A number of health experts have condemned President Trump’s decision over the weekend to use the presidential motorcade to greet supporters outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as he received treatment for COVID-19, calling it inappropriate and unsafe, particularly for Secret Service agents that were forced to ride along with him.
The reckless attempt by the president to convey strength to voters may backfire, as majorities in a number of polls have faulted Trump for not taking the pandemic seriously even after he received a positive diagnosis for COVID-19, which has killed nearly 215,000 Americans.
Trump waved to a number of his most ardent and loyal base of supporters from within his presidential SUV, where many agents were sitting in close proximity to him.
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A number of health experts, including James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, decried the action, noting that the move carried a risk of COVID-19 transmission between persons within the vehicle.
“That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” Phillips said in a tweet on Sunday. “The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures.”
He further blasted Trump for the decision to greet the supporters at the risk of the agents.
“The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play” along with the photo op, Phillips added.
Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, noted that, if we’re to believe reports that Trump’s condition is improving, the drive itself wasn’t particularly harmful to him. However, to those who were in the vehicle with the president — the “joy ride,” as Wachter put it — placed agents in significant danger.
“The Secret Service agents take a vow to protect him, but they don’t take a vow to be protected from him, and I think he is putting them at absolutely unnecessary risk,” Wachter added.
However, Michael Baker, an epidemiologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand, said that Trump’s drive around Walter Reed should not have been allowed, given the types of medications he was taking that indicate he may be sicker than he’s letting on.
“A patient who is sick enough to be admitted to hospital and treated with strong medications like dexamethasone should not be leaving hospital for a non-essential drive prior to their discharge,” Baker told CNBC. “Traveling in a car with several staff members while still in isolation also poses a risk of infecting those other exposed passengers. There was no obvious justification for this action.”
Health experts weren’t the only ones expressing criticism over the president exposing his illness unnecessarily to Secret Service agents. Former and current agents, too, expressed disdain for the action.
“Where are the adults?” one former agent said to The Washington Post.
A current Secret Service agent, speaking anonymously to avoid retribution from the White House, appeared to agree that Trump’s decision to drive around the hospital, forcing agents to be in the car with him, was callous. “He’s not even pretending to care now,” that agent said.
The president appears to be obsessed with appearing strong while being treated for the disease, even going so far as to demand to leave the hospital early, according to some sources. But this latest publicity stunt might not be received well by voters, who, as recent polling demonstrates, do not seem very sympathetic to Trump’s recent diagnosis.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll that was released mere hours before Trump’s cruise in front of Walter Reed found that 72 percent of Americans felt Trump did not take “the appropriate precautions” regarding ensuring he was keeping himself safe from COVID-19. That same percentage also said Trump did not take the “risk of contracting the virus seriously enough” either.
The poll also found that 64 percent of Americans disapprove of his response to coronavirus, similar to where Trump polled on the question before he tested positive for the disease.
A separate Reuters/Ipsos poll had similar findings, with 57 percent of voters saying they disapproved of Trump’s response to coronavirus. The Reuters/Ipsos poll, which took place after the president’s diagnosis was made public, found that Trump’s Democratic challenger for president, Joe Biden, was faring better in the run-up to the election, ahead of Trump by a margin of 51 percent to 41 percent, an increase of 1 to 2 points versus Biden’s lead in recent weeks.