NOEL KING, HOST:
How sick is President Trump? It's unclear because the White House and his doctors are giving conflicting and sometimes misleading information. His doctors said yesterday he's improving and could be discharged today, but we also know he was experiencing serious symptoms before he was taken to Walter Reed on Friday. NPR's Allison Aubrey has been following this one. Hi, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So President Trump's medical team ultimately said he was sick before he was taken to the hospital.
AUBREY: That's right. After a very upbeat assessment from his doctors on Saturday, there was a revelation from a top adviser that he'd actually had some more serious symptoms than had been disclosed. We learned yesterday that he'd had a high fever, that he'd been given oxygen after his blood oxygen saturation level had fallen and that his doctors were quite concerned about a possible rapid progression of the illness. This helps explain why he was taken to Walter Reed. He has since improved, his doctors say.
Here's physician Sean Dooley, part of the president's medical team, yesterday speaking about his condition.
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SEAN DOOLEY: Regarding his clinical status, the patient continues to improve. He has remained without fever since Friday morning. His vital signs are stable and is not complaining of shortness of breath or other significant respiratory symptoms.
AUBREY: His other doctor, Sean Conley, said he had not intended to hide any information about the president's condition earlier in the weekend, but was just trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the overall team.
KING: Which struck a lot of people as something that a doctor should not do, right? But...
AUBREY: That's right.
KING: So one of the things with this virus that is telling is which medications patients are given. What is President Trump being given and what does it tell us about how he's doing?
AUBREY: The president is taking dexamethasone, a steroid which is normally given to people with severe illness. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends corticosteroids for people with severe and critical COVID-19. So that's an indication, perhaps, of how serious his doctors think his case is or has been. He's also taking a five-day course of remdesivir, which is an antiviral drug that has been shown to be beneficial for COVID patients.
KING: And he's also taking an experimental drug.
AUBREY: That's right. The experimental drug he received has been referred to as an antibody cocktail. It's made by Regeneron. It contains two antibodies to help the body fight off the virus. The president received an infusion on Friday. This drug has not been approved by the FDA. But just last week, Regeneron, the company, released preliminary results showing the people who were treated with the medication early on did significantly better compared to those who received a placebo. So, you know, some promising results here.
KING: So in the meantime, the president was doing all of these events last week. Is the White House doing contact tracing?
AUBREY: The White House communications director said yesterday that the White House has an in-house epidemiologist and is following CDC guidelines, but the White House has not asked the CDC to initiate contact tracing. She said they're following general protocols which are in line with CDC guidelines; it's just not clear how or whether the White House has given any guidance to the many people who the president or other people who've tested positive at the White House have come into close contact with.
I spoke with Josh Sharfstein, a former FDA official who is now a vice dean for public health practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
JOSH SHARFSTEIN: People who have been in close contact with the president during his window of being infectious need to quarantine for 14 days. And it's really important here for the White House to be a model for how to respond to an outbreak. And if it fails to do so, it is doing the moral equivalent of not wearing a mask in a crowded room; it is undermining the response that's necessary in order to limit these outbreaks.
AUBREY: Which is, of course, what's needed to put this pandemic behind us.
KING: Sure. Can doctors or scientists tell exactly when President Trump became infectious?
AUBREY: Not exactly. A person can be infectious a few days before experiencing symptoms. In contact tracing, you typically go back two days before symptoms start. White House officials say the president started to feel sick or fatigued on Wednesday of last week and that his first positive test result came back Thursday after he returned from a trip to Bedminster, N.J., for a campaign fundraiser, where there were a lot of people in attendance. In a setting like that, it's very possible he was within six feet of people for more than 15 minutes, which is one of the definitions of being in close contact.
Here's Josh Sharfstein again.
SHARFSTEIN: It's absolutely possible that the president has infected other people.
AUBREY: Given the number of people he was around and the events he attended so far. So there's just concern about this.
KING: Let me ask you just real quick to close out - how many cases are there now in this country?
AUBREY: You know, we've had about 7 1/2 million people in the U.S. who've been infected. Nearly 210,000 people have died. Over the last seven days, about 44,000 new cases per day, which is a slight increase. So it goes without saying, Noel, we'll continue to hear that advice from experts to stay vigilant on social distancing and masking.
KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thanks, Allison.
AUBREY: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.