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Why is President Trump taking dexamethasone for the coronavirus?

Medical trials have shown that dexamethasone has led to higher survivability rate of coronavirus patients who are also receiving some respiratory support, according to the NIH.

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Dr. Brian Garibaldi, talks with reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Bethesda, Md.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump has received several medical treatments since he began receiving care for the novel coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday. One of those treatments is the steroid dexamethasone.

On Sunday, Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, said Trump had experienced “two episodes of transient drops in his oxygen saturation” and the medical team determined to treat the president with dexamethasone.

“He received his first dose of that yesterday and our plan is to continue that for the time being,” said Dr. Brian Garibaldi at a Sunday press conference about the president’s health.

Garibaldi is a the medical director of the biocontainment unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He is expert in acute lung injury, biocontainment, interstitial lung disease and pulmonary and critical care medicine, according to Johns Hopkins.

The president had also received a second infusion of a five-day course of intravenous remdesivir — an experimental drug shown to shorten the recovery time of pandemic patients — on Saturday evening, Garibaldi said.

Conley said the president received supplemental oxygen for “about an hour, maybe” at the White House Friday before leaving for Walter Reed.

What is dexamethasone?

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that “works on the immune system to help relieve swelling, redness, itching and allergic reactions,” writes the Mayo Clinic.

Dexamethasone has a variety of “anti-inflammatory” (reduces swelling) and “immunosuppressant” (diminishes the body’s natural immune system responses) effects, according to the World Health Organization.

Test results from the University of Oxford’s coronavirus “RECOVERY” trial (Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy) found earlier this year that hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who received dexamethasone showed a lower mortality rate.

But there was a catch.

“This benefit was observed in patients who required supplemental oxygen at enrollment,” according the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institute of Health and the RECOVERY trial. “No benefit of dexamethasone was seen in patients who did not require supplemental oxygen at enrollment.”

On Monday, Conley said the president received supplemental oxygen Saturday, The Wall Street Journal reported. The president’s physician had not disclosed that detail on Sunday.

The WHO has said that dexamethasone is “generally safe” and “not associated with serious side effects” in short term use.

Fox New reported that the WHO does not recommend dexamethasone in non-severe cases and that the NIH recommends the steroid for coronavirus patients that “are on a ventilator or receiving supplemental oxygen.”

On Monday, the team of doctors attending to Trump announced he would return to the White House Monday evening and would continue receiving medical care there.

“Though he may not entirely be out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations, and most importantly his clinical status, support the president’s safe return home,” Conley said,