WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump attempted to claim victory over the coronavirus Monday as he returned to a White House increasingly hollowed out by the disease, as infections among staffers continued to spread and confusion reigned.
“I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good!” he tweeted shortly before making a dramatic exit through the front doors of the hospital, pumping his fist to cameras. “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!”
Upon returning to the White House, Trump took off his mask before posing for a photo op as Marine One took off.
Back inside the West Wing, the mood was less triumphant. “Folks are dropping like flies over here,” a White House official said. “S— is very crazy.”
Normally a hive of activity, the White House press office was dark and deserted as of Monday morning, even before press secretary Kayleigh McEnany revealed she had tested positive for the virus. In one area, the lights hadn’t been turned on. In another section, where roughly half a dozen staffers usually sit tightly grouped together as top administration officials stream in and out, just one aide had come into work.
McEnany joined a string of aides and allies who have tested positive in recent days, as the White House has become an epicenter for a coronavirus outbreak stretching from low-level aides to senators and some of Trump’s closest advisers, like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is hospitalized.
Trump and his allies have looked to reframe the narrative around his diagnosis, pushing an image of the president as a “warrior” battling the virus, and arguing that his newly-acquired firsthand experience with the illness gives him an advantage over Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
At the same time, they tried to project a sense of normalcy, issuing images of Trump working from the hospital even as his doctors and top officials detailed drops in his oxygen level and an aggressive course of therapy.
Trump is now expected to remain in the residence where he will receive constant care and monitoring by White House medical staff, and not head to the West Wing until he gets cleared by doctors, said a person familiar with the plans.
Trump’s earlier tweet that he planned to leave the hospital, hours after the revelation that McEnany and two of her deputies had tested positive for the virus, had left West Wing staffers feeling almost entirely in the dark as the outbreak continued to spread, a White House official said.
While the press office was nearly deserted on Monday, on Friday a group of more than half a dozen officials, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, had gathered in McEnany’s office in cloth masks for about an hour.
Staffers are not being consistently informed through official channels or contact tracers about