Trump Took Steroid as Oxygen Levels Dropped, Doctors Say

WASHINGTON—Doctors said President Trump’s condition was improving on Sunday, two days after he checked into the hospital, though they also noted that his blood oxygen level had dropped on Saturday and that he was taking a steroid that has typically been given to Covid-19 patients who are seriously ill.

Doctors said on Sunday the president could be sent back to the White House as soon as Monday, as they sought to clarify his condition after several days of contradictory information from doctors and advisers. Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, said at a news conference on Sunday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that Mr. Trump’s condition “continues to improve.” But he also said Mr. Trump’s symptoms had been serious, adding that he tried to provide an “upbeat” assessment in a Saturday briefing.

Dr. Conley said the president experienced two drops in oxygen saturation levels. Late Friday morning, before he was admitted to the hospital, it dropped below 94%, and he was given supplemental oxygen for about an hour. He experienced a high fever at the time, Dr. Conley said, without specifying his temperature. The 74-year-old president’s oxygen level also dropped on Saturday, this time to about 93%, his physicians said.

A mildly obese patient of Mr. Trump’s age with oxygen saturation below 94% would typically be given supplemental oxygen for a half or full day and would be monitored to see if levels return to normal, said Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist and professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco. Normal blood oxygen saturation levels range between 95% and 100%.

Dr. Conley didn’t offer a clear answer when pressed about whether Mr. Trump required supplemental oxygen on Saturday, saying: “I’d have to check with the nursing staff. I don’t think—if he did, it was very limited.” He also declined to elaborate on what the doctors’ examinations of the president’s lungs had found. The White House didn’t respond to follow-up inquiries.

Raising additional questions about Mr. Trump’s condition, the president’s doctors said he had been treated with dexamethasone. The generic drug is a commonly used steroid that has been shown to help severely ill Covid-19 patients. The World Health Organization issued updated guidelines last month recommending steroid treatment in patients with severe or critical Covid-19, including patients with difficulty breathing and those requiring oxygen support with a ventilator or face mask. The WHO recommended not to use steroids in treating patients with nonsevere Covid-19.

Mr. Trump also has also taken

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s

experimental antibody drug cocktail, and he is currently on a five-day course of the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has been authorized for treatment of hospitalized Covid-19 patients.

Doctors also said Sunday that the president’s vital signs were stable, he wasn’t experiencing shortness of breath, and he has been fever-free since Friday.

Mr. Trump, in a video message posted to Twitter on Sunday evening, said he would make a “little surprise visit” to his supporters gathered outside Walter Reed. “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-books school. And I get it and I understand it,” he said on the video.

Shortly after the message was posted to Twitter, videos posted online showed Mr. Trump, wearing a black mask, riding in the back of an SUV and waving to supporters gathered outside the hospital.

“President Trump took a short, last-minute motorcade ride to wave to his supporters outside and has now returned to the Presidential Suite inside Walter Reed,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

Asked Sunday why he didn’t offer the more serious details about the president’s condition the day before, Dr. Conley said: “I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, that the president, through this course of illness, has had. I didn’t want to give any information that would steer the course of illness in another direction and in doing so it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”

An email went out to White House staff Sunday evening, telling staffers to stay home if they are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, said a person familiar with the email. The email said, “If you or your colleagues feel you should be practicing telework or have questions about your ability to do so, please contact your supervisor.”

Mr. Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis might complicate the process of confirming a new Supreme Court nominee and by taking the GOP president off the trail has further scrambled the presidential campaign with just 30 days until Election Day. It also has generated fresh anxiety about the virus that to date has claimed about 209,000 lives in the U.S. White House officials and the president’s supporters have said Mr. Trump continues to conduct his presidential duties, despite his illness.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was tested for Covid-19 Sunday and was negative, his campaign said.

Mr. Trump addressed the public in a four-minute video posted to Twitter on Saturday, saying he was feeling much better and added that he wants to recover quickly so he can finish the presidential campaign. The president said he had no choice but to be out in public during the pandemic, explaining that he was willing to take the risk of contracting the coronavirus to continue leading the country. “I can’t be locked up in a room upstairs,” he said.

Fault Line

Some people close to President Trump tested positive for Covid-19, and others negative. Here is a list of key officials.


  • President Trump
  • First lady Melania Trump
  • White House adviser Hope Hicks
  • RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel
  • Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien
  • Former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway


  • Vice President Mike Pence
  • Chief of staff Mark Meadows
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar
  • Attorney General William Barr
  • White House adviser Dan Scavino
  • White House adviser Jared Kushner
  • White House adviser Ivanka Trump
  • Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany
  • Source: White House, Justice Department, HHS, Treasury

Mr. Trump tweeted from Walter Reed Sunday afternoon: “I really appreciate all of the fans and supporters outside of the hospital. The fact is, they really love our Country and are seeing how we are MAKING IT GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!”

White House aides said Mr. Trump was continuing to work. “I spoke with the President. President Trump is fully engaged and fully in charge,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany wrote in an email. The president was scheduled to receive a national-security briefing from Walter Reed on Sunday, officials said. The White House also distributed photographs that it said showed Mr. Trump working from Walter Reed.

Asked what the president’s treatment might look like at the White House, communications director Alyssa Farah said Sunday that there was a “fully operating medical team” at the White House, saying, “There’s a lot we can do from the White House, the residence.”

White House national-security adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday that the administration isn’t taking steps to transfer power to Vice President Mike Pence. “No, that’s not something that’s on the table at this point,” he said on CBS News. He added later, “I’m not going to address hypotheticals, but we have plans for everything.” Mr. O’Brien said wearing masks is now mandatory in the West Wing. It had previously been voluntary throughout the pandemic.

Mr. O’Brien also warned against any attempt by U.S. rivals to take advantage of a situation that security experts said presents a fertile ground for interference and disinformation. “I think our adversaries know that the United States government is steady at the tiller and that we’re protecting the American people,” he said.

The president and his senior advisers sought to keep a close hold on the early positive test results among White House staff, and some in the Trump administration have privately expressed frustration that information hasn’t been shared more widely. Mr. Trump didn’t disclose a positive result from a rapid test for Covid-19 on Thursday while awaiting the findings from a more thorough coronavirus screening, according to people familiar with the matter. He was admitted to Walter Reed on Friday.

If the president’s condition were to worsen, he could temporarily transfer power to Mr. Pence under the 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967. Such a transfer has happened only three times in U.S. history, when then-presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies. Power wasn’t formally transferred when Mr. Reagan was shot and had to undergo emergency surgery in 1981.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who is second in line for the presidency, said Sunday on “Face the Nation” that she was receiving her information on the president’s health from the media, not through any formal briefings.

On Sunday, Trump campaign aide Jason Miller said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he had spoken with the president Saturday, describing him in “very good spirits.”

“The president said a couple of things,” said Mr. Miller. “Number one, that he’s going to defeat this virus, that as a nation we’re going to defeat this virus and our campaign is going to defeat this virus.”

As Mr. Trump canceled trips to Florida and Wisconsin, it remained unclear when—or if—he would be able to return to the campaign trail and whether he would be able to participate in the remaining two debates with his Democratic rival.

Leaders Who Have Had Covid-19

A number of presidents and prime ministers have contracted the new coronavirus since the pandemic began.

President: Donald Trump

Age: 74, Hospitalized

Total Covid-19 cases: 7,277,759

Total Covid-19 deaths: 207,789

President: Jair Bolsonaro

Age: 65

Total Covid-19 cases: 4,847,092

Total Covid-19 deaths: 144,680

Prime Minister: Mikhail Mishustin

Age: 54, Hospitalized

Total Covid-19 cases: 1,179,634

Total Covid-19 deaths: 20,796

Prime Minister: Boris Johnson

Age: 56, Hospitalized

Total Covid-19 cases: 460,178

Total Covid-19 deaths: 42,202

Interim president:

Jeanine Áñez Chávez

Age: 53

Total Covid-19 cases: 135,716

Total Covid-19 deaths: 8,001

President: Luis Abinader

Age: 53

Total Covid-19 cases: 112,728

Total Covid-19 deaths: 2,108

President: Alejandro Giammattei

Age: 64

Total Covid-19 cases: 92,409

Total Covid-19 deaths: 3,261

President: Alexander Lukashenko

Age: 66

Total Covid-19 cases: 79,019

Total Covid-19 deaths: 839

President: Juan Orlando Hernández

Age: 51, Hospitalized

Total Covid-19 cases: 77,598

Total Covid-19 deaths: 2.380

Prime Minsiter: Nikol Pashinyan

Age: 45

Total Covid-19 cases: 50,850

Total Covid-19 deaths: 963

Mr. Biden led the president, 53% to 39%, among registered voters in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, which was conducted in the two days after the debate but before news emerged that Mr. Trump had tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Biden’s 14-point lead compared with an 8-point advantage last month.

Mr. Pence was expected to remain at the U.S. Naval Observatory, his northwest Washington, D.C., residence, until he departs on Monday for Salt Lake City, where he will participate in the vice presidential debate on Wednesday. After the debate, he is scheduled to continue on to Arizona for a campaign rally. The Trump campaign said attendees would be provided with masks that they are encouraged to wear and undergo temperature checks.

At least eight people who were in proximity to Mr. Trump over the past week have tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, including first lady Melania Trump, former senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Mr. Christie checked himself into a hospital on Saturday as a precaution, citing increased risk from the virus as a result of his asthma.

A spokeswoman for the first lady said Saturday that she was doing well and her symptoms haven’t worsened.

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, as well as Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the Rev. John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, also tested positive. Many of those who tested positive attended a Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday where Mr. Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee. The event featured little social distancing or mask usage.

A day after President Trump tweeted that he tested positive for Covid-19, the White House offered conflicting reports on the status of his health, and a growing number of Trump associates also reported infections. WSJ’s Jason Bellini has the latest.


What implications do you see from President Trump’s positive Covid-19 test? Join the conversation below.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at [email protected] and Catherine Lucey at [email protected]

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