President Donald Trump’s aides were preparing for him to return to the Oval Office on Wednesday, an eventuality one senior official seemed to believe was so inevitable he mistakenly claimed it already happened.
After Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said in an interview that Trump had been working from the Oval Office a day after returning from the hospital, the White House quickly clarified the President remained isolated in his residence.
But few seemed to think that would last much longer, even though he is carrying an active case of coronavirus. In a new memo released midday Wednesday, Trump’s doctor relayed the President saying “I feel great!” and reported he had been symptom-free for 24 hours. But the memo declined again to provide critical information such as when Trump last tested negative, what his lung scans show and whether he is still on the steroid dexamethasone or any other medications that could be masking his symptoms.
Trump’s “schedule right now is fluid, we’re looking at his prognosis,” chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters at the White House. “If he decides to go to the Oval, we’ve got safety protocols there.”
Indeed, preparations have been made for Trump’s eventual return to the Oval Office, including positioning a so-called “isolation cart” stocked with yellow medical gowns, respirator masks and plastic goggles required for visitors just outside the office doors near where Trump’s assistants sit.
Trump made phone calls and spoke with aides mostly from his third-floor quarters on Tuesday but did tape a video from downstairs where offices were set up for him next to the medical suite. The video hadn’t been released by Wednesday morning, nor had the White House distributed any photos of the President after his return from Walter Reed hospital.
Trump’s intent on returning to his office had some senior officials convinced he already had.
“The President actually showed up in the Oval Office yesterday with extra precautions with respect to his Covid-19,” Kudlow said Wednesday in an interview on CNBC. “He’s getting a lot better, he’s a lot strong. So there was some limited activity.”
Kudlow’s account was entirely different than Meadows’, who was speaking simultaneously at the White House. The White House insisted Kudlow misspoke and that Trump remained in the White House residence.
All except Trump’s senior-most aides are mostly in the dark about his health status beyond what his doctor released publicly. While he seemed short of breath at times on Monday night, people said he seemed somewhat better on Tuesday, though few actually saw him in person.
In his memo on Wednesday, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley wrote Trump “has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization” and said he has been “fever-free for more than 4 days,” but did not say whether Trump was currently receiving any medications which could lower a fever.
Trump’s labs, he said, “demonstrated detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies from labs drawn Monday.”
Over the weekend, Trump’s physician said days seven to 10 after Trump’s diagnosis could be the most critical, a window that seemed to open on Wednesday. The White House continued to refuse to disclose when Trump last tested negative for coronavirus, throwing into doubt the extensive testing regimen they had long pointed to as their main protection against the virus.
It also wasn’t clear which drugs the President continues to take. He was due to receive his final dose of remdesivir on Tuesday night at the White House but it wasn’t known if he remains on a steroid, which some inside the building have openly speculated could be altering his mood.
Any aide who comes near Trump is required to don protective garb, according to a person familiar with the matter. It has given the White House residence the feeling of a sci-fi movie, one person said, as aides, staff and Secret Service personnel who need to come near Trump suit up to protect themselves.
Trump could make his way back to the West Wing as early as Wednesday if he has his way. He has raised the possibility of working from the Oval Office instead of the rooms that have been arranged for him on the lower level of the executive mansion, saying he feels ready to go back.
If he does, he will find the hallways and offices around him more vacant than when he left. The President’s staff has largely moved to working from home because so many of them have tested positive for coronavirus.
More than 15 members of Trump’s staff or inner-circle have tested positive in recent days, including his wife, senior adviser, press secretary, campaign manager, former counselor, personal assistant, four press aides, three Republican senators and a member of the military who directly serves the President.
Stephen Miller, Trump’s immigration adviser and speechwriter, said he tested positive Tuesday and was entering isolation. He is one of several people who had helped Trump prepare for last week’s presidential debate who have now tested positive, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
It was unclear when the White House or the President would release the video remarks he taped on Tuesday, whose themes were similar to those in the video Trump recorded Monday night, a person familiar with the taping told CNN.
The atmosphere inside the White House was described by one official as “chaotic,” largely because many people were working remotely and the President was calling the shots.