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US President Donald Trump has continued to improve after his Covid-19 diagnosis and could be discharged from hospital as early as Monday, his doctors say.
Dr Sean Conley said Mr Trump’s oxygen level had dropped twice since his diagnosis, and he was started on a steroid called dexamethasone.
The president was given extra oxygen at least once, Dr Conley said.
The doctors also sought to clarify earlier confusion caused by conflicting statements about Mr Trump’s condition.
The president’s Covid-19 diagnosis, which he made public in a tweet early on Friday, has upended his election campaign. Mr Trump faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden on 3 November.
In a four-minute video posted on Twitter on Saturday night, the president – dressed in a suit jacket and shirt with no tie – said he was feeling “much better now” and that the next few days would be the “real test”.
A number of people around the president have tested positive, including First Lady Melania Trump. Many of them attended a crowded White House event last weekend on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court judge. It is being scrutinised as a possible “super-spreader event”.
Speaking at a news conference at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center close to Washington DC, Dr Conley said Mr Trump’s oxygen level had dropped twice since his positive test.
The first episode happened on Friday morning at the White House, he said, when the president had a high fever and his oxygen level was below 94% – a healthy person’s level is of 95% or higher.
The president was given supplemental oxygen “for about an hour”, the doctor said, and was flown to Walter Reed in the evening. The news had already been widely reported in US media, and Dr Conley’s confirmation came after he refused to answer several questions about the issue during Saturday’s briefing.
The second episode happened on Saturday, when the level dropped below 93%. When questioned, Dr Conley did not say whether the president had received oxygen but added that, if it had happened, “it was very limited”.
The team, Dr Conley said, decided to give Mr Trump dexamethasone, which is shown in studies to improve survival for patients in hospital with severe Covid-19.
Steroids calm down inflammation and the immune system and are already used in conditions like arthritis and asthma as well as in some severe infections. The drugs are not thought to be helpful in the early stages of a coronavirus infection.
“Given the timeline where [Mr Trump] is in the course of illness, we’re trying to maximise everything that we can do for him… We decided that in this case the potential benefits early on in the course probably outweighed any risks at this time,” Dr Conley said.
Dr Conley also addressed a conflicting account about the president’s health given shortly after his briefing on Saturday by the White House chief of staff. Mark Meadows said Mr Trump’s vital signs over the previous 24 hours had been “very concerning” and that the next 48 hours would be critical.
“I think his statement was misconstrued,” the doctor said.
However, he acknowledged giving an overly upbeat description of Mr Trump’s condition a day earlier: “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction. And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”
The president, being 74, a man and someone categorised as obese, is in a higher-risk category for Covid-19. On Friday he was given an experimental drug cocktail injection and started a five-day course of antiviral medication remdesivir.
Dr Brian Garibaldi, who is also part of the team treating the president, said: “He feels well, he’s been up and around and our plan for today is to have him to eat and drink, be up out of bed as much as possible to be mobile.”
The doctors said the president had not had a fever since Friday and that his liver and kidney functions had remained normal. But Dr Conley refused to answer questions on whether lung scans showed any damage.
By Lebo Diseko, outside Walter Reed hospital
Standing across the road from the hospital, music from Donald Trump’s supporters blasts out from a speaker. “Everybody say, ‘Trump, Trump, Trump, Donald J Trump, make America great again’,” goes the chorus of the latest song. Trump supporters are in high spirits – even offering coffee to the waiting journalists over the loudspeaker.
Some of the gathered Trump fans have camped out here overnight, when temperatures in DC dip.
A married couple of senior citizens arrived before first light. Ann Wass told me they love Donald Trump. Her husband James says they don’t believe the president’s actions played a part in him getting sick. “He got sick because the virus is contagious. We need to live our lives and not live in a box,” he says.
There is a fair bit of honking of horns, too, as fellow supporters drive by. Earlier Donald Trump tweeted to thank his supporters. Those gathered here told me they saw his tweet, and appreciate it like the appreciate the president.
Aside from the president and the first lady, at least six other people who attended the Rose Garden event for Amy Coney Barrett are now confirmed to have the virus.
Other people to have tested positive around Mr Trump include close aide Hope Hicks – believed to be the first to show symptoms – campaign manager Bill Stepien and former White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway.
Nicholas Luna, the latest person reported to have tested positive, is a personal assistant or “body man” of the president. He is in constant contact with Mr Trump, handling his papers.
The president’s campaign team said on Saturday it would move forward “at full speed” until Mr Trump could return to the campaign trail. It is calling on top “surrogates”, including Mr Trump’s sons Donald Jr and Eric, and Vice-President Mike Pence to “carry the campaign forward” for the time being.
Meanwhile, Mr Pence is scheduled to debate Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Wednesday.
Joe Biden, who has continued his campaign, did not have plans for in-person events or public appearances. He has taken down negative advertising about the president and on Saturday said the president’s response to the pandemic had been “unconscionable”.
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