Journalists and public health experts on Saturday raised questions over the mixed messages coming out of the White House and President Donald Trump's medical team after Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician, told reporters Trump was "72 hours into the diagnosis" of Covid-19.
Observers quickly noted that this would mean the president first tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, the day after the first presidential debate.
Conley says we are 72 hours into the diagnosis. We were told around 1 am on Friday morning that POTUS was positive, which is only 36 hours ago.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) October 3, 2020
The White House needs to clarify the timeline ASAP. If, based on the timeline provided by Dr. Conley, the president was symptomatic on Thursday and had tested positive for COVID-19 72 hours ago and yet carried on with his normal schedule, that would be shocking.
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) October 3, 2020
Doctors say they are 72 hours into Trump’s diagnosis. That would be Weds 11am. Trump announced he had Covid Fri 1am. On Fri evening he said he was being tested. Did he attend a rally in MN on Wed & then a fundraiser in NJ on Thur AFTER his doctor thought he had coronavirus?
— Ali Velshi (@AliVelshi) October 3, 2020
"Did he attend a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday and then a fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday AFTER his doctor thought he had coronavirus?" asked MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi.
An anonymous White House official told the Washington Post shortly after Conley's briefing that the doctor "misspoke," but even the White House's attempts to correct Conley regarding whether Trump was diagnosed 72 hours before the Saturday press conference led to more confusion, as NBC News reported:
Another doctor treating the president, Dr. Brian Garibaldi, said [Trump] had been treated "48 hours" ago—Thursday morning—with antibodies.
But a White House official later disputed the timeline, saying Trump had been diagnosed Thursday night and that the doctors meant Trump was on "day 3," not a full 72 hours in on his diagnosis.
The official also said that the antibody treatment was given later Thursday night, not a full 48 hours ago.
On Saturday afternoon, Conley issued a statement through the White House saying Trump had been diagnosed on Thursday night, and given the antibody treatment on Friday.
"I incorrectly used the term 'seventy-two hours' instead of 'day three' and 'forty eight hours' instead of 'day two' with regards to his diagnosis and the administration of the polyclonal antibody therapy," Conley said in a statement.
Conley wasn't the doctor who said Trump had been given antibodies 48 hours ago, though; Garibaldi said that.
"The problem is that we should know, we should have a better idea of what the actual status is of the president," Dr. Craig Spencer, an emergency medicine physician at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told the Times. "We need more of a scientific update, as opposed to a political one."
The confusion led some Minnesota residents who attended the president's outdoor rally Wednesday night in Duluth to reconsider the gathering in hindsight, the Times reported—"thinking back on how tightly the crowd was spaced, whom they might have spoken to, and whether the coronavirus precautions that organizers had arranged were sufficient."
Other Trump supporters who were in attendance dismissed safety concerns, taking on the attitude the president has publicly displayed for months—despite the fact that he knew as early as February and March that the coronavirus was deadly and highly contagious through airborne transmission.
"We're not mask wearers," one attendee who was standing directly in front of Trump at the rally told the Times.
Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division, advised anyone who came near the president at the Duluth event to get tested for Covid-19.
"There is a potential risk that transmission occurred at the Duluth rally and other events associated with President Trump's visit," Ehresmann said in a statement.
Trump critics wrote on social media that beyond potentially exposing well-connected Republican members of his circle to the virus by holding a White House event last Saturday in honor of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in what has been called a "superspreader event," the president and his team apparently this week exposed hundreds in not thousands of other people with far fewer resources to cope with the disease if they become infected.
The numbers of workers—clerical & domestic, who’ve been exposed by all these people in the past week....Their families, the healthcare workers who’ll be exposed, their families....people who’ll be bankrupted by hc costs, lost wages. The scope of the damage here is unfathomable.
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) October 3, 2020
Its clear that Trump was trying to hide his illness. Then, on Friday, he became so ill that he had to go to the hospital.
He willingly exposed hundreds (possibly thousands) of people to a deadly virus.
HE KNEW. https://t.co/VOgVGxmrZX
— Josh Fox BlackLivesMatter (@joshfoxfilm) October 3, 2020
Regardless of when Trump was diagnosed, some critics said, the president doubtlessly attended a fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey on Thursday after being exposed to his advisor Hope Hicks, who tested positive for Covid-19 that day.
Even if they’re telling the truth about the 72 hours thing, Trump still went to an indoor fundraiser/buffet KNOWING he’d been exposed to Hope Hicks.
To me this is the most damning part of this entire story.
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) October 3, 2020
Here’s the real story: Trump knowingly exposed people to Covid after learning he’d been exposed. He should’ve quarantined immediately. This is a judgment issue, a fitness to lead issue & Trump failed the test. https://t.co/GEbQ2btoGm
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) October 2, 2020
"This is a judgment issue, a fitness to lead issue, and Trump failed the test," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.
Journalist Rebecca Traister tweeted that Trump's approach to the coronavirus crisis as well as a number of other closely-watched political issues during his presidency—with the Washington Post counting more than 20,000 false or misleading statements since he took office, as of July—has led to an inability among public health experts and journalists to take the White House's claims about Trump's condition and prognosis at face value.
A thing that happens when you lie compulsively for years, including about the terrible disease that — no matter the timeline of this week — you have negligently permitted to spread, leaving millions sick, impoverished, grieving & dead, is that NO ONE FUCKING BELIEVES YOU https://t.co/hb6lDoodwE
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) October 3, 2020
"A thing that happens when you lie compulsively for years," tweeted Traister, "is that NO ONE FUCKING BELIEVES YOU."