Washington | The White House presented sloppy and contradictory accounts of President Donald Trump's health as the coronavirus outbreak that left him in hospital for a second day spread to 25 people close to him, the White House and the Senate.
Moments after the President's doctors said he was "doing well", White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was quoted by reporters saying Mr Trump's health leading up to his admission to hospital was "very concerning" and the next two days would be "critical".
The confusion left Americans guessing about the country's leadership in the middle of a crucial election campaign and, according to media reports, infuriated President Trump, who took to Twitter posting: “I am feeling well!”
US President Donald Trump has spoken from hospital for the first time since being diagnosed with coronavirus.
The President, looking pale, later posted a four-minute video in which he said he was “starting to feel good”, but added the real test was yet to come.
“You don’t know, over the next period of a few days, I guess that’s the real test,” he said. “So we’ll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days.”
Suspicion continues to grow that last weekend's Rose Garden event to announce Mr Trump's Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, may have been a super-spreader event. At least 25 cases have now been detected, including two White House reporters and five members of Mr Trump's debate staff who assisted him in Cleveland, Ohio. Chris Christie, a former Republican presidential candidate who helped Mr Trump prepare for last week's debate, announced he has COVID-19, alongside White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson. With at least three senators who attended the event for Judge Barrett now infected, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would cancel all Senate floor activity until October 19, but committee work – including on the Barrett confirmation – would continue.
Mixed messages from doctors In their briefing, Mr Trump's doctors gave timelines that conflicted with earlier White House reports, leaving the impression that the President had started treatment earlier than officially reported.
"This morning, the President is doing very well," Mr Trump's personal doctor, Sean Conley, told the media, standing alongside a phalanx of other members of the medical team wearing white coats with presidential seals.
In a potential bombshell that would have shattered what was previously known when Mr Trump first discovered he had COVID-19, Dr Conley said the team was already 72 hours into the President's diagnosis. That would have meant Mr Trump was first diagnosed on Wednesday morning – about 36 hours earlier than previously indicated by the White House and Mr Trump, who revealed he was positive about 1am on Friday (3pm on Friday, AEST).
It would also indicate Mr Trump knew he was ill less than 14 hours after stepping off a debate stage with Joe Biden the night before, and that he subsequently travelled to a rally in Minnesota and a fundraiser in New Jersey.
But roughly two hours after Dr Conley's briefing, he issued a statement via White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying he had "incorrectly used the term '72 hours' instead of 'day three' ... with regards to his diagnosis and the administration of the polyclonal antibody therapy". The medical briefing also raised more questions than it answered when Dr Conley said Mr Trump was not on oxygen "right now", implying he had been earlier. "The President was first diagnosed with COVID-19 on the evening of Thursday, October 1st, and had received Rege[n]eron's antibody cocktail on Friday, October 2nd," Dr Conley said in the media statement.
When reporters sought to clarify whether that meant he had previously been taking supplemental oxygen, Dr Conley evaded answering directly.
Separately, sources told CNN's White House reporter Jim Acosta that Mr Trump "definitely has had oxygen", supporting separate reports in other outlets that Mr Trump had been having difficulties breathing on Friday. Possible rapid onset
In his first tweet in about 13 hours, Mr Trump wrote on Saturday to applaud the staff at his hospital and "others from likewise incredible institutions who have joined them". "Tremendous progress has been made over the last 6 months in fighting this PLAGUE. With their help, I am feeling well!"
Half an hour later he urged Congress to pass another economic stimulus package to offset the pandemic's impacts. "OUR GREAT USA WANTS & NEEDS STIMULUS. WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE. Thank you!"
Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, speculated that it may be possible – given his rapid onset of symptoms – that Mr Trump is already in the riskiest seven to 10-day range for COVID-19 patients.
"It's tough to say from the level of symptoms how far along he is," Dr Ranney told CNN. "What I can say for sure is that at this point, knowing he's been on oxygen, knowing that his vitals have been unstable, he not only faces an uncertain next week ... but also most likely is going to face long-term effects from this virus, even should he survive."