US President Donald Trump sparked an angry backlash from the medical community Sunday with a protocol-breaking visit to his supporters outside the hospital where he is being treated for the highly-infectious, potentially deadly new coronavirus.
He was masked as he waved from inside his bulletproof vehicle during the short trip outside Walter Reed military medical centre near Washington, which appeared designed to take back the narrative on his improving health after a weekend of muddled messaging from his doctors.
The last-minute limousine outing came with Trump’s doctors satisfied enough about his progress to suggest the possibility of his being discharged on Monday.
But experts complained that the outing broke his own government’s public health guidelines requiring patients to isolate while they are in treatment and still shedding virus — and endangered his Secret Service protection.
Trump, who has been repeatedly rebuked for flouting public health guidelines and spreading misinformation on the pandemic, said in a video that dropped on Twitter just before the appearance that he had “learned a lot about COVID” by “really going to school” as he has battled the virus.
But health experts took to the airwaves and social media to criticize the “stunt,” which they said demonstrated that he had learned nothing at all.
“Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” said James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University.
“They might get sick. They may die. For political theatre. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theatre. This is insanity.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said “appropriate” precautions had been taken to protect Trump and his support staff, including protective gear.
“The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do,” he added.
But Zeke Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and regular TV pundit, described the appearance as “shameful.”
“Making his Secret Service agents drive with a COVID-19 patient, with windows up no less, put them needlessly at risk for infection. And for what? A PR stunt,” he tweeted.