4 things we still don’t know about Trump’s COVID-19 battle

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — A White House physician’s comments on Sunday about the health of President Donald Trump amid his coronavirus diagnosis added a new layer of confusion even as the doctor sought to clarify contradictory statements from the day before. And a brief motorcade ride outside the hospital to the cheers of supporters appeared at odds with a patient receiving COVID-19 treatments.

On Monday morning, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows spoke with Trump and told Fox News, “He continued to improve overnight and is ready to get back to a normal working schedule.”

As the president prepares for possible discharge from the hospital, here are a few things we still don’t know about Trump’s medical status:

How serious is his COVID-19 battle?

Trump’s medical team continued to dodge many questions Sunday, such as the specific timing of the president’s dip in oxygen and the impact of the disease on his lungs.

Asked repeatedly about what lung scan tests found and whether there have been any signs of pneumonia or other damage, Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, responded: “We’re tracking all of that. There’s some expected findings but nothing of any major clinical concern.”

Conley also hasn’t specified where Trump is in the “disease course” of COVID-19. Days seven to 10 typically are a time of higher concern, he said.

As far as the drive-by greeting to supporters, CDC guidelines say that, in general, moving a patient with COVID-19 outside his room should be limited to “medically essential purposes.” The outing suggests to the common observer that Trump’s condition is not perilous, but medical authorities note that talk of Trump leaving the hospital for home after only a few days doesn’t square with information about his treatments.

Why does Trump need dexamethasone?

On Sunday, doctors revealed they were giving the president the steroid dexamethasone.

Medical experts warn the drug can tamp down important immune cells, raising concern about whether the treatment choice might hamper the ability of the president’s body to fight the virus.

And giving the steroid drug to a mildly sick patient disregards treatment guidelines from the National Institutes of Health and World Health Organization that say it’s only for people ill enough to need oxygen. For seriously ill people, research shows that once the virus has escaped the immune system, dexamethasone can tamp down the resulting inflammation and save lives.

“If they’re really talking about discharge tomorrow, and he really isn’t on oxygen, then it’s more likely that the dexamethasone is just thrown in there as one more thing that probably isn’t necessary and might not even be helpful,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s chief medical and science officer.

When did the president get sick?

Conley declined to say when Trump had last been tested before Thursday’s test confirmed COVID-19.

How was Trump infected?

There’s no way to know for sure if the September 26 Judge Barrett Rose Garden event, where more than 150 people mingled, hugged and shook hands — overwhelmingly without masks, was the occasion where Trump was exposed. The president had a full week of official and campaign events before his hospitalization Friday.

A third Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, announced his positive test Saturday, and he had not attended Barrett’s nomination kickoff.

The administration says a White House medical team is tracing contacts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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