Shortly after being discharged from the hospital treating him for the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Monday climbed onto a White House balcony – and then peeled off his mask to salute Marine One as it flew away. After waving, Trump turned to go inside, still maskless.
Following a weekend of mounting horror among medical professionals and commentators fretting over Trump’s handling of his own infection, his actions Monday – particularly removing his mask and walking into a room frequented by White House staff – left them worried and frustrated yet again.
“What White House staffer would still wanna go to work tomorrow???” Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist with the Federation of American Scientists, said in a tweet Monday night. “Epidemiologists just wanna vomit.”
Dozens of medical professionals and commentators echoed Feigl-Ding’s concerns Monday night, slamming the president for posing and then reentering the White House without a mask even though he is still suffering symptoms of covid-19.
Some medical experts were not just concerned for White House staff, but for the president himself.
Ilan Schwartz, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s division of infectious diseases, said the president appeared to be struggling to breathe in a brief clip that showed him standing outside the White House.
“This is a textbook example of increased work of breathing,” Schwartz tweeted.
A White House spokesman responded to Monday’s widespread criticisms, saying the White House is taking “every precaution necessary” to protect the president, his family and staff.
“Physical access to the President will be significantly limited and appropriate PPE will be worn when near him,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email. “President Trump will continue to receive around-the-clock medical care and monitoring from his Physician and a team of dedicated physicians and nurses in the White House Medical Unit who function out of a state-of-the-art clinic, which includes many of the things a person would see in an urgent care clinic and much more, to ensure the Commander-in-Chief makes a full recovery and can continue to discharge his duties.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people diagnosed with covid-19 wait at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms and go at least 24 hours without a fever before having contact with other people. Asymptomatic carriers who test positive for the virus but do not experience symptoms should wait 10 days after their positive test, the CDC says. And those who suffer a severe case of covid-19 may need to isolate longer, up to 20 days after getting sick.
Trump’s maskless moment at the White House and a short drive he took Sunday with several Secret Service agents to greet supporters outside of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center appear to violate those recommendations.
CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta was also among the doctors disturbed by the president’s actions on Monday.
“There is stuff that is pretty reckless, but at some point it’s just becoming absurd,” Gupta said, according to a tweet shared by one of his colleagues at CNN. “A person with known contagious deadly disease – without a mask on – is walking into the residence. Other people are around him.”
The heightened risk of coronavirus for people working within the White House has had many on high-alert as the virus spread quickly among individuals who had close contact with Trump last week. At least 10 people who attended a ceremony in the Rose Garden last week to mark the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett have since tested positive for the virus.
That risk has been particularly concerning for the staff at the White House residence, where Trump and first lady Melania Trump, who has also tested positive for the virus, live. Many of the ushers, butlers, housekeepers, cooks and other employees who work there are older Black and Latino people, The Washington Post reported, which may put them at a higher risk of potentially deadly complications from the virus.
At least two housekeepers have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks, and workers in the residence have been encouraged to use “discretion” in speaking about their exposure to the disease.
The controversial moment when President Trump entered the White House without his mask reverberated beyond the medical community Monday night.
MSNBC host Joy Reid called the president “Typhoid Trump,” a reference to an asymptomatic woman known as “Typhoid Mary,” who unwittingly spread typhoid fever to dozens of people.
“Have to admit I was thrown tonight by the hideous display Trump made of himself tonight, taking his mask off at the White House, with people around whom he could infect,” Reid said in a tweet.