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2 doctors weigh in on Trump’s release from Walter Reed

Some medical experts have expressed confusion and concern over President Trump’s treatment. George Washington University’s Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former Baltimore health commissioner, and Dr. William Lang, former deputy White House physician and director of the White House medical unit under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we explore some of the questions being asked about President Trump's condition and treatment with two physicians.

    Dr. Leana Wen is an emergency physician and professor of health policy at the George Washington University. She is a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. And Dr. William Lang, a former deputy White House physician and director of the White House Medical Unit under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

    And we welcome both of you to the "NewsHour."

    Dr. Wen, to you first.

    Based on what you heard today from the president's doctors at Walter Reed, everything they're saying about him, and the fact they say he is still not out of the woods, that they're going to be continuing to monitor him, what do you — what is your understanding of his condition?

  • Leana Wen:

    I believe, Judy, that his condition is very serious.

    And this is based on all the little pieces of information that we're given, and all of the things that we're not being told. But it sounds like the president has had at least two episodes where his oxygen saturation dropped.

    One of them was severe enough to prompt the transfer to the hospital in the first place. He also had various lung imaging, although we don't know what it shows. It sounds like he probably has pneumonia, and he is on at least three medications.

    One of them, dexamethasone, is not given except to patients who are severely or critically ill. And, in fact, it is specifically not given to patients who have non-severe illness.

    So, all of this makes me wonder, because, by the White House's own timeline, if he first had symptoms on Thursday, then this is day five of his illness.

    The times we're the most concerned about a patient's course is day seven through 10. So, why is he being discharged home right now, or discharged to the White House right now, when the period that we're the most concerned about is yet to come?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's exactly my question to you. How does everything you just said square with the decision to have him leave the hospital tonight to go back to the White House?

  • Leana Wen:

    It doesn't.

    And I think that's why we need so many more answers from the president's medical team. They have been insistent thus far on painting this rosy picture and actually in a way that I think is hugely misleading.

    That is not what they should be doing. I think about it as a doctor telling a patient's family member about that patient's condition and prognosis. The patient may very well say, here is what you can say, here's what you should not say to my family member. And that doctor, we would respect that request from the patient.

    But what we will not do, we will not mislead the patient's family. We will not say that the patient has a mild illness, when, actually, he has a severe illness. We would certainly never lie to family members.

    And I believe that that's what is happening here. And it's unethical.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Lang, you know the White House setup.

    How well-equipped is the White House to handle a patient who is contagious, and especially the president of the United States, who is infected with COVID-19, and all of the treatment that he is going to need?

  • William Lang:

    Well, as you can imagine, the White House, as far as being a place that he can be monitored during these critical days, as was just said, there's — day seven through 10 can be critical days for a patient who at — who is in the at-risk groups.

    But monitoring the day is pretty — pretty small. He can bring this small equipment into the White House. He has a team. The team is at the White House. He can be monitored very closely at the White House, just as he would be in the hospital.

    And he can be moved back to the hospital on — very quickly, as we saw on — last Friday, when he was moved to the hospital quickly. That can happen if it was needed.

    But all the monitoring that can be done, all the expertise that can be done to monitor him, that's all available very easily within the White House compound.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And — but I guess what I'm asking is, here's someone who is still infectious. Is that correct? And, if so, how do you keep everybody else safe? What lengths will they have to go to at the White House to make sure others don't become infected?

  • William Lang:

    Well, they will have to — everyone trained and what is the appropriate infection precaution, just like they would be at the — at Walter Reed.

    In fact, there's the White House Medical Unit. It is a fairly good sized unit. It changes — the size changes over time. But these are medical professionals from the military who know how to deal with infectious disease. They will be wearing appropriate PPE.

    They will be doing the day-to-day care for the president. And then the other services, the general — the household services that need to be done, that will be done in conjunction with the medical unit, so that the — nobody is put at risk of disease.

    They will be following the cautions from CDC, just as they would be if it was somebody in a — in a hotel where you have to have cleaning staff come in. But that will be done in conjunction — hand to hand, in conjunction with the medical unit, so that everybody is protected, and everybody is wearing appropriate PPE as they do these kinds of things.

    So, I believe it can be done very safely.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it sounds as if they're — you're saying they don't have to make that many accommodations for him.

    But, also, what we're hearing is that he will not be going into the West Wing. He will be staying in the residence. So you're, saying…

  • William Lang:

    Yes, I'm sorry.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm just trying to understand what you are recommending — what you're saying.

  • William Lang:

    Yes, the White House itself is — the — especially the private quarters, is a very private place. There are very few people who go into the private quarters.

    It's security. It's the house — the household staff, the people who are making — who are serving his meals, those kinds of things, and family, and the Medical Unit. But there are very, very few people.

    But, also, within the private quarters of the White House, there is office facilities, so that he can do what he needs to do to run the country, to — all the communications, all the security that is needed for him to do his day-to-day activities, but just not with other people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Wen, when how long will the president be contagious?

    And I also want to ask you about — there's a New York Times report tonight that the White House is not going forward with what is known as contact tracing, that they are notifying people who were around the president for a couple of days before he exhibited — before he tested positive, but they're not going through the formal process of contact tracing.

    How much difference does that make?

  • Leana Wen:

    Wow. I only have just now heard about this report.

    But it is reckless and it's extremely dangerous. The White House is the epicenter of a very large outbreak. And this is an outbreak that is hugely complex. I mean, we're talking about individuals who potentially maybe — if this super-spreader event happened at the Rose Garden ceremony, these are people who came from many parts of the country to this one event.

    There are also many people in the White House, the White House aides that tested positive, who are very mobile. They have gone to rallies. They have gone to events. They have interacted with people.

    And we're not just talking about first-generation spread at this point. We're talking about second- or third-generation spread, that there are other individuals who have been in contact with those exposed who all of them may be asymptomatic and not know that they have COVID-19. And they're spreading it to others.

    This is what the CDC does. The CDC does contact tracing in these highly complex cases.

    I know, as a former local health officials, that I routinely worked with the CDC when there were multiple states or multiple jurisdictions involved for contact tracing.

    That's what needs to be done. Every hour and every minute actually matters for contact tracing. I cannot really quite believe and quite wrap my mind around the fact then they're not doing this willfully, when, actually, this is the — a huge epicenter.

    And, to your question earlier, President Trump should be isolating for at least 10 days from the onset of the symptoms to when he can stop that isolation, as long as he remains fever-free for the last 24 hours of that time. That's the protocol for isolation if somebody tests positive.

    I sincerely hoping — and, to Dr. Lang's point, I'm sure that President Trump will get exceptional medical care, and that the medical staff know how to follow the isolation protocols.

    But I hope that President Trump and all those around him will insist that everyone will follow these protocols too, that aides, for example, are not interacting with the president while he's in that period of isolation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Dr. Lang, I mean, we did see the president yesterday take a ride in the presidential SUV to greet the people who were standing outside of Walter Reed.

    This is, of course, while he's being treated at the hospital. Was that a good idea? Is that something his doctors should have been comfortable with?

  • William Lang:

    Well, if you look very carefully at the people who were with him, they were wearing not only respiratory protection. They had N95 masks on. You could see this through the pictures. They had N95 masks on. They had eye protection. They were even wearing cover gowns.

    So, is it what we would have — recommend people do all the time? No, but they were taking exactly the right precautions that you need to take, just as if he had been in his — in his medical room.

    So, I do not see that this was putting anybody at risk. It was not putting him at risk. And it was doing something that the patient, the first patient, in this case, made him feel more comfortable. He wanted to — he wanted to get out. And he was not putting anyone at risk. So, I didn't have any significant heartburn with that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we're going to leave it there.

    Dr. William Lang, Dr. Leana Wen, we thank you both very much.

  • William Lang:

    Thank you.

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