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White House physician Sean Conley held a briefing on Saturday for the first time since President Donald Trump's coronavirus diagnosis. But in it, he evaded many critical questions. Trump, who announced his positive test result on Friday morning, has been at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center since late Friday afternoon. A helicopter airlifted him from the White House, spurring speculation the president's condition was worse than White House officials were revealing. Conley's Saturday press conference did little to assuage that speculation. He wouldn't say whether Trump had at any point received supplemental oxygen, when the president last tested negative, or what temperature his fever reached. Here are seven questions Conley declined to answer, what he said instead, and why the answers are important in gaining a full understanding of Trump's infection. 1. Has there been any sign of lung damage?
Initially, Conley didn't answer this question at all: "We are following all of that. We do daily ultrasounds. We do daily lab work. The team is tracking all of that." But when pressed, Conley added, "I'm not going to go into specifics on what the findings on that are." Why it matters: The coronavirus can cause severe, potentially fatal lung damage. In extreme cases, COVID-19 patients can develop Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a form of lung failure in which air sacs become filled with fluid. ARDS is one of the top causes of death from COVID-19. Non-fatal lung damage, meanwhile, can impact a patient's functioning far beyond the lifespan of the virus. "It can take three months to a year or more for a person's lung function to return to pre-COVID-19 levels," Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary physician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, said, according to the university. 2. What was Trump's temperature? "I'd rather not give any specific numbers, but he did have a fever Thursday into Friday, and since Friday morning he's had none," Conley said. Why it matters: A high fever could indicate a serious case of COVID-19. At exceptionally high temperatures, a fever could also cause Trump to experience hallucinations or delirium, which would undermine his ability to make high-level decisions as Commander-in-Chief. 3. Has the president received supplemental oxygen? Reporters asked Conley about this several times, and he answered in evasive and even contradictory ways. Here's every response Conley gave:
"He's not on oxygen right now, that's right." "He's not needed any this morning today at all." "Right now he is not on oxygen." "Yesterday and today he was not on oxygen." "He is not on oxygen right now." "He's not on oxygen today"
Conley finally gave a more detailed answer on the seventh time a reporter asked about it: "Thursday no oxygen. None at this moment. And yesterday with the team, while we were all here, he was not on oxygen." That answer avoids addressing much of Friday, before Trump was admitted to the hospital. The New York Times, the Associated Press, and ABC News have all reported that sources close to the president say he was on supplemental oxygen on Friday morning. Why it matters: Oxygen levels are a critical indicator of a patient's COVID-19 status: Low oxygen levels can lead to hypoxia, a condition in which regions of the body are deprived of critical oxygen. In severe cases, hypoxia can damage the brain and heart, cause a coma, or lead to death. In a healthy person, oxygen levels should stay between 95% and 100%. Most experts agree that COVID-19 patients should be concerned if their levels drop below 90. Trump's oxygen level was at 96% on Saturday, doctors reported, but if he previously received supplemental oxygen, that raises concerns his levels could drop again – and also suggests Conley wasn't being fully transparent. 4. Is there any consensus about how Trump got infected? "I'm not going to go into that. As far as his care, it's irrelevant," Conley said. Why it matters: The source of Trump's infection could be relevant to his care if it gives doctors a sense of what quantity of the virus the president might have been exposed to. What's more, understanding who most likely transmitted the virus to Trump could aid in contact-tracing efforts to find and notify others who might be at risk. Pinpointing "Patient Zero" — whoever caused what's increasingly looking like a super-spreader event at the White House — would be especially useful for contact tracing. 5. What about when he became infected? "We're not going to go into that. We're just tracking his clinical course and providing the best care we can," Conley said. Why it matters: Knowing when Trump was infected could further help contact tracers find and notify anyone who was exposed to the president while he might have been infectious. In the days before he tested positive, Trump came into contact with hundreds of people at fundraisers, rallies, an event for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and the presidential debate. At many of these events, plenty of attendees were mask-less and in close proximity. 6. When was the president's last negative coronavirus test? "I'm not going to get into all the testing going back, but he and all his staff routinely are tested," Conley said. Why it matters: This is also crucial information for contact tracing, since it would reveal the last known time that Trump was probably not infectious. If your body doesn't have enough virus to register on a PCR test, it's unlikely that you would transmit it. "Knowing the timeline of the president's last negative test, and when he became symptomatic, and when the positive tests was resulted — knowing that timeline is the only way you can really determine whether or not Joe Biden was a significant exposure," Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Business Insider. 7. Is Trump taking any steroids? At this question, Conley ended the briefing and left the podium. Why it matters: Studies have shown that corticosteroids like dexamethasone can improve survival rates for people with severe cases of COVID-19. A recent analysis showed that 68% of the sickest patients survived after being given steroids, compared to 60% of those who didn't get the treatment. The key word here, though, is severe. So far, steroids have only shown promise for people with serious cases – in fact, one study found that patients with mild COVID-19 cases who took dexamethasone died at slightly higher rates than those who didn't. So if Trump is taking a drug like that, it would indicate his doctors think his case is severe. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: The global coronavirus death toll has officially reached 1 million — although experts believe the actual death toll is much higher
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Trump's doctor says the president 'is no longer considered a transmission risk,' though doesn't say whether he tested negative
Summary List Placement White House physician Sean Conley said in a statement Saturday evening that President...Summary List Placement White House physician Sean Conley said in a statement Saturday evening that President Donald Trump "is no longer considered a transmission risk to others," though notably did not state whether the president has tested negative for the coronavirus. Instead, Conley merely said that "the assortment of advanced diagnostic tests obtained reveal there is no longer evidence of actively replicating virus." Conley also said Trump was "fever-free for well over 24 hours," though Trump left the Walter Reed hospital five days earlier on October 5 — leaving open the possibility that Trump had experienced a fever in the days since he left the hospital and returned to the White House. No fever had been disclosed to the public in recent days. Conley and the rest of Trump's medical team have fielded criticism in recent weeks over their statements regarding Trump's symptoms and condition, which have often omitted or distorted information. In a press conference last weekend, for instance, Conley repeatedly dodged reporters' questions over whether the president had required supplemental oxygen. Though Conley did not directly answer the questions, reporters later learned that Trump had been placed on supplemental oxygen at the White House before he was taken to hospital. Conley's statement on Saturday came just hours after Trump made his first public appearance on a White House balcony, speaking to hundreds of supporters who had gathered on the South Lawn.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence
Trump is set to leave the hospital, but his physician said the medical team won't breathe a 'deep sigh of relief' for another full week
Summary List Placement President Donald Trump is scheduled to leave Walter Reed Medical Center on Monday...Summary List Placement President Donald Trump is scheduled to leave Walter Reed Medical Center on Monday evening, roughly three days after he was admitted with coronavirus symptoms. The president has been fever-free for more than 72 hours and his oxygen levels are normal, Trump's physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said on Monday. "Over the past 24 hours, the president has continued to improve," Conley told reporters. "He's met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria." Trump will return to the White House medical unit, where he'll continue his care. Before he leaves Walter Reed, doctors plan to administer a fourth dose of remdesivir, the FDA-authorized antiviral treatment Trump has been taking since Friday. The drug is typically given to hospitalized patients with a severe infection who require ventilators or ICU admission. "Though he may not entirely be out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations and most importantly his clinical status support the president's safe return home, where he'll be surrounded by world-class medical care 24/7," Conley said. But he noted that Trump's physicians were still "on guard," since Trump hasn't reached the seven- to 10-day window when severe coronavirus cases typically take a turn for the worse. They're not yet sure what the effects will be of giving Trump experimental drugs relatively early in the course of his infection. "If we can get through to Monday with him remaining the same or improving, better yet, then we will all take that final deep sigh of relief," Conley said, referring to next Monday, October 12. Trump's treatment will remain largely the same at the White House Trump's transfer to the White House medical unit may not make much of a difference in terms of his care. "To me, that's no different than saying, 'Hey, I'm moving a patient from the intensive-care unit to the intermediary floor,'" Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary physician at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, told Business Insider. Conley said the president will continue to receive the steroid dexamethasone after he departs Walter Reed, and will also get his fifth and final dose of remdesivir there. "The White House is not my house or your house," Dr. Helen Boucher, an infectious disease physician at Tufts Medical Center, told Business Insider. "They have a lot of capability to do treatment there, and I know there are very good physicians managing this." White House doctors will likely be paying especially close attention later this week, since patients who get severely ill are typically admitted to the hospital or ICU around 10 days after their symptoms start. By that point, some develop pneumonia, sepsis, or acute respiratory distress syndrome. If Trump's first symptoms appeared on Thursday, when he got his positive test result, the crucial seven- to 10-day window would be this coming Wednesday through Saturday. The president's doctors haven't, however, revealed exactly when he started feeling sick. "We all remain cautiously optimistic and on guard," Conley said. "We're in a bit of uncharted territory when it comes to a patient who's received the therapies he has so early in the course." Trump's treatments raised questions about the severity of his illness Trump's doctors confirmed that he's gotten supplemental oxygen twice; at least one of those times was on Friday at the White House. His blood-oxygen levels dipped to 93% on Saturday, Conley said — below the normal range. When asked if Trump's oxygen levels had dropped below 90%, Conley said the president's levels didn't reach "the low 80s." The World Health Organization defines "severe" COVID-19 patients as those with blood oxygen levels lower than 90%. On Monday afternoon, the president tweeted that he was "feeling really good." "Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life," Trump wrote. "We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!" However, the president has received far more than the standard care for COVID-19 — a level of attention and access to treatments that almost nobody else can get. Trump got an experimental antibody cocktail made by the biotech company Regeneron on Thursday evening, a White House official told CBS News. The therapy hasn't been authorized by the FDA so isn't publicly available, but it was recently found to reduce a patient's viral load — the amount of virus in the body — in a clinical trial of 275 people. Those who got the treatment also saw their symptoms resolve more quickly than those who received a placebo. Trump also received the steroid dexamethasone on Saturday. That puzzled many doctors, since the treatment is usually reserved for the sickest coronavirus patients. Some physicians wondered whether Trump's condition was worse than his medical team let on, while others guessed he may have been over-treated — perhaps at his own behest. "Donald Trump is the VIP of VIPs — and just by his personality, he's aggressive, he wants to do stuff," Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency-medicine doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told Business Insider. "I don't envy the physicians who have to have these conversations." But Conley said the president was simply "holding court" with his medical team at Walter Reed. "We have a back and forth on what's safe and what's reasonable," he said. "He's never once pushed us to go beyond what's safe and reasonable practice." Andrea Michelson and Aylin Woodward contributed reporting.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: The White House has spent $12 billion on its Operation Warp Speed vaccine plan — but experts are worried about how the money's being used
Trump's doctors can only legally share health information that the president authorizes — which is why we don't get the full picture
Summary List Placement The public will likely never know all the details surrounding President Donald Trump's...Summary List Placement The public will likely never know all the details surrounding President Donald Trump's battle with COVID-19. His doctor, Sean Conley, declined to share key details about Trump's health during a press conference on Monday, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). "I'm not at liberty to discuss," Conley said when asked about Trump's lung scans, adding, "there are HIPAA rules and regulations that restrict me in sharing certain things for his safety and his own health and reasons." Over the weekend, Conley and his team also would not say whether the president had gotten supplemental oxygen. They later acknowledged he had on two occasions. The likely reason for these omissions is that Conley is limited by the same privacy laws all doctors are: HIPAA stipulates that healthcare providers can't share anything about a patient's condition without their consent. That means Conley can only reveal the information about Trump's condition that the president allows. "The ethics are stacked up against the public understanding, knowing, and really following what's happening," Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University Gross School of Medicine, told Business Insider, "even though that's crucial because we have president in denial about the disease and downplaying it at every turn." Conley can only share details that Trump authorizes On Monday, Conley also declined to say when Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus. He wouldn't give specifics about some of his medications either. Even though being more forthcoming about the timeline of Trump's infection would assist with contact tracing, Dr. Helen Boucher, professor of medicine at Tufts University Medical Center, said she understands why Conley isn't doing so. "As physicians we have a duty to maintain our patients' confidentiality," she told Business Insider. HIPAA makes it illegal for doctors to disclose sensitive patient health data without the patient's agreement. If doctors do share such information without patients' consent, they could lose their license, go to jail, or face fines. So everyone, including Trump, must give healthcare providers permission to discuss their cases — or can choose not to. "Physicians' code of ethics and duty to their patients hinges on not revealing what they don't want revealed," Caplan said. "There's no exception for the president." If anything, he added, the pressure to maintain confidentiality is heightened for Conley. "The assumption of privacy is being reinforced by the power of the Commander-In-Chief asking for it," Caplan said, adding, "traditionally, sadly, the White House has always spun medical information for political purposes." So by refusing to reveal whether any of the president's scans were abnormal and when his last negative test result came in, Conley was likely following his patient's orders. "The spokesperson is only as good as the person they're speaking on behalf of. If there is pressure to say certain things and not to say certain things, that could be part of the game as well," Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at University of California San Francisco, previously told Business Insider. Trump isn't obligated to tell the public anything about his health There's no law saying that presidents must release details about their health to the public. Instead, it has become something they do voluntarily. Presidents going back to Ronald Reagan have released some of their medical information, though in no uniform format. Presidential candidates also commonly do this when running for office, though again, it's not a requirement and they control what information their doctors offer. When Trump was running for president in 2016, his longtime physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, wrote a letter declaring that Trump "will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." Might the rules change? Probably not. Members of Congress have considered forcing presidents and candidates to be more transparent about their health given the power they wield, but no proposals have received widespread political support. Proponents of evaluating politicians' fitness point out that it's a common practice in other jobs, such as for airline pilots and members of the military. But those opposed understand that a requirement to reveal medical histories could bring to light unfavorable things in leaders' or candidates' pasts, such as a history of drug use or sexually transmitted infection. In 2018, Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania tried to change the rules about access to a president's medical records. Boyle introduced the Stable Genius Act, which would obligate each political party to file a Federal Election Commission report certifying that their nominee had received an exam from the medical office of the secretary of the Navy. The year prior, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who was chairman of the House Oversight Committee at the time, said he was considering introducing legislation that would require presidents to undergo an independent physical and mental health exam. But it's unlikely, Caplan said, that such laws would pass — even amid an unprecedented pandemic. Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting to this story. SEE ALSO: What we know about Sean Conley, Trump's doctor and the first D.O. to serve as physician to the president Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Hydroxychloroquine, what it is, and what it does to your body