WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said in a video from his hospital room on Saturday (Oct 3) that he felt "much better" and hoped to be "back soon", after a day of contradictory messages from the White House about his condition following his COVID-19 diagnosis.
"I came here, wasn't feeling so well. I feel much better now," Trump, 74, said from his business suite at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, near Washington.
"We're working hard to get me all the way back ... I think I'll be back soon and I look forward to finishing up the campaign the way it was started."
In a four-minute video posted on Twitter, Trump, looking tired and wearing a jacket and open-necked shirt, said he "wasn't feeling so well" when he first arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and that the next few days would be crucial in his fight against the coronavirus.
"Over the next period of a few days, I guess that's the real test, so we'll be seeing what happens over those next couple of days," Trump said, seated at a round table in front of an American flag.
Trump's wife also tested positive but he said her symptoms were not as bad as his own.
"Melania is really handling it very nicely. As you've probably read, she's slightly younger than me, just a little tiny bit," he joked about the 50-year-old first lady.
The remarks came hours after differing assessments of his health from administration officials left it unclear how ill the president had become since he tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday night, a matter of enormous public concern.
A White House team of doctors said on Saturday morning that Trump's condition was improving and that he was already talking about returning to the White House. White House doctor Sean Conley said Trump was "not yet out of the woods", but that the medical team is "cautiously optimistic."
One doctor said Trump had told them "'I feel like I could walk out of here today.'"
Within minutes, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gave reporters a less rosy assessment, telling reporters, "The president's vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care. We're still not on a clear path to a full recovery."
Meadows, whose initial comments were delivered on condition that he not be identified, altered his tone hours later, telling Reuters that Trump was doing "very well" and that "doctors are very pleased with his vital signs".
Meadows did not clarify the discrepancy in his comments.
"Yesterday morning, we were real concerned ... he had a fever and his blood oxygen level had dropped rapidly," Meadows told Fox News late Saturday.
Meadows said there was never a risk Trump would have to hand over power to Vice President Mike Pence, after a day of conflicting reports and confusion over the leader's actual fitness.
"He's made unbelievable improvements from yesterday morning, when I know a number of us, the doctor and I, were very concerned," Meadows said.
"Today's spectacle - doctors saying one thing, White House sources saying another thing, and both later amending their statements - only reinforces the credibility problems of this administration," said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
Trump was flown from the White House to Walter Reed, near Washington, about 17 hours after he announced his illness. Administration officials, who described the move as precautionary, said he would stay at the hospital for several days.
Another source who was briefed on Trump's condition said the president was given supplemental oxygen before he went to the hospital. The decision to hospitalise Trump came after he had experienced difficulty breathing and his oxygen level dropped, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Conley told reporters outside the hospital on Saturday that Trump had not experienced difficulty breathing, and was not given oxygen at Walter Reed.
"The team and I are extremely happy with the progress the president has made," Conley said.
He declined to give a timetable for Trump's possible release from the hospital, and later had to issue a statement saying he misspoke after appearing to suggest Trump had been diagnosed as early as Wednesday.
On Saturday evening, Conley said that Trump was free of fever and improving after treatment, but was not yet out of danger.
"He spent much of the afternoon conducting business, and has been up and moving about the medical suite without difficulty," Conley said in a statement.
Several US media outlets said Trump was on oxygen at the White House on Friday before being admitted to Walter Reed.
READ: COVID-19: White House National Security Council tells staff members wear masks in common areas and avoid West Wing
The diagnosis was the latest setback for the Republican president, who is trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov 3 presidential election.
With Trump in the hospital, his campaign announced Operation MAGA, based on his slogan "Make America Great Again", which will see high-profile allies including Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's elder sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, take over in-person campaigning starting next week.
Pence, who tested negative on Friday, is scheduled to debate Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Wednesday before embarking on a swing through battleground states, the campaign said.
Biden, who largely avoided direct criticism of Trump during a campaign trip to Michigan on Friday, took a more aggressive tone on Saturday while speaking to a transit workers' union on Saturday, even as he wished the president well.
"I'm in a little bit of a spot here, because I don't want to be attacking the president and the first lady now," Biden said, adding he hoped the Trumps make a full recovery.
But he quickly pivoted to Trump's response to the pandemic, calling it "unconscionable" and blasting Trump's comment in an interview this summer that "it is what it is" when asked about the death toll.
"I find this one of the most despicable things that I've encountered in my whole career," Biden said.
Biden, who tested negative on Friday, told reporters he would next be tested on Sunday. His campaign will begin releasing the results of each test, a spokesman said.
The Democratic candidate has eschewed big events in favor of low-key appearances with few or no attendees, while Trump has held large rallies with little social distancing.
Biden has used Trump's diagnosis to bolster his calls for people to wear masks, a practice that Trump has questioned.
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the coronavirus pandemic this year, even as it has killed more than 200,000 Americans and hammered the U.S. economy.
TRUMP AT RISK
Conley said Trump had received a first dose of a five-day course of Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral drug sold by Gilead Sciences that has been shown to shorten hospital stays.
He is also taking an experimental treatment, Regeneron's REGN-COV2, one of several experimental COVID-19 drugs known as monoclonal antibodies, as well as zinc, Vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin and aspirin, Conley has said.
Neither Trump's doctors nor the White House explained why the president was taking unproven drugs if his progress was satisfactory.
The president is at high risk because of his age and weight. He has remained in apparent good health during his time in office but is not known to exercise regularly or to follow a healthy diet.
A number of other prominent Republicans have also said they tested positive for COVID-19 since Trump's announcement, including Republican Senators Mike Lee, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson, former White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Christie said he checked himself in to a hospital on Saturday as a precaution due to his asthma, though he said he had only mild symptoms.
Another close aide, Nicholas Luna, one of the "body men" who accompanies the president round the clock, had also tested positive, CNN reported.
"FALSE SENSE OF COMFORT"
Public health experts have expressed alarm at the outbreak linked to the Sep 26 celebration of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court.
"They relied too much on diagnostic testing. We know that these tests have a very high false negative rate," said Ali Nouri, president of the Federation of American Scientists.
"By simply relying on these diagnostics to determine who gets to come in and out of the White House, and by not requiring other protections, like social distancing and masks, they created a false sense of comfort for the White House."
Democrats have called for Barrett's Senate confirmation hearings to be postponed after several Republican senators tested positive, but judiciary committee chair Senator Lindsey Graham said they would go ahead.
Trump - who is well behind his 77-year-old Democratic election rival Joe Biden in the polls - has been forced to freeze or rework much of his campaign ahead of a potentially messy vote on Nov 3.
Biden has made Trump's frequent downplaying of the COVID-19 crisis and mixed messaging on mask-wearing a central campaign theme.
The former vice president, who stood on a stage with Trump for 90 minutes during their ill-tempered first debate Tuesday, announced that he and his wife Jill tested negative Friday.
Biden reminded voters during the debate that he has pushed consistently for a serious approach to the coronavirus, which has killed more than 208,000 Americans, unlike his opponent who has mocked the Democrat for his rigorous use of masks.