WASHINGTON — The White House doctor said Saturday night that President Donald Trump is no longer at risk of transmitting the coronavirus, a diagnosis that comes as the president prepares to resume campaign rallies and other activities.
In a memo released by the White House, Navy Cmdr. Dr. Sean Conley said Trump meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for safely discontinuing isolation and that by “currently recognized standards” he is no longer considered a transmission risk.
The memo did not declare Trump as testing negative for the virus. But sensitive lab tests — like the PCR test — detect virus in swab samples taken from the nose and throat. Dr. William Morice, who oversees laboratories at the Mayo Clinic, said earlier his week that using the PCR tests, the president’s medical team could hypothetically measure and track the amount of virus in samples over time and watch the viral load go down.
The memo followed Trump’s first public appearance since returning to the White House after being treated for the coronavirus. Hundreds of people gathered Saturday afternoon on the South Lawn for a Trump address on his support for law enforcement from a White House balcony.
Trump emerged on the balcony wearing a mask and then removed it to address the crowd on the lawn below, his first step back onto the public stage with just more than three weeks to go until Election Day.
His return was a brief one. With bandages visible on his hands, likely from an intravenous injection, Trump spoke for 18 minutes, far less than at his normal hour-plus rallies. He appeared healthy, if perhaps a little hoarse, as he delivered what was, for all intents and purposes, a short version of his campaign speech despite the executive mansion setting.
Though billed as an official event, Trump offered no policy proposals and instead delivered the usual attacks on Democrat Joe Biden while praising law enforcement to a crowd of several hundred. Most in the crowd were wearing masks. There was little evidence of social distancing.
All attendees were required to bring masks or were provided with them, and were given temperature checks and asked to fill out a brief questionnaire.
“I’m feeling great,” said Trump, who said he was thankful for their good wishes and prayers as he recovered. He then declared that the pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans, was “disappearing” even though he is still recovering from the virus.
Trump had hoped to hold campaign rallies this weekend but settled for the White House event. But even as his health remained unclear, he planned to ramp up his travel with a rally in Florida on Monday, followed by trips to Pennsylvania and Iowa on subsequent days.
Security was stepped up around the White House before the event, which was called a “peaceful protest for law & order” and predominantly attended by Black and Latino supporters. Police and the Secret Service closed surrounding streets to vehicles and shut down Lafayette Square, the park near the White House that has long been a gathering place for public protest.
As questions linger about his health — and Democratic opponent Joe Biden steps up his own campaigning — Trump has more frequently called into radio and TV programs to speak with conservative interviewers, hoping to make up for lost time with just over three weeks until Election Day and millions already voting.
Biden’s campaign said he again tested negative on Saturday for COVID-19. Biden was potentially exposed to the coronavirus during his Sept. 29 debate with Trump, who announced his positive diagnosis barely 48 hours after the debate.
The president had not been seen in public — other than in White House-produced videos — since his return five days ago from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received experimental treatments for the coronavirus.
Trump’s Monday event in Sanford, Florida, what he’s described as a “BIG RALLY,” was originally scheduled to be held on Oct. 2, the day after he tested positive. Ahead of his Saturday event, Trump used Twitter to share news articles about problems with mail-in ballots in New Jersey, Ohio and Texas. Trump has repeatedly made claims that universal mail-in voting is beset by widespread fraud.
Trump’s return to public activity came as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, cautioned the White House again to avoid large-scale gatherings of people without masks.
He said of the event honoring Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that led to positive COVID-19 tests for some, “I was not surprised to see a superspreader event given the circumstances.”
That means “crowded, congregate setting, not wearing masks. It is not surprising to see an outbreak,” he said.
District of Columbia virus restrictions prohibit outdoor gatherings larger than 50 people, although that rule has not been strictly enforced. Masks are mandatory outdoors for most people, but the regulations don’t apply on federal land.