Trump Calls Contracting the Coronavirus ‘a Blessing From God’
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President Trump on Wednesday released a direct-to-camera video address to the nation in which he called getting the coronavirus “a blessing from God,” calling the unapproved drug a “cure” and saying he would provide hundreds of thousands of doses of unapproved drugs to Americans free of charge.
“I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it,” Mr. Trump said in the nearly five-minute video, released after nearly two days out of public view and just over three hours before Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to debate the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris of California.
In a video that was supposed to have been released a day earlier, Mr. Trump explained that he considered getting ill with a virus that has killed more than one million people, including more than 211,000 Americans, to be such a “blessing” because he ended up taking an experimental antibody cocktail, still in clinical trials, that is produced by Regeneron.
“To me it wasn’t therapeutic — it just made me better, OK? I call that a cure,” said Mr. Trump, whose skin appeared darkened by makeup and who appeared to struggle to get air at times. He then said everyone should have access to the not-yet-approved drug for “free” and that he would make sure it was in every hospital as soon as possible. He claimed to have personally chosen the drug as part of his treatment.
“I feel great — I feel, like, perfect,” Mr. Trump declared.
It was the first time that Mr. Trump has acknowledged receiving care that isn’t available to any member of the general public after he said early Friday morning that he had tested positive for the virus.
Mr. Trump did not provide any details on how he would speed the distribution of the drug, other than referring to the military and saying they could help. Regeneron has received more than $500 million from the federal government to develop and manufacture its experimental treatment as part of “Operation Warp Speed,” the federal effort to come up with viable vaccines and treatments for the virus, in order to help distribute it once it is available.
“These are great professionals, they’ve done a fantastic job,” he said of the medical professionals who cared for him. That includes Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, who said at a press briefing two days ago that it wouldn’t be clear that Mr. Trump is “out of the woods” for another week, given the typical course of the illness.
He began the video by saying, “Perhaps you recognize me, it’s your favorite president.” He ended the video by saying, “Good luck.”
The video was released a day after aides scrapped a possible live nationwide address by Mr. Trump to show him firmly in command after he had returned to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received treatment for Covid-19.
The president has been desperate to announce some kind of definitive treatment, or a vaccine, ahead of the Nov. 3 election, in which nearly all polls show him trailing Mr. Biden nationally. and in key states.
The Regeneron antibody cocktail is not the only drug that Mr. Trump was prescribed. He has also been taking the antiviral drug remdesivir, as well as the dexamethasone, a steroid that the World Health Organization and National Institutes of Health only recommend for people suffering from severe or critical cases of Covid-19.
Doctors have declined to say what other medications Mr. Trump is taking as he fights off the virus.
It is impossible to know if the treatment has cured the president or even if he has beaten the disease. Most people with Covid-19 eventually recover, and medical experts have also said that Mr. Trump is most likely still battling it. Dexamethasone, which Mr. Trump first received on Saturday, is known to create a sense of well-being and euphoria in many people who take it, as well as bursts of energy.
Outside medical experts have said the next week will be pivotal because many patients who do poorly take a turn for the worse in the second week after symptoms arise.
With the federal assistance, Regeneron has said it can produce up to 300,000 doses of the treatment, which is expected to be provided to Americans free of charge. It is one of several similar antibody therapies — another is being developed by Eli Lilly — that seek to give people powerful antibodies in the hopes of boosting their immune response.
But although both companies have reported promising early results, clinical trials are still underway and have not been completed. Although Mr. Trump credited the Regeneron treatment with having improved his illness, there is no way to know if a drug is safe and if it works without testing it in large groups of people, some who receive the drug, and some who get a placebo.
Regeneron and Eli Lilly have said the therapies could be available before the end of the year. Some medical experts have seen the therapies as a sort of bridge until vaccines are available — the infusion of antibodies could be given to people who have been exposed to the virus in order to prevent infection, as well as to people who are still early in the course of the disease.
In his video, Mr. Trump suggested that the treatments could soon be authorized for emergency use, a potentially risky move because it could allow the treatments to become widely used before they have been proven to work. Broader access to the drugs could then jeopardize enrollment in clinical trials, because people may be reluctant to participate if there is a chance they could receive a placebo.
Similar concerns were raised after the Food and Drug Administration created a broad access program for a similar therapy, known as convalescent plasma. Enrollment in trials of plasma sputtered in part because doctors and hospitals could gain access to the treatment through the F.D.A. program. As a result, it is still unclear if convalescent plasma is effective in treatment of Covid-19, even though the F.D.A. approved it for emergency use over the summer after Mr. Trump pressured the agency to do so.
Monoclonal antibodies like the ones that Regeneron is developing are difficult and expensive to manufacture, and some have raised questions about whether the companies will be able to make enough to meet global demand if they are proven to work. In August, the company announced it was teaming up with a larger company, Roche, to ramp up production.
After tweeting with gusto throughout the morning, President Trump returned to the Oval Office on Wednesday for updates on a storm approaching the southern United States and the stimulus talks with Congress.
In tweets on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Trump said that he had been briefed on Hurricane Delta and that he had spoken with Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas about the storm, and also that he had talked with the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who endured his own serious battle with Covid-19 in April.
Advisers were exploring the idea of resuming travel events for Mr. Trump next week, two people close to the White House said.
TRUMP campaign is exploring having him hold an event (not a rally) in Pittsburgh on Monday, per 3 ppl familiar with the discussions. They’re setting up possible travel plans for him all week, with later in the week seeming more solid.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) October 7, 2020
The president’s return to the Oval Office came despite his infection with the coronavirus and after White House aides had offered conflicting statements about whether he had gone there a day earlier instead of staying ensconced in the presidential residence.
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said Wednesday morning that Mr. Trump wanted to start working out of the Oval Office and that precautions had been put in place to allow him to. But there was no indication that he had actually been there already, as aides said he was in the residence on Tuesday.
A few moments later, Larry Kudlow, the president’s economic adviser, said in an interview on CNBC that the president had been in the Oval Office the day before.
That prompted Ben Williamson, a senior adviser in the White House who works closely with Mr. Meadows, to write on Twitter: “While the President wanted to be in the Oval Office yesterday, he was not there — he stayed back in the residence working from there. Safety preparations have been underway in the event he moves to working out of the Oval in the coming days.”
The person in charge of the White House security office contracted a severe case of the coronavirus last month and has been hospitalized ever since, according to an administration official with knowledge of the situation.
The security office head, Crede Bailey, whose office handles a number of duties, including approving certain security clearances, coordinating with the Secret Service and handling credentials for people to be able to come onto the White House grounds, was taken to the hospital in late September, the administration official said.
Bloomberg News previously reported on the situation.
Mr. Bailey’s case is not seen as connected to an outbreak that officials believe stemmed from the Sept. 26 events at the White House honoring Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Still, the case, and another positive test involving the No. 2 official in the Marine Corps that was revealed on Wednesday, is an additional reminder of how pervasive the virus has become at the most famous, and protected, address in the country over the past several weeks.
The corps announced the positive test of Gen. Gary L. Thomas, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, in a statement. General Thomas was among the group of senior military leaders who have been quarantining after they were exposed to the virus during a visit to the White House on Sept. 27 for a reception for Gold Star families. The event was also attended by Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that Adm. Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, had tested positive. Admiral Ray also attended the White House reception, Defense Department officials said.
Nearly every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is now in quarantine in their homes or in other locations, officials said, after having contact with people who have tested positive.
President Trump is symptom-free, has required no supplemental oxygen and says he is feeling “great,” according to a statement released on Wednesday by the White House physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley.
But he offered no further details about Mr. Trump’s treatment, including whether he was still taking a steroid treatment to treat the disease.
In addition, Dr. Conley’s statement that a test on Monday revealed that Mr. Trump had antibodies to the coronavirus was immediately questioned by immunologists, who said the results were virtually meaningless given that only days earlier, the president had received a large dose of an experimental antibody cocktail that would show up in his bloodstream.
“It doesn’t give us a lot of information, and it doesn’t make much sense,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona.
In the letter, Dr. Conley noted that an antibody test conducted on Mr. Trump “late Thursday night” showed no detectable antibody levels. A subsequent test, drawn on Monday, the day Mr. Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, did show detectable levels of immunoglobulin G, the antibody created by the body’s immune system to fight the virus.
On Friday, Mr. Trump received an infusion of a treatment that is still being tested in clinical trials. The cocktail, made by Regeneron, is thought to help the body mount an immune response by providing an infusion of powerful antibodies.
Hala Mirza, a spokeswoman for Regeneron, said most of the standard tests for so-called IgG antibodies would not distinguish between ones that the body produced on its own and the ones that were made by Regeneron. “Given the volume of IgG antibodies delivered in our therapy, and the timing of these tests, it is likely that the second test is detecting” the Regeneron antibodies, she said.
Ms. Mirza said that early data released late last month showed “the patients most likely to benefit from this treatment have a similar profile to President Trump,” in that they had undetectable antibodies and were early in the course of their disease.
Dr. Bhattacharya said the results that Dr. Conley shared wouldn’t shed much light on Mr. Trump’s condition. “The way that it’s implied is that he’s made a normal immune response, but I don’t see how you would be able to tell the difference,” he said.
As a result, it was not immediately clear what the results of a test taken two days earlier meant in terms of Mr. Trump’s initial diagnosis, the course of his illness or his fitness to resume a regular work or campaign schedule.
Even if Mr. Trump had developed his own antibodies, Angela Rasmussen, a virologist from Columbia University, said, the results are “consistent with what we would expect for immune responses,” and the appearance antibodies “is within the normal time frame that you’d expect to see IgG start to go up.” These antibodies, she said, are more likely than other types to neutralize the virus.
“This is almost a guaranteed way of putting out good news,” Dr. Rasmussen said.
Questions have persisted about the timing of Mr. Trump’s infection and whether he was contagious during his debate with Joseph R. Biden Jr. last week. Dr. Conley has declined to say when Mr. Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus, and the White House has acknowledged that the president was not tested every day.
Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, said the fact that Mr. Trump had no detectable antibodies on Thursday does not shed much new light on when he was infected. She pointed to a study from April that found most people develop antibodies eight to 14 days after infection. She said the earliest that antibodies have been detected is about five days, “so it narrows it down, but doesn’t define the infection day.”
The brief note marked the second consecutive day that Mr. Trump’s medical team did not hold a question-and-answer session with reporters. The note from Dr. Conley did not provide other medical updates, such as whether he is continuing to take the steroid dexamethasone, and whether he has completed his course of remdesivir, an experimental antiviral treatment.
Doctors have said that Mr. Trump’s medical team has provided an incomplete picture of his health since his infection, declining to provide the results of chest X-rays or lung scans that could give a better sense of how sick he is.
For days, Mr. Trump has said he was “feeling great,” but several experts in Covid-19 said that he is entering a pivotal phase in the disease where some patients take a turn for the worse. Dr. Conley said Monday that Mr. Trump was not “out of the woods” and that his team would breathe a sigh of relief if he continued to do well through next Monday.
Most people returning home from a stay in the hospital — especially people struggling with Covid-19 — use the time to rest and recuperate. But on Wednesday morning, President Trump made it clear, in an extraordinary burst of Twitter posts, frenetic by even his own standards, that he plans to do no such thing.
Mr. Trump, who complained of feeling cooped up during his hospital stay over the weekend, posted at least 50 tweets and retweets from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Eastern, launching attacks on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Senator Kamala Harris; former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama; Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Senator Bernie Sanders; and the journalist Lester Holt — on topics ranging from his unsubstantiated claim that Mr. Obama ordered intelligence agencies to spy on Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016 to predictions that he will win deep-blue California.
He reposted videos of riots, and one of Mrs. Obama that had been altered to include a backdrop of a flaming city street, and repeated his baseless claim that the “DEMOCRAT RUN BALLOT SYSTEM IS CORRUPT,” part of his continuing effort to call into question the integrity of mail-in balloting.
On Wednesday, he even suggested that Mr. Biden, his Democratic rival, “SHOULDN’T BE ALLOWED TO RUN.”
All of it came after an earlier blur of posts on Tuesday that included attacks on his political adversaries, major policy pronouncements and assurances to his followers that he was “FEELING GREAT!”
From the moment Mr. Trump decided to leave Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he has done everything he could to show that he is as active and engaged a president — and presidential candidate — as he was before the diagnosis. He said that he wanted to proceed with his debate with Mr. Biden, scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, and that he was ready to return to the campaign trail.
He appears to be already discussing it: On Wednesday afternoon, when Mr. Trump returned to the Oval Office, his advisers were exploring the idea of resuming travel events for Mr. Trump as soon as next week.
The president’s doctors said that they would know by Monday if Mr. Trump has gone through the worst of the disease, or if this was just a lull, which would not be unusual for the course of Covid-19.
But his eagerness to put his bout with the virus behind him and resume business as usual is understandable: With the election less than a month away, polls on Tuesday and Wednesday showed Mr. Trump trailing.
President Trump pulled the plug on negotiations for another coronavirus relief bill on Tuesday, then he tried to plug it back in, one pin at a time, after vulnerable Republicans decried his actions as self-sabotage that could take them down with him.
Mr. Trump, embracing a long pattern of following an impulsive gesture with a quick walk back, took to Twitter later in the day and again on Wednesday morning to declare that he was open to measures that would send a $1,200 check to taxpayers — and pump $25 billion into the airlines and other industries with big work forces in battleground states.
“I Am Waiting To Sign!” he wrote in a message directed at Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday morning. In the tweet, he included a plea for a measure on stimulus checks that he had sent late Tuesday night.
But Democrats and Republicans have expressed reluctance about one-off measures, even though there were signs of renewed movement on some aspects of the package early Wednesday.
“If I am sent a Stand Alone Bill for Stimulus Checks ($1,200), they will go out to our great people IMMEDIATELY. I am ready to sign right now. Are you listening Nancy?” Mr. Trump had tweeted on Tuesday, referring to Ms. Pelosi, whom he insulted with a degrading nickname a few tweets earlier.
Asked if she would head to the White House in an effort to break a stalemate on the negotiations, Ms. Pelosi, speaking on ABC’s “The View,” said: “I don’t want to go anywhere near the White House. It’s one of the most dangerous places in the country, both in terms of the assault that it makes on truth as well as health.”
The president, who takes scant interest in the details of policymaking, has not been a key player in the talks up to this point. Congressional aides said early Wednesday that conversations between Ms. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were likely to quietly resume regardless of what the president says in public.
And Mr. Trump is not the only roadblock. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, is sour on a comprehensive deal, in part because his conservative members have bailout fatigue, according to several congressional aides familiar with the situation.
But endangered Republicans, led by Senator Susan Collins of Maine — who is facing the toughest re-election challenge of her career — are pressuring him to do something quickly.
“Waiting until after the election to reach an agreement on the next Covid-19 relief package is a huge mistake,” Ms. Collins told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
In a memo titled “Precautions and POTUS Interactions” sent around the White House this week, staff members were warned about what to do when interacting with the president, including acquiring personal protective equipment from an “Isolation Cart.”
Staff members are to go to the Oval Office or the residence on the second floor, where the first family lives, only if they are requested to go and expected to be there. If staff members are not in close contact with President Trump, meaning they’re more than six feet away from him, only a “surgical mask” and hand sanitizer are required, according to the memo from the White House Management Office, which was reviewed by a New York Times reporter.
But within six feet, people must use sanitizer and “remove any outer garments,” according to the memo. “Ensure you are wearing the following Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE is provided in the Isolation Cart” that’s located “in the foyer area of the second floor residence and the outer Oval Office,” the memo stated.
The memo listed the types of equipment, including, “Yellow gown,” “Surgical mask,” “Protective eye wear” and “Gloves.”
Upon exiting, people are instructed to remove gowns and gloves and put them in a trash receptacle next to the cart, clean the eye shields with wipes that are provided and save them for future use, and then wash hands or use sanitizer.
An incumbent president has a terrible first debate.
His running mate steps up to deliver a solid performance in the vice-presidential debate to put the ticket back on track.
The president, buoyed, wins his second debate. Victory ensues.
This is pretty much the scenario President Trump has in mind on the eve of Vice President Mike Pence’s consequential face-off against Senator Kamala Harris on Wednesday. And it was the animating motive behind his decision Tuesday to announce he would debate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Miami, even though Mr. Trump might still be sick and contagious.
It also happens to be exactly what happened in 2012 when President Barack Obama — Mr. Trump’s forever foil — rebounded from his low-energy first debate against Mitt Romney after Mr. Biden held the line during his sparring match with Paul Ryan.
If the current president’s to-do list is identical to Mr. Obama’s, he has dug himself a much deeper hole, and this was before contracting an unpredictable, disruptive and dangerous virus.
Mr. Obama came into the 2012 campaign facing a similar political situation as Mr. Trump was before the pandemic. Both men are what operatives call a “high-floor, low-ceiling” candidate, with a bedrock of support in the 42 percent to 46 percent range, and opposition frozen at roughly the same level.
Their similarities end there.
Mr. Pence, a Republican veteran who has prepared for his debate (unlike Mr. Trump), is perhaps the most predictable factor on the president’s side, but nearly everything else is up in the air.
Mr. Obama faced the serious headwinds of a sluggish economic recovery — and the tempest of the Tea Party uprising — but his troubles were dwarfed by the coronavirus crisis and the popular backlash against Mr. Trump’s management of the federal response.
The polls tightened in 2012 after Mr. Obama’s lackluster showing at the first debate that year in Denver, but he held on to his narrow edge even on the eve of a much better second debate. Mr. Trump has been tanking in recent national polls since his disastrous first debate, and has been heading in one direction since the debates in the battleground states: down.
Still, one of the fundamental differences between the two men is the way they relate to the people around them.
Mr. Obama could be aloof and snippy with his staff, but he was ultimately coachable. His former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was brought back into the fold during the debates, in part, because he did not mind telling the president he had done a lousy job, and Mr. Obama eventually internalized his team’s critiques.
Mr. Trump is a very different kind of manager. In any case, nearly all of his top advisers have now contracted the virus and will not be in his immediate presence for the foreseeable future.
Late Tuesday, came the news that Stephen Miller, a speechwriter and immigration hard-liner — the aide who best channels Mr. Trump in prose and policy, tested positive for Covid-19.
President Trump is fighting a virus that has afflicted hundreds of thousands of Americans, but almost nothing about his gold-plated treatment reflects the reality of regular patients.
Mr. Trump spent three days in his own private suite in the hospital. He arrived and left by helicopter. And he received multiple coronavirus tests, oxygen, steroids and an experimental antibody treatment available to a fraction of the population.
When he emerged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center this week, he appeared on a balcony at the White House, tore off his mask, and proclaimed on Twitter that the public — often saddled with unexpected medical bills for less personalized treatment — should not “be afraid of Covid.”
For someone who isn’t president, the stay would have cost more than $100,000 in the American health system. And the biggest financial risks for people not enjoying blanket subsidized coverage paid by taxpayers would come not from the hospital stay but from ancillary services, including helicopter transit and repeated coronavirus testing.
Prudencio Matias Mendoza’s brother, Mariano, died from the coronavirus in late July, and in the past week, Mr. Matias Mendoza, 38, has been following Mr. Trump’s bout with the virus.
He supports some of the president’s policies. But he could not help but feel angry to see Mr. Trump and other officials ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing mandates.
“The president is not a god,” Mr. Matias Mendoza said. “Everyone has to do their part. This is a virus that comes to kill.”
A woman in Brooklyn was reminded of the $4,000 she was charged for medication for her father, who eventually died from the coronavirus, as she observed Mr. Trump’s treatment.
And one man in Texas said he understood why the president of the United States would have top-flight doctors, but could not help comparing the place where Mr. Trump was treated with the facility where his 87-year-old mother became sick and died.
Health economists are only starting to understand the full costs of coronavirus treatment; Many, but not all, health insurers have said they will not apply co-payments or deductibles to patients’ coronavirus hospital stays, which could help shield patients from large bills.
Uninsured patients, however, could be stuck with the entire hospital charge and not receive any discounts. While the Trump administration did set up a fund to cover coronavirus testing and treatment costs for the uninsured, The Times has reported that Americans without health insurance have received large bills for their hospital stays.
Mr. Trump so far seems to have benefited not only from power, money and access to first-class medical treatment, but also timing. He caught the virus seven months into the pandemic, after the country had built up supplies and doctors had honed their understanding of the disease.
One of his treatments, the steroid dexamethasone, was not used widely to treat patients at the beginning of the pandemic and was not adopted by some hospital officials in the United States until this summer.