US President Donald Trump has been flown to a military hospital for treatment after being diagnosed with COVID-19, a move the White House said would last for a “few days” and was taken “out of an abundance of caution”.
Roughly 17 hours after he announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, Trump on Friday walked slowly from the White House to a waiting helicopter to be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
He wore a mask and business suit and did not speak to reporters.
“I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out,” Trump said in a brief video that was taped before leaving for Walter Reed and posted on Twitter.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
Trump will work in a special suite at the hospital for the next few days as a precautionary measure, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
She said he remains “in good spirits, has mild symptoms, and has been working throughout the day” and added: “Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the president will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days.”
Trump, 74, has a mild fever, nasal congestion and a cough, the New York Times reported, citing two people close to him.
White House doctor Sean P Conley said the president is being treated with an experimental drug cocktail and is “fatigued but in good spirits”.
Trump’s diagnosis came during an already turbulent period in Washington and around the world, with the US gripped in a heated presidential election amid the human and economic toll of the virus.
Trump’s immediate campaign events were all cancelled, and his next debate with Democrat rival Joe Biden, scheduled for October 15, is now in question.
Trump has been trying all year – and as recently as Wednesday – to convince the American public that the worst of the pandemic is in the past, and he has consistently played down concerns about being personally vulnerable. He has mostly refused to abide by basic public health guidelines – including those issued by his own administration – such as wearing face coverings in public and practising social distancing. Until he tested positive, he continued to hold campaign rallies that drew thousands of often maskless supporters.
Esther Choo, an emergency physician and professor at Oregon Health and Science University, told Al Jazeera that Trump has a number of risk factors.
“He falls into several categories of people who tend to experience more severe symptoms of COVID-19 and to need hospitalisation: his age, his obesity, the fact he’s male – there seems to be a male predominance in severe disease and hospitalisation and ICU care and fatalities.”
Referring to the president’s doctor previously revealing that Trump has high calcium deposits in his coronary arteries, Choo said: “We also know that he has some coronary heart disease. So, he has more than one risk factor, but that’s across the population and how that plays out in an individual person, we never know.”
She added: “He also has some positive things – he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink alcohol and also importantly, he’s extremely wealthy and privileged.”
Conley, the White House doctor, said Trump has received an experimental treatment, Regeneron’s REGN-COV2. The drug is one of several experimental COVID-19 drugs known as monoclonal antibodies, which are used for treating a wide range of illnesses. US infectious disease chief Dr Anthony Fauci has been among those saying the technology has promise.
Trump is also taking zinc, Vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and a daily aspirin.
Trump ‘is in charge’
White House officials said the president has not transferred his powers to Vice President Mike Pence. “The president is in charge,” Judd Deere, a spokesman, told the New York Times.
Peter Mathews, professor of political science at Cypress College in California, said the president’s move to Walter Reed is significant, adding that it is important to know what plans are in place for any transfer of power.
“The fact that he’s been transferred to Walter Reed is a major development. He could have been quarantined in the White House and waited it out there. It could be they are being very cautious as he’s the president, but still, you have to take these things seriously and look at what is being put in place by this administration to make sure there’s a smooth transition,” Mathews told Al Jazeera.
“There’s two ways to go and there’s a precedent when President Ronald Reagan had to go in for surgery, he signed a letter saying he’s turning over power to Vice President George HW Bush for eight hours and then he would resume after that. And it worked out pretty smoothly. That’s one way, with the president voluntarily signing a statement.
“Another way is when the president is incapacitated, and it seems very clear that he is, the vice president has to lead and call the cabinet has to vote by majority vote to proceed to transfer of power to the vice president. When that happens, the president can challenge it if he’s available to do that, then it goes to Congress where it is voted by a two-thirds majority in each house to transfer the power over. So, there’s a couple of options here and it all depends on how President Trump comes through right now as far as his physical health goes.”
Biden, Trump’s election opponent, pulled ads attacking Trump off the air but otherwise continued his campaign, travelling to Michigan on Friday after testing negative for the virus.
At a union hall in Grand Rapids, Biden said he was praying for his rival’s recovery. However, he also implicitly criticised Trump, who has mocked Biden for routinely wearing a mask and has held huge campaign rallies with little social distancing.
“Be patriotic,” Biden said. “It’s not about being a tough guy. It’s about doing your part.”
Trump is the latest world leader to contract the virus, which can cause a severe respiratory infection.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was rushed into intensive care after falling gravely ill in March. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called the virus a “little flu” after being infected in July. Both men recovered.