US President Donald Trump announced that he is leaving the hospital Monday where he was given emergency treatment for Covid-19 and told the nation, where the virus has killed almost 210,000 people this year, that they have nothing to worry about.
Trump's Twitter statement, declaring himself rejuvenated and telling Americans "don't be afraid of Covid," came hours after his own chief spokeswoman tested positive for the virus – the latest in an outbreak raging within the White House.
"I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good!" Trump tweeted. "Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!"
The 74-year-old Republican, who faces a re-election battle against Democrat Joe Biden in less than a month, has been doing everything to try to project strength and confidence since his hospitalisation Friday after being infected.
But a combination of White House secrecy, conflicting information from officials and the outbreak in Trump's own staff and political circle has undermined his credibility.
Presidential physician Sean Conley warned at a later medical briefing that the president “may not entirely be out of the woods yet” as he heads back home to the White House.
Conley said Trump “may not entirely be out of the woods yet” but he and the team “agree that all our evaluations and, most importantly, his clinical status support the president’s safe return home, where he’ll be surrounded by world class medical care.”
However, he warned that the aggressive Covid treatments the president was receiving were "uncharted territory" and would need close observation.
Conley and other officials have so far said that Trump is being given the steroid dexamethasone and two experimental drugs – a cocktail more usually associated with serious Covid-19 cases.
Conley also said in a Sunday briefing that Trump had indeed been given extra oxygen after a "rapid progression" of his illness and falling oxygen levels on Friday. He said he had initially held back this crucial information to reflect the "upbeat attitude."
Sickness around Trump
Despite Trump's characteristic claim that Covid-19 should not be of major concern, polls show it is a huge worry for US citizens. His widely panned handling of the crisis this year is also reckoned to be the main reason Biden, 77, is surging in polls ahead of the November 3 election day.
With now about 210,000 deaths, the United States of America has the world's biggest reported toll in the global pandemic.
Illustrating the divide between the reality described by health experts and the Trump White House's defiance, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany became the latest to announce a positive test result on Monday.
McEnany – the combative, main public interface between Trump and the media, giving daily television interviews and holding frequent briefings – said she was experiencing no symptoms, and no journalists were believed to have come into close contact with her. However, she would go into quarantine.
Other positive cases close to Trump now include his wife Melania, his close aide Hope Hicks, his campaign manager Bill Stepien, two of McEnany's assistants according to US media, and more than half a dozen others from the president's circle both inside and outside the White House.
Back to the campaign?
Trump is evidently frustrated – and presumably worried – at his forced stay off the campaign trail.
Early Monday, a stream of election slogans, all in capital letters, filled his Twitter feed. Late Sunday, he drew criticism from independent medical experts by making a brief sortie in an armoured SUV to drive past a crowd of supporters gathered nearby.
The White House published photos over the weekend of Trump working in his hospital suite and he tweeted two videos in which he talks about his recovery.
Doctors treating the president and aides say he is in good spirits and eager to return to the White House, where a large medical team is permanently on hand.
"We are still optimistic that based on his unbelievable progress and – and how strong he has been in terms of his fight against this Covid-19 disease," White House Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows said on Fox News.
Handling of pandemic
Beset by revelations that he avoids paying almost any income tax and a slew of other scandals, Trump was already behind Biden when he fell ill.
But the biggest liability in his scramble for a second term was always his handling of the pandemic.
For months, Trump has given the appearance of trying to wish away the catastrophe and get back to his reelection narrative of a strong economy.
Facing these extraordinary challenges, Trump looks poised to try and claim that in getting quickly out of hospital he has personally vanquished the virus – and will go on to do the same for the rest of the country.
Trump is "battling as tough as only President Trump can," campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine said on Fox News.
An unofficial White House themed gift shop announced Monday it will sell a commemorative coin titled "President Donald J. Trump Defeats COVID" for US$100.
Biden gets advantage
For all of Trump's determination to reassert himself, he has already lost several precious days of a campaign that revolves heavily around his large-scale rallies and image of personal strength.
On the day he announced his positive test he had been due to hold a rally in Florida. The next day he was to have flown to another important battleground, Wisconsin, ignoring the fact he was to gather crowds in one of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country.
Biden meanwhile has maintained his slow-but-steady campaign which has always emphasised health precautions – a pared-back style that Trump calls weakness and mocked as recently as last week.
The upheaval has led to unusual interest in this Wednesday's televised debate between the vice-presidential candidates – Republican Mike Pence and Biden's pick, Kamala Harris.