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WASHINGTON - Infected and contagious, President Donald Trump briefly ventured out in a motorcade Sunday to salute cheering supporters, a move that disregarded precautions meant to contain the deadly virus that has forced his hospitalization and killed more than 209,000 Americans.
Hours earlier, Trump's medical team reported that his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days and that they gave him a steroid typically only recommended for the very sick. Still, the doctors said Trump's health is improving and that he could be discharged as early as Monday.
With one month until Election Day, Trump was eager to project strength despite his illness. The still-infectious president surprised supporters who had gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, driving by in a black SUV with the windows rolled up. Secret Service agents inside the vehicle could be seen in masks and other protective gear.
The move capped a weekend of contradictions that fueled confusion about Trump's health, which has imperiled the leadership of the U.S. government and upended the final stages of the presidential campaign. While Trump's physician offered a rosy prognosis on his condition, his briefings lacked basic information, including the findings of lung scans, or were quickly muddled by more serious assessments of the president's health by other officials.
In a short video released by the White House on Sunday, Trump insisted he understood the gravity of the moment. But his actions moments later, by leaving the hospital and sitting inside the SUV with others, suggested otherwise.
'This is insanity,” Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed who is a critic of Trump and his handling of the pandemic. 'Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die.”
'For political theater,” the doctor added. 'Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump's trip outside the hospital 'was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.” He added that precautions were taken, including using personal protective equipment, to protect Trump as well as White House officials and Secret Service agents.
Joe Biden's campaign, meanwhile, said the Democratic presidential nominee again tested negative for coronavirus Sunday. The results come five days after Biden spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Trump. Biden, who has taken a far more cautious approach to in-person events, had two negative tests on Friday.
For his part, Trump still faces questions about his health.
His doctors sidestepped questions Sunday about exactly when Trump's blood oxygen dropped - an episode they neglected to mention in multiple statements the day before - or whether lung scans showed any damage.
It was the second straight day of obfuscation from a White House already suffering from a credibility crisis. And it raised more doubts about whether the doctors treating the president were sharing accurate, timely information with the American public about the severity of his condition.
Pressed about conflicting information he and the White House released on Saturday, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley acknowledged that he had tried to present a sunnier description of the president's condition.
'I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness has had. Didn't want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” Conley said. 'And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn't necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he's doing really well.”
Medical experts said Conley's revelations were hard to square with his positive assessment and talk of a discharge.
'There's a little bit of a disconnect,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
According to CDC guidelines, 'In general, transport and movement of a patient with suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection outside of their room should be limited to medically essential purposes.”