Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

Trump is being given a steroid that is usually used for severe cases of covid-19

A study in June found that dexamethasone significantly cut the chances that seriously ill patients died from the coronavirus.

October 5, 2020
trumptrump
President Donald Trump drives past supporters gathered outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday.
AP

The news: President Donald Trump has started receiving the steroid drug dexamethasone, which is usually reserved for patients with severe cases of covid-19. A study in June found that it significantly cut the chances that seriously ill patients died from the coronavirus. The World Health Organization recommends it only for patients with “severe and critical covid-19.”

Extra oxygen: At a news conference yesterday his doctors also announced that Trump had required extra oxygen after his bloood oxygen levels fell. He is also receiving a five-day course of remdesivir, which evidence suggests can shorten hospital stays and save lives for covid-19 patients. However, in the news conference yesterday his doctors said he was able to get out of the hospital bed and walk, and they claimed he may be discharged on Monday. Later that day Trump briefly left the hospital to wave at supporters from his armored Chevrolet Suburban. That decision was described as “insanity” by a doctor at Walter Reed Hospital, where Trump is being treated, because it may have put hospital staff members and Secret Service agents at risk.

Be careful reading too much into it all: Given that he is 74 and overweight, the president is at higher risk for serious illness. But we don’t know whether doctors are prescribing the cocktail of drugs on the basis of their own medical assessment or whether Trump has directed them to do so. On Friday Trump was given a dose of an unapproved, experimental, cutting-edge antibody treatment not available to other Americans. It’s being developed by Regeneron and is designed to mimic a powerful immune response in order to ward off a serious case of covid-19. Scientists have not studied the impact that using all these drugs at once could have on their effectiveness.

How did Trump get covid-19 in the first place? It’s impossible to know for sure, because it can take anywhere from two to 14 days to test positive after being exposed to the coronavirus. The prevailing theory has been that Trump caught covid-19 from his aide Hope Hicks, but evidence is emerging that a White House ceremony on September 26 could have been a “superspreading” event: at least seven of the people who attended tested positive. It’s unclear if Trump has infected others, but it is entirely possible given his busy schedule of campaign rallies, the debate, and fundraising events.