One Drug Trump Is Taking Is a Big 'Red Flag,' Experts Say

President could be experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms, they say
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 5, 2020 1:00 AM CDT
Updated Oct 5, 2020 6:16 AM CDT
Experts Have Warning About 'Red Flag' in Trump's Treatment
President Donald Trump drives past supporters gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.   (AP Photo/Anthony Peltier)

(Newser) – As President Trump continues to downplay his COVID-19 symptoms, medical experts say the treatment he is receiving raises some red flags—and that the POTUS may actually have a severe case of the coronavirus. "When I think about people needing dexamethasone, I think about people who are escalating their condition, who are heading closer to ICU level than to home," the chief of the division of infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School, tells the New York Times. She's one of multiple experts with similar credentials who are scratching their heads over the Sunday announcement that Trump is being given the steroid—while his medical team insists he's doing so well he might be discharged Monday. Another such expert calls the drug's use "mystifying," since it's typically used in cases where a patient's condition is getting worse; a third said, of the latest details revealed about Trump's treatment, "it's much more than just an ‘abundance of caution’ kind of thing" at this point. More on that and other news coming out about Trump's diagnosis:

  • One possibility: "Suddenly, they’re throwing the kitchen sink at him," one of the experts says. "It raises the question: Is he sicker than we’re hearing, or are they being overly aggressive because he is the president, in a way that could be potentially harmful [due to drug interactions and other risks]?" He adds, "You’re giving remdesivir, you’re giving dexamethasone, and you’re giving monoclonal antibodies. No one’s ever done that, not to mention famotidine and some zinc and a mix of cocktails, or whatever else he’s on."

  • It's not just the Times: Another expert spoke to NBC News about the steroid's use, and the media outlet notes that dexamethasone can actually be harmful when used in COVID patients who are only experiencing mild symptoms. Indeed, both the WHO and the NIH only recommend it for use in severe cases for that reason.
  • And another: Yet another expert, who on Saturday had said if Trump started taking dexamethasone it would be a "very clear signal that he has a more severe disease," tells the Los Angeles Times, "I don’t think he’s out of the woods yet. He could get worse. And I think he needs very close monitoring." He adds, "This whole thing strikes me as very unusual. You would not have a normal person getting discharged at this moment."
  • But on the other hand: Some of the experts who spoke to the Times noted that Trump has been able to speak in video updates without appearing short of breath, and has been seen walking with no apparent trouble, both of which are good signs. However, they also note that steroids can make a person appear to be doing better than they actually are. Time's take is that Trump is "on the cutting edge of coronavirus care."

  • Another thing the experts agree on: Trump's medical team has not been very transparent about his condition, the severity of his symptoms, his treatment, or his prognosis, which makes it difficult for an outsider to gauge what exactly is going on. And Nancy Pelosi said senior Democratic lawmakers are just as in the dark as the public: "We’re getting our information the way everyone else is, in the media."
  • Also drawing criticism: Is Trump's drive-by to wave to supporters outside the hospital. Some have pointed out that the president's bulletproof limousine is designed to be hermetically sealed to protect against a chemical attack, hypothetically concentrating virus particles inside. Even though Trump and the Secret Service agents in the car with him all wore masks, "Every single person in the vehicle ... now has to be quarantined for 14 days," an attending physician at Walter Reed (who is not involved in Trump's care) tweeted. "They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity."
  • The AP's take: In a lengthy story largely focused on the "infected and contagious" Trump motorcade, the AP notes the president flouted the CDC's own guidelines, which state that "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."
  • Inside the White House: The AP also notes that some Secret Service agents have previously expressed to the outlet concern over the White House's lax attitude toward masks and social distancing, and that since Trump's diagnosis, several White House officials have expressed frustration at the lack of transparency surrounding Trump's condition. Some have also expressed concern for their own health now that the White House itself is a virus "hot spot."

  • Also? "It took until late Sunday for the White House to send a generic note to staffers suggesting they not come to the building if they do not feel well," the AP notes. New York Mag has a screenshot of the memo here.
  • A note on Trump rallies: A senior adviser to the president's re-election campaign tells CNN the safety protocols for Trump's rallies (once they are able to recommence) will not change. Attendees are typically given face masks and hand sanitizer, and their temperatures are taken before entering.
  • As for Joe Biden: He received another negative COVID test Sunday, CNN reports, and his campaign says it will release the results of every test he takes. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife also tested negative Sunday.
  • Others at the White House? It's not clear who else at the White House has tested positive, and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Sunday she won't be revealing the number of positive tests due to privacy concerns.
  • As for the current toll, Axios offers a "Trumpworld coronavirus tracker" here. One of the latest positive tests to be reported is that of Nick Luna, Trump's "body man," who traveled with him to the debate on Tuesday and to Minnesota on Wednesday, per Bloomberg. A senior administration official tells CNN it "seems highly likely this (outbreak) originated at the SCOTUS announcement last week. It may have come from the Hill. The next major concern will be securing Capitol Hill and protecting lawmakers."
  • Speaking of which: It's not clear how effectively the administration is carrying out contact tracing; one headline uses the word "inept" and multiple reports indicate the effort is severely lacking.
  • On another related note: Bill Barr has so far tested negative and is self-quarantining since he attended the Rose Garden event, but he expects to return to work this week; he had previously been criticized for refusing to quarantine, Newsweek reports.
(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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