WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday briefly left his hospital room at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he is being treated for Covid-19 to drive by a group of supporters, a move that was swiftly criticized by medical experts and Democrats as "insanity."
The president posted a video to his Twitter account around 5:15 p.m. announcing that he would "pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street." A few minutes later, the presidential motorcade slowly drove by the perimeter of the hospital where a crowd had been gathering since Friday night. Trump was seen through the window of an SUV waving and wearing what appeared to be a cloth mask, as opposed to a more protective N95 mask.
The president does not travel anywhere without Secret Service protection, and Sunday's drive was no exception. At least two other people can be seen in the car with Trump.
Dr. James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, tweeted that the "Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack" and therefore the risk of Covid-19 transmission was "as high as it gets outside of medical procedures."
"Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential 'drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity," he added.
"It makes me sick to see him in close quarters with others in that car," Dr. Esther Choo, an ER physician and professor at Oregon Health and Science University, told MSNBC
Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease expert and New York University professor, accused Trump of "putting the health of others at risk."
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., D-N.J., called the event "a goddamn disgrace" on Twitter.
"To bask in the adulation of a handful of his supporters, trump just endangered the lives of Secret Service agents and others in his entourage," he added.
"It is criminal negligence for @realDonaldTrump to recklessly expose others, said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. "Pray for the Secret Service."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the move in an interview with Fox News, stating that Trump "wanted to thank his supporters" and "give confidence to the American people that their Commander in Chief can get through this" but not respond to questions about safety concerns.
Jason Miller, a top adviser to the Trump campaign, insisted in an interview with CNN that Trump drove by in "a safe way," but was unable to answer questions about what precautions were taken to keep the Secret Service agents safe.
"But we also know Secret Service takes great care of their agents, extra precaution. I'm not part of White House operations or the White House medical unit. So the exact logistics I can't speak to but I know the Secret Service takes this very seriously," Miller said.
When asked about the surprise motorcade, a spokesperson from U.S. secret Service said "We don’t comment on protective operations."
Trump's motorcade drive on Sunday is the latest in a series of efforts by the president and his allies to provide the American public with a rosy picture of his coronavirus diagnosis, often obfuscating the facts around his illness and creating confusion about the state of the president's health.
Trump has posted various videos and pictures of himself working in the presidential suite at Walter Reed. When asked at a press conference earlier Sunday why the president is not wearing a mask in any of these images when presumably someone else was in the room capturing the moment, Dr. Sean Conley, a White House physician, said that the president wore a mask when around the doctors.
"The president wears a mask anytime he's around us and we're all wearing our N95's, full PPE," Conley stated, adding that when the time came to move Trump out of the hospital and into the public, "we'll talk about him wearing a mask."