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White House Struggles To Explain, Contain Its Own Spiraling COVID-19 Crisis

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows holds the door for Dr. Sean Conley and other members of the president's medical team on Sunday. Another update on Trump's condition is expected sometime on Monday.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows holds the door for Dr. Sean Conley and other members of the president's medical team on Sunday. Another update on Trump's condition is expected sometime on Monday.

The White House is struggling on Monday to show that it has a burgeoning public health and political crisis under control as President Trump enters his third day of aggressive and experimental treatment for the coronavirus.

Trump fueled the growing alarm with a publicity stunt on Sunday evening, leaving his hospital suite to drive by boisterous supporters who gathered outside the military hospital in Bethesda, Md., where he has been hospitalized since Friday for COVID-19.

His doctors have said he could be released on Monday. But they have also admitted that their public statements have been optimistic, aimed at bolstering the spirits of their patient.

Inconsistencies between medical briefings and White House statements have added to confusion and concern — combined with the refusal by the White House to lay out all the facts about when and how they learned a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans had entered the grounds of one of the most protected complexes in the world.

Trump kicked off Monday with a long and furious flurry of all-caps tweets. But unlike other Mondays, he is on the steroid dexamethasone, and a five-day course of the experimental drug remdesivir, after first receiving a cocktail of antibodies.

Doctors revealed on Sunday that Trump had been treated with oxygen at the White House on Friday — a time when officials described him as showing "mild symptoms." Doctors had initially refused on Saturday to directly answer questions about whether Trump had needed supplemental oxygen.

The White House has insisted Trump is carrying out his presidential duties, taking pains to release photos of him working in the hospital, along with video messages. Vice President Pence, who has not been seen publicly since Trump became ill, was set to leave Washington for Utah and a week of campaign events, highlighted by the vice presidential debate on Wednesday.

Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows, who has been in and out of Trump's hospital room, deflected concerns that the president had put Secret Service agents and others at risk by getting into a motorcade to show his strength.

"A number of people are trying to make a big deal" of this, Meadows said in an interview on Fox News, insisting agents were protected.

Meadows said doctors will make an evaluation late Monday morning about whether to discharge Trump.

Meanwhile at the White House, several aides are known to have contracted the virus, but there is little public information about how many people have been affected and what is being done to trace the origin and extent of the outbreak.

White House officials have insisted that they have taken measures to protect more staff from getting sick, but they have insisted all along that they had protocols in place and have yet to explain how those failed.

The White House said on Sunday that Trump's first positive test for the virus came after he returned from a fundraising trip to New Jersey on Thursday. But they have not made clear when his last negative test was.

On Sunday night, Trump — who has downplayed the risks of the virus since it emerged in January — said he had "learned a lot about COVID" from his own experience with the illness. "This is the real school," he said in the video, before getting in the SUV motorcade.

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Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.