President Donald Trump staged a reckless departure from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, telling his followers the virus that dangerously deprived him of oxygen and hospitalized him for 72 hours was nothing to fear before posing for a mask-less photo-op on the White House balcony.
It was a remarkable attempt to convert his still-ongoing disease into a show of strength, even as it underscored his longstanding practice of denying the pandemic's severity and downplaying its risks despite the more than 200,000 Americans dead.
"Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life," Trump wrote several hours before walking carefully out of the hospital's gold front doors, even as his doctors warned he wasn't yet "out of the woods."
Wearing a white cloth mask and a navy blue suit, Trump gave several thumbs up and a fist bump as he walked down the hospital's front steps toward his waiting helicopter. He would not answer when asked how many of his staffers had tested positive.
After a flight over Washington, Trump landed on the South Lawn and proceeded in an unusual route up a set of stairs the first-floor balcony, where aides had positioned a row of American flags.
Peeling off his mask, Trump posed in salute as his helicopter departed before walking inside.
The building he's returning to has become a center for viral contagion -- in part because of disregard for mitigation measures.
The message was jarring not only because it was irresponsible but that it came from a current coronavirus patient who has experienced serious symptoms of the disease and whose recovery has included experimental treatments unavailable to most Americans.
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