‘I have no words’: Trump’s defiant act
Donald Trump's first act after leaving hospital and returning to the White House today was to remove his face mask.
Mr Trump tested positive for the coronavirus and started to develop symptoms four days ago, which means he may still be infectious.
He spent three days in Walter Reed Medical Centre after his oxygen levels dropped, prompting doctors to give him supplemental oxygen.
The President emerged from the hospital's front doors at 6:40pm today, local time, and flashed a thumbs up to the cameras before getting into his car.
"Mr President, how many staff are sick? How many of your staff are sick?" a reporter asked as Mr Trump walked past.
"Thank you very much everyone," the President said.
"Do you think you might be a superspreader, Mr President?" the reporter shouted after him.
He gave no indication that he had heard the question.
The motorcade took Mr Trump to his helicopter, Marine One. He boarded it with a wave, and a short time later landed on the White House lawn.
When he reached the White House's balcony, the President turned and waved again. He then removed his face mask, saluted Marine One as it left, and filmed a video message he would later post online before wandering inside, still maskless.
His decision to remove the mask, particularly with other people nearby, baffled medical experts.
"I don't even know how to fully characterise to people how cringeworthy that was," Dr Kavita Patel, a physician who was health policy director in the Obama White House, told MSNBC.
"It's not just the risk to the people around him. To West Wing staff, executive office staff. But think about where those staff go to get coffee, to eat lunch. There are people who have no choice but to do their jobs, and doing their jobs is putting their lives at risk.
"It's beyond irresponsible. It's literally everything - malpractice. It's selfishness. We all wanted the President to recover. But I'm frankly tired of making excuses in the name of saying, 'Yes, the President should recover.' Yes he should, but he should be sorry that this was brought upon the people around him and that he put their lives at risk.
"We haven't heard one iota of humility, sorrow, or even the faintest hint that he now understands what millions of Americans do and that he will work to protect them."
CNN's chief medical expert, Dr Sanjay Gupta, was equally perplexed.
"It was just reckless. And it's heartbreaking to think that someone who clearly now has a contagious, deadly virus - that person happens to be the President of the United States - is showing such reckless behaviour and disregard for the people around him," Dr Gupta said, as footage of the moment played on screen.
"You wear a mask to protect those around you. So he goes up there, he takes off his mask. I'm just watching everything. Someone runs up there to take his picture, has a mask on. But again, the President - who we know has coronavirus - is not wearing a mask.
"I mean, he should be in isolation. He should not have left the hospital.
"I mean, if he was in hospital still, whenever the doctors went to see him, they'd be in personal protective equipment. You're getting a very different picture here."
"It's unexplainable that Donald Trump, actively shedding virus - millions of particles - could walk into that building unmasked with that number of White House staff," added Dr Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University.
"I still don't even know how to fully characterize to people how cringeworthy that was," @kavitapmd says of Pres. Trump removing his mask upon returning to White House. "It's not just the risk to the people around him, to West Wing staff...but think about where those staff go" pic.twitter.com/gRwJuh6Bko— MSNBC (@MSNBC) October 5, 2020
Mr Trump's actions also drew criticism from the usual array of political pundits and critics.
"I thought seeing Marine One touching down - iconic, the flags, the sunset - I thought that was a nice TV moment. I think him going up the stairs was that TV moment to say, 'I'm strong, I've got this,'" said ABC News reporter John Santucci.
"But, then to see him standing on the Truman Balcony without a mask on. He definitely was not wearing a mask. What were they thinking? I am honestly - my jaw is on the floor.
"What are they thinking? What are they doing?"
MSNBC host Joy Reid, who I should stress is a vehement critic of Mr Trump, was apoplectic.
"This is a President who was just hospitalised for an intensely contagious disease. He is still highly contagious. Highly contagious," Reid fumed.
"The first thing he did was to take off his mask. He took off his mask. A highly infectious person, standing there surrounded by many other people. Presumably production people, potentially staff people.
"Who knows where the White House staff is tonight? Who knows where the innocent White House staff, the hundreds of people who have to work in that White House, and who do so out of a sense of loyalty and tradition, who uphold the finest traditions of this country, now have to be exposed to whatever virus is being breathed out of the mouth of the President of the United States?
"I've never seen anything like this. Honestly, this is the most irresponsible thing I've ever seen a president do. He's doing it for pure ego, he's doing it simply because he can. He's using Marine One as a prop. He's using the White House, our house, as a prop, to literally spread COVID, without a mask on.
"I don't even know what else to say."
Though he has a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus, Pres Trump is quick to remove his mask, standing on the WH balcony, aware of all the cameras focused on his return to the WH after four days of hospitalization at Walter Reed. pic.twitter.com/T255LkPt0v— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) October 5, 2020
The President's election opponent, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, was asked to respond to today's events during a town hall forum on NBC News.
"I would hope, the President having gone through what he went through - and I'm glad he seems to be coming along pretty well - would communicate the right lesson to the American people," Mr Biden said.
"Masks matter. These masks, they matter. It matters. It saves lives. It prevents the spread of the disease.
"Instead of talking about - the only thing I heard was one of the tweets saying that, you know, don't be so concerned about all this, essentially. There's a lot to be concerned about, 210,000 people have died.
"I hope no one walks away with a message thinking that it is not a problem. It's a serious problem."
After going inside the White House, Mr Trump posted the video he had filmed on the balcony. In it, he urged Americans to "get out there" and not allow the virus to "dominate" their lives.
"I just left Walter Reed Medical Centre, and it's really something very special. The doctors, the nurses, the first responders. And I learned so much about coronavirus," he said.
"And one thing that's for certain. Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines, all developed recently. And you're going to beat it.
"I went, I didn't feel so good. And two days ago - I could have left two days ago. Two days ago I felt great, like, better than I've felt in a long time. As I said just recently, better than 20 years ago.
"Don't let it dominate. Don't let it take over your lives. Don't let that happen. We have the greatest country in the world. We're going back, we're going back to work. We're going to be out front.
"As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there's danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front, I led. Nobody that's a leader would not do what I did. And I know there's a risk, there's a danger, but that's OK.
"But now I'm better, and maybe I'm immune. But don't let it dominate your lives. Get out there, be careful. We have the best medicines in the world.
"The vaccines are coming momentarily. Thank you very much."
The President also posted a bombastic, campaign-style video featuring images of his brief trip from Walter Reed to the White House.
Originally published as 'I have no words': Trump's defiant act
The president takes off his mask before entering the White House and then walks in unmasked. Unbelievable.— Jonathan Reiner (@JReinerMD) October 5, 2020
The first thing Trump did was take off his mask. The first thing.— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 5, 2020
Trump is basically filming a campaign commercial outside of the WH without a mask in the presence of photographers. Let me repeat: the president has coronavirus and is walking around without a mask.— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) October 5, 2020
Trump said yesterday that he learned a lot about COVID while at Walter Reed. Why, then, did he remove his mask immediately after returning to the White House?— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 5, 2020
TRUMP JUST TOOK OFF HIS MASK ENTERING THE WHITE HOUSE!!!— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) October 5, 2020
What White House staffer would still wanna goto work tomorrow??? #COVID19 #TrumpCovid19
Epidemiologists just wanna vomit. pic.twitter.com/KMGgtrNOxA