WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House doctor said that President Donald Trump was no longer at risk of transmitting the coronavirus but did not say explicitly whether Trump had tested negative for it. The diagnosis came as the president prepared to resume campaign rallies and other activities.
In a memo released Saturday night by the White House, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley said Trump met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for safely discontinuing isolation and that by “currently recognized standards” he was no longer considered a transmission risk.
The memo did not declare Trump had tested negative for the virus. But sensitive lab tests — like the PCR test cited in the doctor’s statements — detect virus in swab samples taken from the nose and throat. Dr. William Morice, who oversees laboratories at the Mayo Clinic, said earlier this week that using the PCR tests, the president’s medical team could hypothetically measure and track the amount of virus in samples over time and watch the viral load go down.
Some medical experts had been skeptical that Trump could be declared free of the risk of transmitting the virus so early in the course of his illness. Just 10 days since an initial diagnosis of infection, there was no way to know for certain that someone was no longer contagious, they said.
Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist and department chairman at the Yale School of Public Health, said Saturday night that the White House appeared to be following CDC guidelines for when it is appropriate to end isolation after mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.
But Ko cautioned that those who have had severe cases of the diseases should isolate for 20 days. He noted that Trump was treated with the steroid dexamethasone, which is normally reserved for patients with severe COVID.
Ko added that White House had issued “convoluted” statements about Trump’s health that left many questions unanswered, including whether the president ever had pneumonia.
CDC guidelines note that most people do not require testing to decide when they can be around others. Ko said people who have had COVID-19 can continue to test positive for weeks or longer after they are no longer infectious.
The memo stated that Trump had reached day 10 from the onset of symptoms, had been free of fever for well over 24 hours, and that all symptoms had improved.
Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, said the tight time frame laid out by the White House made it appear that “they’re really just pushing to get him out of isolation” and back to campaigning.
The memo followed Trump’s first public appearance since returning to the White House after being treated for the coronavirus at a military hospital. Hundreds of people gathered Saturday afternoon on the South Lawn for a Trump address on his support for law enforcement from a White House balcony.
Trump took off a mask moments after he emerged on the balcony to address the crowd on the lawn below, his first step back onto the public stage with just more than three weeks to go until Election Day. He flouted, once more, the safety recommendations of his own government just days after acknowledging that he was on the brink of “bad things” from the virus and claiming that his bout with the illness brought him a better understanding of it.
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