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Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis may have come earlier than we thought

The president’s physician cast doubt on the timeline of Trump’s diagnosis, before saying he misspoke.

Nine figures in white coats walk down the stone steps of Walter Reed towards a microphone. They cast long shadows, the sun to their lefts. Behind them, the pale stone of the medical center looms tall above them.
President Donald Trump’s medical team emerges from Walter Reed Medical Center to give an update on the president’s health.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Doctors giving a routine update on President Donald Trump’s health on Saturday indicated that Trump may have tested positive for Covid-19 earlier than the White House previously reported.

This new information throws the White House’s whole timeline of events into dispute, raising the question of whether Trump knew he was positive when he traveled to Minnesota for a campaign rally and private fundraiser.

“We are now 72 hours into this diagnosis for President Trump,” Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, said shortly before noon on Saturday — and just 36 hours after Trump first tweeted that he had been confirmed positive for the virus.

When asked about this new timeline at the conference, Conley said that White House medical staff “repeated testing” on Thursday afternoon, after a “close contact” received a positive result. And the White House said later on Saturday that Conley misspoke, and sent a memo clarifying that he meant to say “day three” of the president’s illness.

White House physician letter clarifying “72 hours” versus “day three” of the president’s illness.

Also occluding the timeline was a statement made by Dr. Brian Garibaldi, a pulmonologist, who told reporters it had been 48 hours since Trump received an experimental antibody treatment; a previous statement from Conley appeared to indicate Trump had received the treatment on Friday.

Exactly what treatment the president has received so far — and when — has been placed in doubt as well. On Saturday, Conley refused to respond definitively to questions about whether Trump has ever been on supplemental oxygen, repeating instead that he is not on oxygen “right now” or “today.”

Toward the end of the press conference, when a reporter asked whether Trump had received oxygen at any point on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, Conley’s response was evasive: “Thursday, no oxygen; none at this moment; and yesterday, with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen.”

The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker reported that Trump was, in fact, given oxygen ahead of his trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday, a report that was confirmed Saturday afternoon by the Associated Press and others.

Further complicating matters was an anonymous source telling reporters after Saturday’s press conference that the president’s condition over the past 24 hours has been “very concerning,” and suggesting that Trump is not doing as well as Conley has said.

Saturday, Conley said the president’s medical team is “extremely happy” with Trump’s progression, noting that he no longer has a fever.

Dr. Sean Dooley, a critical care medicine specialist, said Trump’s heart, liver, and kidney functions are good, that he is not currently on oxygen, and that he is not having difficulty breathing or walking around.

“He’s in exceptionally good spirits,” Dooley added.

Trump echoed this optimism himself on Twitter Saturday afternoon, writing, “I am feeling well!”

As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp has written, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to official statements on the president’s health due to the administration’s habit of lying about things big and small.

What’s known for certain is Trump is at Walter Reed and is being looked after by doctors. He is in three risk category factors for adverse reactions to a Covid-19 infection: male, over the age of 70, and obese.

Conley acknowledged Saturday that it is difficult to say where Trump is in his treatment course, but said the team will look toward the 7- to 10-day mark of the virus’s course, when a second phase of symptoms often proves challenging.

In the meantime, he said, Trump is receiving regular lung scans and testing of his blood oxygen saturation. He declined to answer questions about when or from whom Trump is believed to have contracted the virus, saying that was immaterial to his treatment.

What we know about when Trump tested positive for the coronavirus

Knowing when Trump became infected is relevant to a number of other important factors, however, including whether he knowingly interacted with supporters after a positive test result, and in attempting to understand whether officials have been telling the public the truth about the president’s health.

During the press conference, Conley said Trump was tested for the virus on Thursday afternoon and received a positive test result later that night.

Others close to Trump have also tested positive in recent days, including former senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, along with others who attended an event at the White House last week.

Trump’s wife, first lady Melania Trump, has also tested positive; at Saturday’s press conference, Conley said she is “doing great” and is convalescing at home.

But if Trump was diagnosed 72 hours before Conley’s statement, that would mean he was first confirmed positive for the virus on Wednesday at noon. He spent that day at a private fundraiser in Shorewood, Minnesota, and the evening at an outdoor rally in nearby Duluth.

He flew to and from the Twin Cities in Air Force One with several Republican lawmakers onboard.

And a positive test result on Wednesday would mean that Trump allowed those lawmakers and supporters to be near him — some of them in sealed spaces — knowing that he could be infectious.

The possibility of the virus reaching the Oval Office was raised publicly when Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s most senior aides, was confirmed to have Covid-19 on Thursday. She had traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One throughout the week, including to and from the Minnesota rally, where she began exhibiting symptoms.

Shortly after reporters at Bloomberg broke that news, Trump said in an interview with Fox News that he had “just heard” about Hicks’s positive test.

On Thursday night, Trump tweeted that he would begin the “quarantine process.” Two hours later, he tweeted out his own positive diagnosis.

Trump was taken to Walter Reed shortly after 6 pm on Friday.

Overall, the moving timelines Trump’s medical team have introduced make it hard to tell how serious Trump’s condition might be — or who else could have potentially been exposed. Paired with Conley’s evasiveness on the question of treatment, including the use of supplemental oxygen and steroids, it is difficult to assess the state of the president’s health, one month out from Election Day.