BETHESDA, Md. – Two days after being hospitalized with COVID-19, President Donald Trump declared, “I get it,” in a message to the nation Sunday before briefly leaving the hospital to salute supporters from his motorcade, a move that again showed his willingness to disregard basic precautions to contain the virus that has killed more than 209,000 Americans.
Hours earlier, Trump’s medical team reported that his blood oxygen level dropped suddenly twice in recent days and that they gave him a steroid typically only recommended for the very sick. The doctors also said his health is improving and that he could be discharged as early as Monday.
“It’s been a very interesting journey. I learned a lot about COVID,” Trump said, standing in his hospital room in a video posted on social media. “I learned it by really going to school.”
He added, “I get it, and I understand it.”
Before the video was posted, the infected president cruised by supporters in his sealed SUV, windows rolled up, driven by Secret Service agents in protective gear who were potentially exposed to the disease that has swept through the White House in recent days.
“This is insanity,” tweeted Dr. James P. Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Trump has been hospitalized since Friday evening.
“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,” the doctor wrote. “For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater.”
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign said the Democratic presidential nominee again tested negative for coronavirus Sunday. The results came five days after Biden spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Trump. Biden had two negative tests Friday, as well.
Trump’s doctors earlier in the day sidestepped questions about exactly when Trump’s blood oxygen dropped – an episode they neglected to mention in multiple statements the day before – or whether lung scans showed any damage.
It was the second straight day of confusion and obfuscation from a White House already suffering from a credibility crisis. And it raised more doubts about whether the doctors treating the president were sharing accurate, timely information with the American public about the severity of his condition.
Pressed about conflicting information he and the White House released Saturday, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley acknowledged that he had tried to present a rosy description of the president’s condition.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness has had. Didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” Conley said. “And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
Medical experts said Conley’s revelations were hard to square with the doctor’s upbeat assessment and talk of a discharge.
“There’s a little bit of a disconnect,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
At the same time, Trump’s drive-by greeting was reminiscent of the moment in 2016 when he emerged from Trump Tower in the midst of the Access Hollywood tape scandal to greet his supporters on the street below. But this move potentially exposed several people in his security detail to COVID-19.
According to CDC guidelines, “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.”
Some Secret Service agents have expressed concern about the lackadaisical attitude toward masks and social distancing inside the White House, but there isn’t much they can do, according to agents and officials who spoke to the AP. This close to the election, thousands of agents are engaged on protective duty so they can be subbed out quickly should someone test positive.
Concern over Trump’s impromptu drive capped a day when doctors’ revelations about his oxygen levels and steroid treatment suggested the president is enduring more than a mild case of COVID-19.
Blood oxygen saturation is a key health marker for COVID-19 patients. A normal reading is between 95 and 100. Conley said the president had a “high fever” and a blood oxygen level below 94% on Friday and during “another episode” on Saturday.
He was evasive about the timing of Trump oxygen drops. (“It was over the course of the day, yeah, yesterday morning,” he said) and asked whether Trump’s level had dropped below 90%, into concerning territory. (“We don’t have any recordings here on that.”) But he revealed that Trump was given a dose of the steroid dexamethasone in response.
At the time of the briefing, Trump’s blood oxygen level was 98% – within normal rage, Trump’s medical team said.
Signs of pneumonia or other lung damage could be detected in scans before a patient feels short of breath, but the president’s doctors declined to say what those scans have revealed.
“There’s some expected findings, but nothing of any major clinical concern,” Conley said. He declined to outline those “expected findings.”
Asked about Conley’s lack of transparency, White House aide Alyssa Farah suggested the doctors were speaking as much to the president as to the American public, “when you’re treating a patient, you want to project confidence, you want to lift their spirits and that was the intent.”
Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, pulled his attack ads off the air during Trump’s hospitalization, and on Sunday, he dispatched senior aides to deliver a largely friendly message.
“We are sincerely hoping that the president makes a very quick recovery, and we can see him back out on the campaign trail very soon,” Biden adviser Symone Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
She added, “This is a glaring reminder that the virus is real.”
Trump’s medical team indicated that his hospital stay could end soon.
“Our plan for today is to have him eat and drink, to be up out of bed as much as possible, to be mobile,” Dr. Brian Garibaldi said. “And if he continues to look and feel as well as he does today, our hope is that we can plan for a discharge as early as tomorrow to the White House where he can continue his treatment course.”
More than 209,000 Americans have been killed by the virus, by far the highest number of confirmed fatalities in the word. In all, nearly 7.4 million people have been infected in the United States, and few have access to the kind of around-the-clock attention and experimental treatments as Trump.
Trump’s treatment with the steroid dexamethasone is in addition to the single dose he was given Friday of an experimental drug from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. that supplies antibodies to help the immune system fight the virus. Trump on Friday also began a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug currently used for moderately and severely ill patients. The drugs work in different ways – the antibodies help the immune system rid the body of virus, and remdesivir curbs the virus’ ability to multiply.
Garibaldi, a specialist in pulmonary critical care, said the president was not showing any side effects of the drugs “that we can tell.”
The National Institutes of Health COVID-19 treatment guidelines recommend against using dexamethasone in patients who do not require oxygen. It has only been proven to help in more serious cases. Among the concerns with earlier use is that steroids tamp down certain immune cells, hindering the body’s own ability to fight off infection.
Trump is 74 years old and clinically obese, putting him at higher risk of serious complications.
First lady Melania Trump has remained at the White House as she recovers from her own bout with the virus.
Several White House officials this weekend expressed frustration with the way level of transparency and public disclosure since the president announced his diagnosis early Friday.
They were particularly upset by the whiplash between Conley’s rosy assessment Saturday and Meadows’ more concerned outlook. They privately acknowledge that the administration has little credibility on COVID-19 and that they have unnecessarily squandered what remains of it with the lack of clear, accurate updates on Trump’s condition.
Many in the White House are also shaken and scared – nervous that they have been exposed to the virus and confronting the reality that what seemed like a bubble of safety has become a COVID-19 hot spot. There has been no mass directive sent to staff on how they should respond.
Peoples reported from New York. Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard and Jonathan Lemire in Washington, and Bill Barrow in Wilmington, Del., and Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Current Job Title: Founder/attorney, Reed Law Group PLC.
Hometown: I grew up in Leitchfield, but have considered Bowling Green my hometown since coming to WKU in 1993.
Family: My wife of more than 16 years is Bonnie Hannibal Reed. Our children are Truman, Margaret and Calvin. Our pets Rosie, Ivy, Misto, Latte and Carrot keep us company.
The one thing no one knows about me is ... It’s admittedly an odd thing, but when I sleep I cross my big toe on each foot over the second toe on each foot. Another interesting thing is that I met my mother-in-law, Bente, at the exact moment I met my wife, Bonnie. I think that’s pretty unique!
My first job was ... While in high school, I worked for the Grayson County News-Gazette covering high school sports as a writer and photographer. I also worked weekends at WKHG-FM radio in Leitchfield.
My dream job ... I love being a family law attorney and mediator, helping people move themselves and their families forward in times of crises. But if I had to do something different, I’d love to be a personal chef during the day and an official scorer for a major league baseball team during the evening.
Best advice I ever received was ... This one is especially hard to narrow down. I’ve gotten so much needed advice from trusted friends and family, and from professional mentors. But, I’d say probably the best advice was the reminder that it takes an attorney years of diligent work to develop a reputation for honesty and integrity, but that reputation can be lost in an instant if the attorney abandons his ethics.
My hero (and why) is ... I have tremendous admiration for my sister, Tracey, and my twin brother, Jason. I especially admire the jobs they have done raising their children and the differences they have made in the communities they have served professionally and civically. They have been tremendous role models for me. I definitely feel like I won the sibling lottery!
If I could do all over again ... I tend not to dwell on the past or regret decisions that, for good or bad, have helped shape me. Nevertheless, given the benefit of hindsight I maybe would have started my own law firm sooner than I did. I was fortunate to have the benefit of strong mentoring and invaluable experience from those I practiced with in other firms, but I was never sure I was ready to take such a big career step. I now know I was probably ready a few years before I finally realized I was.
The part of my job I could do without ... That is, unfortunately, an easy one to answer. As a family court lawyer, I could do without those parents who are so focused on themselves and their grievances with one another that they cannot focus on their children and successfully co-parent. Invariably, they say they will do “anything” for their child, but the one thing they seem to refuse to do is to insist on a positive, healthy co-parenting relationship.
One thing I always carry with me is ... I have blue eyes that are pretty sensitive to bright light, so I almost always have a pair of sunglasses with me. Also, I always carry a laminated index card with about 50 complex, randomly-generated passwords, most of which are dummies but a few of which permit me access to my laptop and devices that access confidential information for my work as an attorney. It’s a bit of a security blanket for me as it provides a back-up source of that information in case a tech-based source fails.
Best meal I ever had was ... To celebrate my most recent birthday, Bonnie made my favorite comfort food – slow-cooked pot roast with root vegetables – and a scratch-made strawberry cake, that were both as good as anything I’ve ever eaten. I also remember a tremendous experience with Walter, Kelli, Scott and a tableful of other friends at one of Jeff Ruby’s restaurants in Cincinnati during a years-ago Kentucky Bar Association Annual Convention.
At the top of my bucket list is ... I hope to be able to see my children grow to adulthood and be fulfilled and successful in whatever endeavors they choose. All the other things I hope to do – travel, MLB stadium circuit, playing in the WSOP Main Event – are way down the list compared to the one at the top.
The process to build Bowling Green’s riverfront into an outdoor adventure area has moved a step closer to reality.
Last year, the city received a National Park Service Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program grant for $750,000 toward a series of projects along the Barren River across from RiverWalk Park, including a new boat ramp and fishing piers on the Barren River; building a rock climbing wall and disc golf course; and adding a dog park on what is now vacant land.
The city is also planning to spend additional city funds in the area as part of a broader effort that began several years ago to revitalize the area along River Street. With the city pledging $1.5 million of its money, the total project budget stands at $2.25 million.
As part of the NPS grant requirements, the city had to commission environmental and archaeological studies of the area.
Recently, “we got the all-clear,” said city Neighborhood and Community Services Director Brent Childers.
The findings have been sent to the state Historic Preservation Office, which will sign off on the findings, “which we hope to have in the next month or so,” said city Grants Coordinator Nick Cook.
After that, the city will await final approval from NPS, and then will begin the design process where the specific features of the project will be decided.
“We are still probably two years out from construction,” Childers said.
In the design process, the city will solicit public input, he said.
While some of the proposed features to be built in the area have fluctuated, the plans have always called for the new boat ramp, which while available for public use would also give the Bowling Green Fire Department a better venue from which to launch water rescues on the Barren River.
Childers said the project remains largely on schedule, despite the additional burden of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID hasn’t slowed us down per se, but what it slowed down was our ability to focus on it,” as the city is also administering coronavirus relief funds,” Childers said. “That has redirected our attention.”
Local business owners in recent years joined the riverfront redevelopment effort with announced plans for new apartments and businesses, and the city has done several smaller improvement projects at RiverWalk Park, such as rebuilding portions of the stone wall and clearing some vegetation along the banks of the river. Old Louisville Road was also renamed River Street as part of the effort to rebrand the area.
Being designated an essential industry has helped make the Tractor Supply Company distribution center in Franklin an essential part of the Simpson County economy.
Approved for state tax incentives in 2018 that helped the center in the Sanders Industrial Park implement an $8.5 million expansion, Tractor Supply’s 850,000-square-foot distribution center has hardly experienced a hiccup as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that has handcuffed many businesses.
The distribution center, in fact, has added more than 140 jobs this year and is still growing.
“When we went into the climate of COVID, people like me were fretting that the plant might have to cut back,” said Ronda Ruane, general manager of the center.
But, as a supplier of important livestock and pet products and hardware used in agriculture, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Tractor Supply and its 1,800 retail stores across the U.S. have continued to thrive.
“It’s amazing,” said Ruane. “We’ve been able to increase employment through this climate.”
Opened in 2012, the Tractor Supply distribution center is equipped with five miles of conveyer belts and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Three years ago we went to seven days a week,” Ruane said. “It has worked out really well.”
Ruane said this year’s job increases have built the plant’s employment to about 675. She expects it to reach as high as 725.
“Store volume and e-commerce are both driving our growth,” said Ruane, who pointed out that animal food has been a big seller even during the pandemic.
Ruane said the Franklin distribution center services TSC retail stores in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas and North Carolina.
Founded in 1938 in North Dakota, Tractor Supply now has more than 32,000 employees nationwide and reported revenue of $8.3 billion last year.
Simpson County Judge-Executive Mason Barnes said the growth of Tractor Supply is a big reason the county’s economy has remained strong.
“It’s good to have a company like Tractor Supply that’s growing,” Barnes said. “They will emerge as one of the top employers in Simpson County.
“Even in the middle of a pandemic, our economy is still pretty strong. There are a number of jobs to be had.”