ‘This is very much a race against the clock.’
Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative, returned to the campaign trail moments after Trump announced on Monday night that he was about to leave the hospital.
The vice president boarded Air Force Two to fly to Salt Lake City, where he is to face off against Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Wednesday.
Pence and Harris will be separated by a plexiglass barrier during their clash on Wednesday in an effort to lower the risk of virus transmission, the commission overseeing the event said.
After the debate, Pence will hold a campaign rally in Arizona on Thursday.
Questions the president’s doctors haven’t yet answered about his condition:
Which drugs is he taking?
Trump has taken his taken his fourth dose of the experimental drug Remdesivir. He is also taking desxamethasone, a steroid used to reduce inflammation in the lungs.
His doctors revealed after he was hospitalized that Trump is taking an experimental antibody cocktail produced by biotechnology company Regeneron.
Dr. Conley revealed Trump was twice put on supplemental oxygen.
On Saturday, he said Trump was also taking zinc, vitamin D, famotidine used for heartburn, and melatonin, which can help with sleep.
Trump also takes a daily aspirin, which can help with cholesterol. Conley said Trump had not been on any medication to reduce fever in 72 hours.
Will his condition go downhill?
Despite Conley’s up-beat assessment, he did acknowledge that his high-powered patient ‘may not entirely be out of the woods yet.’
COVID patients sometimes have a spike in symptoms a week or more after they contract the virus. Nevertheless, he said the White House medical unit is capable of handling whatever comes – an indication that Trump’s team is capable of handling another fever spike, administering oxygen, or even more drastic means of keeping a patient breathing like a ventilator.
The White House medical team can also organize an effort to helicopter Trump back to the hospital if needed.
‘We all remain cautiously optimistic and on guard,’ Conley said. ‘Because we’re in a bit of uncharted territory when it comes to a patient that received the therapies that he has so early in the course.’
‘So, we’re looking to this weekend. If we can get through to Monday with him remaining the same or improving, better yet, then we will all take that final deep sigh of relief,’ he added.
Conley was referring to doctors administering doses of experimental drug Remdesevir, an anti-viral medication. It has been shown to have a positive effect on patients suffering a moderate case of COVID-19 when given later in the process. In Trump’s case, the president got his first dose on Friday, his team said. He is to receive his final dose out of five from the White House Tuesday.
When did he last test negative?
Conley repeatedly refused to state when the president last tested negative for COVID-19.
The answer is important, both for those who might conduct contact tracing to see who might have been exposed, and to anyone seeking to evaluate whether the White House took the correct response and has been truthful about it.
Trump announced early Friday morning, close to 1 am, that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive.
Trump held back the information in a Thursday night interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, after Bloomberg News had already reported longtime aide Hope Hicks had tested positive.
‘I’ll get my test back either tonight or tomorrow morning,’ Trump told the host.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump had already gotten a positive result in his rapid test at that point.
The White House learned about Hicks’ positive result shortly before Marine One took off for the trip to New Jersey, where Trump had a scheduled fundraiser at his golf club, even pulling some staff off the trip.
New Jersey Gov. Tom Wolfe tweeted that the state had identified 2-6 attendees at two Trump fundraising events, with 19 staff members involved.
When can Trump hit the campaign trail?
‘As far as travel goes, we’ll see,’ Conley told reporters Monday.
He said key is confirming there is no remaining ‘live virus’ in Trump’s system.
‘We talk about a ten-day window.’
‘There’s a possibility it’s earlier than that. There’s a chance it’s a little bit later,’ he said.