By that point, though, it’s likely the president already knew something was wrong. Reporting has suggested that he started feeling under the weather from a coronavirus infection as early as Wednesday, when he held a shorter-than-normal rally in Minnesota. At the fundraiser at his private club in Bedminster, N.J., on Thursday, attendees thought he seemed somewhat tired.
For the public, though, the scale of Trump’s illness only became apparent Friday afternoon, when the White House announced that the president would be headed to Walter Reed for several days. Since the diagnosis was made public early that morning, there were competing claims about how the virus was affecting Trump, leading to a sense that his condition might be worsening. To some extent, though, that’s a function of misleading claims from people not necessarily in a position to know. The administration’s message was fairly consistent — but that, too, should be taken with a grain of salt.
Here’s how the cascade of messaging played out.
12:54 a.m. Trump tweets confirmation of the diagnosis, without conveying any information about how he and the first lady, who also tested positive, were feeling.
1:05 a.m. White House physician Sean Conley provides a statement released by the administration. In it, he states that the president and first lady were doing “well at this time.”
1:27 a.m. The first lady tweets that she and her husband are “feeling good.”
4:31 a.m. Unexpectedly, Trump’s former physician, Ronny Jackson, weighs in on Twitter. The president and first lady, he writes, are “both fine and completely asymptotic [sic].” He doesn’t indicate how he is aware of this information.
Around 6:45 a.m. Jackson appears on “Fox and Friends,” where he repeats his assertions about Trump’s condition.
“He’s asymptomatic right now,” Jackson says. “And I think that’s great. I think he’s going to continue to be asymptomatic.”
Around 9:15 a.m. Scott Atlas, a radiologist who Trump tapped to assist on the coronavirus response after seeing him interviewed on Fox News, tells the network that no one should worry about the president’s health.
“This is a widespread, highly contagious infection,” Atlas said of the virus broadly, “and this is going to be very mild or asymptomatic for the overwhelming majority of people, especially if you’re a healthy person.”
He assures the Fox News audience that there is “zero reason to panic.”
Around 10:50 a.m. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows offers the first assessment directly from the White House team. The president, he said, had “mild symptoms,” without getting into details.
Around 12:15 p.m. In a conference call with governors that was supposed to have been led by Trump, Vice President Pence assures listeners that the president was all right.
“They are both well at this time,“ he said of Trump and the first lady, ”and will remain at the White House.”
The subject of the call, coincidentally, was support systems for seniors during the coronavirus pandemic.
Around 3 p.m. In another interview on Fox News, Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that Trump had a “very moderate case” of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“Apparently he’s doing just fine,” he added.
Around 4:15 p.m. Conley writes another memo documenting Trump’s treatment. He indicates that the president has received an experimental treatment of a “polyclonal antibody therapy” and that Trump “remains fatigued but in good spirits.” The first lady remained well with “only a mild cough and a headache,” he added.
Around 4:40 p.m. The New York Times reports hearing from two sources that Trump’s symptoms included “a low-grade fever, nasal congestion and a cough.”
5:13 p.m. The White House publicly announces that Trump will be transferred to Walter Reed.
Trump “remains in good spirits, has mild symptoms, and has been working throughout the day,” the statement from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany states.
Around 6:15 p.m. Speaking to ABC News, Donald Trump Jr. confirms that his father feels “a little tired.”
6:31 p.m. Trump tweets out a video recorded before he left the White House. In it, he explains that he’s going to Walter Reed.
“I think I’m doing very well,” he says, “but we’re going to make sure that things work out.”
Again, though, both Trump’s and the White House’s assertions should be considered with skepticism.