President Donald Trump briefly left Walter Reed Medical Center late Sunday afternoon to wave to his supporters, who have been gathering outside the hospital to express their support. Trump left the hospital in an armored SUV and stayed in the car as he rode past a cheering crowd of supporters and waved. Trump was sitting in the back seat and appeared to be wearing a cloth mask. At least two Secret Service agents were in the car with him.
Video of the drive came shortly after Trump posted a brief video on his Twitter account in which he previewed the “little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street.” In the video, Trump thanked the staff at Walter Reed and said he had “gotten to meet” some “soldiers and first responders.” Months into the coronavirus pandemic, the president seemed to imply that only now that he’s living through it does he really understand the virus, saying he has “learned a lot” over the past few days. “I learned it by really going to school,” he said. “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.”
Some people, however, were quick to question whether Trump had really learned that much considering he may have exposed several people to the coronavirus due to his brief ride. One of the fiercest critics on Twitter was Dr. James P. Phillips, who is an attending physician at Walter Reed and characterized the drive as “insanity” for putting people at risk for no real purpose other than a photo-op. “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days,” he tweeted. “They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. This is insanity.” Phillips noted in another tweet that considering the president’s SUV is also “hermetically sealed” to prevent against a chemical attack, the risk of infection inside the vehicle “is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures.”
Footage of Trump’s supporters outside the hospital showed that many have not been wearing masks.