On Sunday, the president tweeted a video from Walter Reed medical center informing his supporters he would “pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots we have out on the street” outside the facility. In the segment, Trump also claims that he “learned a lot about COVID” and that “I get it, I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing and I’m going to be letting you know about it.”
Minutes after the video went up, news outlets began showing clips of the COVID-positive POTUS in an SUV with Secret Service members in extremely close quarters:
Judging from his comments in the video and the road trip he took afterward, the president clearly doesn’t understand the coronavirus as well as he thinks he does.
“He is not sending the right message [by] going in a car while actively viremic with COVID and receiving therapies,” Dr. Amita Gupta, the deputy director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Clinical Global Health Education, told Intelligencer.
“We have been very strict with keeping all patients within their room in negative-pressure isolation and limiting the number of health-care workers interacting with patients with active infection,” the infectious-disease expert explained.
While Gupta said that wearing proper PPE and an N95 mask in the presence of a COVID-positive patient was an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, she emphasized that “showing the country and the world that it is okay to be leaving the hospital, even for a short drive, is just not a message that should be sent.”
“We would not allow any of our hospitalized patients in the first seven days of their illness to move about unless they were being transferred to another medical institution,” she added, insisting that “nothing about this is a normal situation.”
Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed and the chief of disaster medicine at the George Washington University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, put it even more bluntly in a pair of tweets on Sunday night:
That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID-19 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.
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. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.
While Trump will inevitably need an escort back to the White House after he is discharged, exposing Secret Service members for an unnecessary car-side pep rally demonstrates that his personal experience as a coronavirus patient has not watered down the negligence he has displayed all year.
Then again, as Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal speculated on Twitter after Trump’s drive-by, the markets-obsessed president may have had other concerns on his mind:
There was also new evidence on Sunday that President Trump preferred secrecy to safety as COVID-19 spread throughout the White House. According to the The Wall Street Journal, Trump told an adviser who tested positive last week not to tell anyone about their infection.
Ben Jacobs contributed additional reporting to this post, which has been updated.