WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, confined to the White House residence since returning home from the hospital Monday where he was being treated for COVID-19, spent Wednesday afternoon in the Oval Office and taped a video near it, even as the West Wing has become a hot zone for the virus.
“I’m standing in front of the Oval Office at the White House, which is always an exciting place to be,” Trump said in the video he tweeted out in the late afternoon.
Trump’s return to the Oval Office prompted a flurry of precautions by his staff in an office building where the president and at least a dozen employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.
Doctors had wanted Trump to stay in the White House residence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say patients are supposed to quarantine for at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms – in Trump’s case, last Thursday.
Since Trump announced last week he was diagnosed with COVID-19, a growing list of White House officials have also tested positive for the virus, most recently senior aide Stephen Miller, who revealed his diagnosis Tuesday.
Trump has sought to downplay the seriousness of the virus in an election year and has been eager to project an image of beating his own case of the disease and returning to normal. After returning from a three-night hospital stay for treatment Monday, he told Americans they shouldn’t fear the virus.
In his video, Trump echoed things he has said on the campaign trail. He claimed there would “soon” be a COVID-19 vaccine, though doctors said it remains months away; he blamed China for the pandemic, ignoring his own administration’s actions. And he described his own illness in the past tense, telling other patients: “You’re going to get better fast, just like I did.”
The president also talked up the benefits of an experimental drug given to him during his treatment, REGN-COV2, made by Regeneron, a New York biotech company.
He said his illness may have been a “blessing from God,” because it enabled him to discover the “right drug” for combating it.
Trump was able to get the Regeneron drug under a “compassionate use” exemption, which the company said it has granted to fewer than 10 people so far, after requests from their doctors and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a process that typically takes days to weeks.
Regeneron said compassionate use is “only for rare and exceptional circumstances as we don’t want to raise false hopes among the many patients out there,” said company spokeswoman Alexandra Bowie.
COVID-19 has killed more than 210,000 Americans.
At the White House, officials have set tougher protocols in the wake of the president’s COVID diagnoscase. Many staff have been working from home and images of workers in full hazmat suits disinfecting parts of the White House have captured the public’s attention.
Safety precautions were taken, officials said. Staff access to the president was limited, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows – wearing a mask and other personal protective equipment – was in the Oval Office with the president the whole time; aide Dan Scavino, also in PPE, was in and out of the office.
Aides refused to say whether Trump wore a mask.
Trump came into the Oval Office from the outside colonnade, officials said, so White House staff members “were not exposed,” an official said.
While in the Oval Office, Trump tweeted that he had been briefed on the threat of Hurricane Delta, and spoken with the governors of Louisiana and Texas.
Many of Trump’s employees do not consider the West Wing a safe place. The building has been near-deserted this week because aides are working from home, afraid to come to the office for fear of catching the virus that has infected Trump and more than a dozen colleagues over the past week.
Some members of the White House press corps are not working in the building, instead setting up chairs on the driveway outside the West Wing.
A table stacked with PPE just outside the West Wing
A Marine guard posted himself outside the door to the West Wing shortly after 3 p.m. ET; the Marine’s presence has long been the traditional signal that the president, any president, is in the Oval Office.
Two administration officials confirmed that Trump worked out of the Oval Office. They said Trump continues to speak with aides and congressional leaders, and to do the job as needed.
The president is also talking about the possibility of some kind of national address, or perhaps an another video.
“He wants to speak to the American people and he will do so soon,” said White House spokesperson Brian Morgenstern. “I don’t have an exact time or a definite way he’ll do that.”
Trump spent the morning and afternoon out of the public eye, though he was very active on Twitter – more than 40 tweets and re-tweets before 10 a.m., many of them attacking election opponent Joe Biden and other Democrats.
In his daily memo on the president’s condition, presidential physician Conley quoted Trump offering his own prognosis.
“The President this morning says ‘I feel great!” Conley wrote in a brief memo released by the White House. “His physical exam and vital signs, including oxygen saturation and respiratory rate, all remain stable and in normal range.”
Conley also reported that Trump – who has not been seen in public since he returned to the White House on Monday night – has been fever-free for more than four days and symptom-free for more than 24 hours.
The president also “has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization,” the doctor said.
Conley also reported that Trump’s blood work showed “detectable levels” of antibodies.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wished President Donald Trump well in taking therapeutic medications for COVID-19, but questioned whether the illness was a blessing in disguise.
“I think it’s a tragedy the president deals with COVID like it is something not to be worried about when already 210,000 people have died,” Biden said.
“I hope you stay healthy,” Biden added.