US COVID-19 deaths surpass 210,000 as Trump set to leave hospital

US President Donald Trump has frequently downplayed the threat of the pandemic, which has now killed over 210,000 Americans and infected 7.4 million others.

A Trump supporter holds a sign while talking to the media outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Trump was being treated for COVID-19 in Bethesda, Maryland [Leah Millis/Reuters]

Coronavirus deaths in the United States have passed 210,000, as President Donald Trump said he would leave the military hospital where he has been receiving treatment for the disease – four weeks before the US election.

Trump said he is feeling good and the nation should not be afraid of the virus.

“I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M.,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. … I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

Trump’s physician said the president has met or exceeded all standard hospital criteria to be discharged, and while he was not yet out of the woods, he was able to go home.

“Over the past 24 hours … he’s met or exceeded all standard hospital discharge criteria,” Dr Sean Conley told a news conference, saying it had been more than 72 hours since Trump’s last fever and that his oxygen levels were normal.

“Though he may not entirely be out of the woods yet, the team and I agree that all our evaluations, and most importantly, his clinical status, support the president’s safe return home, where he will be surrounded by world-class medical care 24/7.”

Campaign upended

Trump’s announcement of his diagnosis landed like a bombshell on Friday, just over 48 hours after his first presidential debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden, highlighting the uncertainty that has marked a highly unusual campaign during a deadly pandemic.

Trump has frequently downplayed the threat of COVID-19, which has now infected 7.4 million Americans. In recent days, he released a series of videos to reassure the public he is recovering from the disease caused by the virus.

On Monday morning, his Twitter account released a stream of more than a dozen messages encouraging Americans to vote for him in the November 3 election, including posts that read “LAW & ORDER. VOTE!” and “RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. VOTE!”

The scale of the coronavirus outbreak within the White House grew on Monday when Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she had tested positive for the virus after “testing negative consistently” every day since Thursday.

McEnany, a well-known figure at the forefront of the White House’s often combative dealings with the media, held a briefing for reporters on Thursday in which she did not wear a face mask.

Schools to close in New York ‘hot spots’

Separately on Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered schools to close from Tuesday in several coronavirus “hot spots” in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered schools to close beginning on Tuesday in several coronavirus “hot spots” in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

The announcement brings forward a plan by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to close schools in 11 neighbourhoods beginning from Wednesday after coronavirus test positivity rates rose above three percent in those areas for seven days in a row.

“I am not going to recommend or allow any New York City family to send their child to a school that I wouldn’t send my child,” Cuomo said at a news conference.

He said the state would take over enforcement of social distancing rules from local authorities in the hot spots.

Cuomo and de Blasio have repeatedly squabbled over how to respond to the spread of COVID-19, and the two have not appeared together in public in many months. Cuomo said he spoke by phone with the mayor earlier on Monday.

De Blasio said on Sunday that, beyond schools, he also wanted the state’s blessing to shut non-essential businesses and suspend even outdoor dining in those areas.

Cuomo said he had not agreed to this, and criticised the mayor’s decision to delineate affected neighbourhoods by using postal ZIP codes. He added he had not yet decided on what approach might be better.

Mayor de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio listens as he meets with parents at Bronx Collaborative High School, following their visit to review health safeguards in advance of the reopening of schools in New York [AP Photo Pool/Bebeto Matthews]

He also chastised the mayor for what he said was lacklustre enforcement of social distancing rules.

De Blasio defended his efforts.

“I think it goes far beyond the question of enforcement,” he told CNN on Monday. “I think here’s a case where we need to really work deeply with communities, with community leaders, to have a bigger turnaround in the way people are handling things.”

New York faced one of the nation’s earliest and most devastating outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in the spring, but has since managed to largely curtail its spread.

Airborne transmission

Also on Monday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance saying COVID-19 can sometimes be spread by airborne transmission.

It said some infections can be spread by exposure to the virus in small droplets and particles, or aerosols, that can linger in the air for minutes to hours.

Last month, the CDC published – and then took down – its guidance warning of possible airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Biden said on Monday he is willing to participate in next week’s scheduled debate with Trump as long as health experts say it would be safe.

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden boarding his campaign plane for travel to Miami at New Castle Airport in New Castle, Delaware, US [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]tru

The second face-to-face encounter for Biden and Trump is scheduled for October 15 in Miami, Florida.

“If the scientists say that it’s safe and the distances are safe, then I think that’s fine. I’ll do whatever the experts say is the appropriate thing to do,” Biden, who tested negative for COVID-19 over the weekend, told reporters in Delaware before heading to Florida on a campaign trip.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking during a weekly news conference, on Capitol Hill in Washington [AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin]

On Monday, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone for about an hour on coronavirus economic relief and were preparing to talk again on Tuesday, continuing their recent flurry of activity working towards a deal on legislation.

“The two discussed the justifications for various numbers and plan to exchange paper today in preparation for another phone call tomorrow,” Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter.

The renewed effort in Congress to reach an agreement to pump coronavirus relief funds into the pandemic-hit economy has been further complicated by the last week’s news that three Senate Republicans have tested positive for the disease.

Word about the senators prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to announce over the weekend that the chamber would be out until October 19, suggesting he did not see an imminent deal on the bill following a week of talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin. The House is also out.

Source: News Agencies