United States President Donald Trump staged a dramatic return to the White House today after leaving the military hospital where he has been receiving an unprecedented level of care for Covid-19.
Before entering the White House, Trump removed his face mask and filmed a 90-second long message, which he posted online a short time later.
"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.
Trump also speculated that he may now be "immune" to the killer virus.
"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."
Trump immediately ignited a new controversy by declaring that despite his illness the nation should not fear the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans — and then he entered the White House without a protective mask.
Trump's message alarmed infectious disease experts and suggested the President's own illness had not caused him to rethink his often-cavalier attitude toward the disease, which has also infected the first lady and several White House aides, including new cases revealed today.
Landing at the White House on Marine One, Trump gingerly climbed the South Portico steps, removed his mask and declared, "I feel good."
He gave a double thumbs-up to the departing helicopter from the portico terrace, where aides had arranged American flags for the sunset occasion. He entered the White House, where aides were visible milling about the Blue Room, without wearing a face covering.
The President left Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre, where his doctor, Navy Commander Sean Conley, said earlier that the President remains contagious and would not be fully "out of the woods" for another week but that Trump had met or exceeded standards for discharge from the hospital.
Trump is expected to continue his recovery at the White House, where the reach of the outbreak that has infected the highest levels of the US Government is still being uncovered.
Still Trump indicated he won't be kept from campaigning for long, tweeting before leaving the hospital, "Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!"
Trump made a point of sounding confident earlier. He tweeted, "I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don't be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life. ... I feel better than I did 20 years ago!"
Trump's nonchalant message about not fearing the virus comes as his own Administration has encouraged Americans to be very careful and take precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the disease as cases continue to spike across the country.
For more than eight months, Trump's efforts to play down the threat of the virus in hopes of propping up the economy ahead of the election have drawn bipartisan criticism.
"We have to be realistic in this: Covid is a complete threat to the American population," Dr David Nace of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, said of Trump's no-fear comment.
"Most of the people aren't so lucky as the President," with an in-house medical unit and access to experimental treatments, added Nace, an expert on infections in older adults.
"It's an unconscionable message," agreed Dr Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "I would go so far as to say that it may precipitate or worsen spread."
There was political pushback to Trump's attitude toward the virus, as well.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that Trump had "let his guard down" in his effort to show that the country was moving beyond the virus and had created "confusion" about how to stay safe.
Conley said that because of Trump's unusual level of treatment so early after discovery of his illness he was in "uncharted territory." But the doctor also was upbeat at an afternoon briefing and said the President could resume his normal schedule once "there is no evidence of live virus still present."
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms of Covid-19 can be contagious for as many — and should isolate for at least — 10 days.
Trump's expected discharge raised new questions about how the Administration was going to protect other officials from a disease that remains rampant in the President's body. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced she had tested positive for the virus today and was entering quarantine.
Both Nace and Khan expressed fear Trump won't properly stay isolated at the White House - and that he hasn't learned his lesson about wearing a mask.
"We know he hates the mask, we know he hates to be restricted, we know he's unpredictable," Nace said. "The rest of the American people are held accountable to a 10-day isolation period."
There were also lingering questions about potential long term effects to the president — and even when he first came down with the virus.
Conley repeatedly declined to share results of medical scans of Trump's lungs, saying he was not at liberty to discuss the information because Trump did not waive doctor-patient confidentiality on the subject.
Covid-19 has been known to cause significant damage to the lungs of some patients. Conley also declined to share the date of Trump's most recent negative test for the virus — a critical point for contact tracing and understanding where Trump was in the course of the disease.
Only a day earlier, Trump suggested he had finally grasped the true nature of the virus, saying in a video, "I get it." But then, Trump briefly ventured out of the hospital while contagious to salute cheering supporters by motorcade — an outing that disregarded precautions meant to contain the virus.
Trump's experience with the disease has been dramatically different from most Americans, who do not have access to the same kind of monitoring and care.
While most must cope with their symptoms — and fear of whether they'll take a turn for the worse — at home and alone, Trump has been staying in the presidential suite of one of the nation's best hospitals and has been given experimental drugs not readily available to the public. He returns to the White House where there is a team of doctors on call with 24-hour monitoring.