President Donald Trump returned to the White House after three days at Walter Reed. He removed his mask on the steps of the balcony.
President Donald Trump rolled out of Walter Reed hospital confidently urging the nation not to fear the coronavirus despite experts’ warning that the U.S. death toll, at more than 210,000, could almost double by year’s end.
Experts warned that the commander in chief may not have seen the worst of the virus.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” Trump tweeted hours before his release Monday after a three-day hospital stay. “Don’t let it dominate your life.”
Anthony Fauci, an expert on infectious diseases who has exhorted the nation for months to wear masks and maintain social distance, told CNN that although it’s unlikely, Trump could face “a reversal – meaning going in the wrong direction and get into trouble.”
A White House-themed online gift shop may be offering $100 “Trump Beat COVID” commemorative coins too soon. The danger window can easily stretch to 10 days, said Mangala Narasimhan, an intensive care physician in New Hyde Park, New York.
“Saying that he beat COVID now is extremely premature, especially for someone his age,” Narasimhan told USA TODAY on Tuesday. “He is not out of the woods yet.”
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Trump, 74, tweeted that the United States, under his administration, has developed “some really great drugs & knowledge.”
Lucy McBride, an internal medicine physician at Foxhall Internists in Washington, said professionals know a lot more about the coronavirus than they did in March but don’t have drugs to prevent hospitalization and severe illness.
“We have a long way to go on therapeutics – drugs,” she said. “The best defense against the virus is our own behavior – masks, distancing, avoiding crowded spaces and hand washing – as we buy time for drug development.”
White House physician Sean Conley said Trump would continue taking the antiviral drug remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone at the White House, where he will receive “24/7 world-class medical care.” The president tweeted that he feels better than “I did 20 years ago!”
“I am very worried that people will take this to mean that ‘if he can beat COVID, I can beat COVID,’” said Narasimhan, senior vice president for critical care services at Northwell Health. “I don’t think that we can take any real lessons (from Trump’s illness) except that he did get sick. Pretending this is not a real disease will not help.”
Much of the nation does not have “world-class” medical care – particularly lower-income Americans and people of color, who are most at risk for poor outcomes from the virus.
Many underinsured Americans get sick but will never seek professional treatment, Narasimhan said. Trump had at least six doctors focusing on his care, she said, and access to medications not available to the public.
“What he got was treatment that nobody gets,” she said. “Nobody.”
Vulnerable populations also are at increased risk of mental health challenges – “a parallel pandemic that directly informs our physical health,” McBride said.
More than 210,000 people in the USA have died from COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been almost 7.5 million confirmed cases.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, forecast that the U.S. death toll will exceed 363,000 by year’s end. That number would be drastically reduced if everyone wore masks, according to the forecast. Major easing of restrictions could push the U.S. death toll beyond 500,000, IHME warned.
Dennis Carroll, who led the pandemic unit at the federal Agency for International Development for nearly 15 years, urged leaders not to lower the nation’s guard.
“If we keep failing to take this pandemic seriously, 200,000 more lives will be lost by the end of this year,” Carroll said. “Fact-denying rhetoric from the president … only ensures these deaths will come. Even with better treatments.”
IHME lowered its death toll projections from more than 400,000 a month ago. COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide have leveled off in the past month at about 30,000, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic, about half the number during the peak in July.
In South Dakota, the relatively low hospitalization rate prompted Gov. Kristi Noem to assert that her resistance to stay-at-home orders paid off – even as the state has struggled with the second-highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita over the past two weeks. A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Monday shows a record number of deaths were reported over the past seven days in three states – including South Dakota.
The nation must collectively overcome the public health crisis, said Ogbonnaya Omenka, an associate professor and public health specialist at Butler University.
“Until we can boldly say … that we have measures in place to finally contain the disease in terms of its threat to the general population, we should not rest on our oars,” Omenka said.
Contributing: Michael Stucka
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