Donald Trump’s doctor said he had tested negative for coronavirus on consecutive days just hours before the US president returned to the campaign trail with a rally in Florida, although the physician cited results from a less reliable rapid test.
“He has tested NEGATIVE, on consecutive days, using the Abbott BinaxNOW antigen card,” Sean Conley, White House physician, wrote in a memo.
The Abbott test is a 15-minute rapid nasal swab test, which is less reliable than “gold standard” molecular testing, that should not be used to give the all-clear to a patient in Mr Trump’s situation, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
Mr Trump has been seeking to convince the public he is Covid-free so he can resume live rallies at a time when he is trailing Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, in the polls with just 22 days until the presidential election.
Although the Abbott test has been authorised for emergency use by the FDA, the agency has warned it has “a higher chance of missing an active infection” than more accurate molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
“Negative results do not rule out SARS-COV-2 infection and should not be used as the sole basis for treatment or patient management decisions, including infection control decisions,” the FDA said of the Abbott test in August.
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The agency also said that the Abbott test should not be used after seven days from the onset of symptoms, whereas Mr Trump first became symptomatic at least 11 days ago.
Dr Conley did not say whether Mr Trump had been tested using the PCR method, although he said the Abbott test was one of a range of indicators he had relied on when determining the president was virus-free.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that patients who exhibit severe symptoms like Mr Trump should isolate for at least 10 and possibly “up to 20” days following the onset of symptoms.
Dr Conley said in his Monday statement he had concluded Mr Trump was “not infectious to others”.
Mr Trump on Sunday claimed he was “immune” to coronavirus just six days after leaving hospital. But the CDC says it had “limited information” about whether infections confer immunity.
Mr Trump’s address at the rally in Orlando, Florida, on Monday marks the first of a number of campaign events, with rallies also planned in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Iowa on Wednesday, and North Carolina on Thursday.
Mr Trump’s infection derailed his campaign’s efforts to draw a line under his handling of coronavirus, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans and led to millions of job losses. The president polls badly on the issue and has instead focused his campaign message on “law and order”.
Mr Trump has repeatedly pushed for a rapid emergence from lockdown, citing the damage done to the economy.
Earlier on Monday, a senior administration official claimed a recent initiative signed largely by a group of US medical practitioners who favour herd immunity, known as the Great Barrington Declaration, justified the administration’s anti-lockdown stance.
“Yes the virus is dangerous but it’s dangerous for a certain subset of people,” said the official, adding children were extremely low-risk.
Mr Biden told a crowd in Ohio earlier on Monday that Mr Trump’s personal conduct since his diagnosis had been “reckless” and “unconscionable”. He said Mr Trump’s response to his own infection showed “he doesn’t know what he’s doing”.