US President Donald Trump’s drive-by for supporters has been criticised as “insanity” by a top doctor.
Trump, 74, briefly left Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland on Sunday, where he is being treated for COVID-19, so he could greet the crowds waiting outside the hospital, reports Sky News.
He sat in an armoured SUV, wearing a mask, and waved to people as he was driven along the road to cheers and flag-waving.
Dr James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University and an attending physician at Walter Reed Medical Center, described the drive-by as “insanity”.
He wrote on Twitter: “That presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID-19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.
“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.”
Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, tweeted: “By taking a joy ride outside Walter Reed the president is placing his Secret Service detail at grave risk.
“In the hospital when we go into close contact with a COVID patient we dress in full PPE: Gown, gloves, N95, eye protection, hat. This is the height of irresponsibility.
“His doctors should have said no. They need to stand up for what is right. This is wrong.”
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the drive-by “was cleared by the medical team as safe to do”, adding that precautions were taken, including using personal protective equipment.
Sky News correspondent Sally Lockwood, who was there, said there had been a “mini rally growing outside the front of the hospital – he can hear them if he can’t see them from his hospital suite, I’m sure – it has been non-stop all day”.
She said the crowd “went wild” as Trump was driven along the road before making a U-turn and continuing to wave at supporters and reporters as he came back.
“He looked like he was enjoying himself and his fans were impressed with the sight of the president,” she said.
Trump’s surprise appearance came shortly after he released another video – his third since revealing in the early hours of Friday that he had been diagnosed with the virus.
The US president says he has a new-found appreciation for the seriousness of the coronavirus in a video message to the nation.
In the video, he had promised “to pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street”.
He also described his treatment as a “very interesting journey”, adding: “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. And it’s a very interesting thing.”
It is a turnaround for a president who has spent much of the pandemic playing down the disease and even mocking those who wore masks in an effort to protect themselves and those around them.
The number of people who have died with the virus in the US is approaching 210,000 and the number of confirmed cases has passed 7.4 million.
Trump’s medical team has said that, if his condition improves, he could be allowed to continue his treatment at the White House from Monday.
But the doctors have also been criticised for presenting information that has been contradicted at times by Trump’s staff.
On Saturday Dr Sean Conley, who heads the medical team, had refused to admit that the president was given supplemental oxygen at the White House before being taken to hospital.
Minutes later, Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows had said medics were “very concerned” about the president’s vital signs before he arrived at Walter Reed.
On Sunday, Dr Conley admitted Trump’s oxygen levels had dropped suddenly on two occasions and he had in fact been given oxygen on Friday.
The doctor said he had been “trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team” and “didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction”.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CBS: “We need to have trust that what they’re telling us about the president’s condition is real.”
Mrs Pelosi said the information doctors are telling the public “has to be approved by the president”, adding: “That’s not very scientific”.