US President Donald Trump waved at supporters from a motorcade Sunday on a short drive outside the hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19.
The outing came minutes after the president had announced “a surprise” for fans, and it appeared designed to personally take back the narrative on his improving health after a weekend of confused and contradictory messaging from the White House and Trump’s medical team.
Seen in a dark face mask and waving, the president rolled past delighted supporters before returning to the Walter Reed military hospital near Washington.
“We’re going to pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street,” Trump had said in a video posted to Twitter moments earlier.
“I’m about to make a little surprise visit.”
Trump, who has been repeatedly rebuked for flouting public health guidelines and spreading misinformation on the pandemic, added that he had “learned a lot about Covid” by “really going to school,” as he has battled the virus.
“This is the real school. This isn’t the ‘let’s read the books school,’ and I get it, and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing,” he added.
But the decision to leave his hospital suite was immediately criticized by the medical community, who voiced bafflement that the president wasn’t being kept isolated as he is treated for the highly contagious viral infection.
“That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” said James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University.
“The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.”
The episode came hours after a briefing by Trump’s medical team, who said he had “continued to improve” and could be returned to the White House, which has all the necessary equipment and expertise to continue his treatment, as early as Monday.