President Donald Trump is fine. Everything’s fine. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
After disclosing that he and his wife, Melania, tested positive for covid-19 on Friday, Trump was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he’s remained throughout the weekend. And while he and his team have steadily churned out consolatory updates about his condition, their attempts to downplay his hospitalization have hilariously missed the mark and only sown more suspicion that Trump, a man in one of the age brackets most at risk for severe complications from covid-19, may not be doing so hot right now.
To wit, the White House released two snapshots of the president on Saturday appearing to show him hard at work during his stay, but their metadata tells a different story. Each photo shows Trump in a different outfit and a different room of the hospital, but the EXIF data embedded in the original photos filed to the Associated Press shows they were taken just 10 minutes apart, at 8:25 p.m. and 8:35 p.m. ET respectively, which several folks were quick to point out on Twitter. All of the props Trump’s working in each photo look identical as well, adding to the theory that these are staged shots—and obvious ones at that.
The most damning evidence: When you zoom in on his “work” in one photo, he appears to be signing his own name to an otherwise blank sheet of paper, as White House reporter Andrew Feinberg noted on Twitter. All of this heavily implies that Trump’s not feeling well enough to go about his day-to-day business, because if that were the case, then why the need for such a clearly orchestrated photo op?
A rambling video update Trump pushed out on his personal Twitter on Saturday doesn’t inspire much confidence either. At one point he references unspecified covid-19 treatments in development that “look like they’re miracles coming down from God.” In a jab at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump’s campaign aide Jason Miller tweeted that the video was taken in a single take. However, that also seems unlikely. A Washington Post report points out that about halfway through the video, it looks like two shots were stitched together because his shoulders and the cabinets behind him shift suddenly, implying that there was some (albeit sloppy) sleight of hand involved to make it look like one continuous shot.
The video was apparently in response to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, commenting on the severity of the president’s condition to reporters on Friday. At the time, he described the president’s vitals as “concerning” and said he was “still not on a clear path to a full recovery.” Given that the White House had, until then, been pushing a much rosier narrative, this revelation apparently “infuriated” Trump and prompted him to send out a video to try to showcase his vitality, according to the New York Times.
In a series of weekend updates, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley provided conflicting messages about the president’s health. On Sunday, Conley said Trump’s blood oxygen level plummeted twice in recent days, which administration officials neglected to mention in previous statements. He refused to answer questions about whether lung scans showed any damage or the timing of the president’s second drop in oxygen, and only said that Trump “has continued to improve” since then.
When pressed on the subject, Conley admitted he was being optimistic in his depiction of the president’s condition.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team, that the president, that his course of illness has had. Didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” he said. “And in doing so, came off like we’re trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
To be clear, I’m not saying that Trump quietly succumbed to covid-19 and now his team of physicians is propping him up and parading him around a la Weekend at Bernie’s to convince the American people otherwise. What I am saying, though, is that the White House’s ardent and clearly fabricated attempt to convince everyone that things are hunky-dory and the president’s fine (absolutely fine, finest anyone’s ever been in the history of medicine, ask anyone, they’ll tell ya) is suspicious as hell. And the more they lean into that message, the more the facade crumbles hilariously beneath them.
On Friday, the president had a “high fever” and his blood oxygen level dropped below 94% on Friday and during “another episode” at an unspecified time on Saturday, Conley said. His reading currently stands at 98% as of Sunday afternoon, according to his medical team. Given that covid-19 primarily affects the respiratory system, blood oxygen saturation is a key barometer that physicians use to gauge the health of infected patients. A normal level is between 95 and 100. A drop below 90 would be cause for concern and possibly the use of supplemental oxygen, while a drop below 80 could damage vital organs. White House physicians also said Trump’s received dexamethasone as part of his treatment, a steroid used to control inflammation that’s been found to reduce the risk of death among covid-19 patients who require supplemental oxygen, according to the National Institute of Health.
It remains uncertain how long Trump’s hospital stay will be. White House physicians implied that he could be discharged to the White House as early as tomorrow. In Friday’s video, he said he hoped to “be back soon.” A tweet he sent out on Sunday to thank his supporters didn’t reference his condition.
America has the highest number of covid-19 deaths in the world at more than 209,000, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. The virus has infected more than 7.4 million people in the U.S. and more than 35 million people worldwide.
Update: 10/4/2020, 5:58 p.m.: Ok, this is getting beyond ridiculous at this point. Shortly after 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, Trump tweeted another video update announcing that he planned to make “a surprise visit” to his supporters outside Walter Reed. He offered this totally coherent message as well:
“It’s been an interesting journey,” he said of his hospitalization. “I learned a lot about covid. I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school, this isn’t the ‘let’s read the book’ school, and I get it and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing. And I’m going to be letting you know about it.”
Shortly after, he was seen outside the hospital wearing a mask and waving at onlookers from his presidential SUV. He has since returned to his suite at Walter Reed, according to a White House spokesman per Axios.
The president is apparently so dead set on convincing the American people that he’s not that sick that he would willingly expose his own supporters to a deadly virus. And here I thought this administration didn’t have any surprises left anymore.