Trump Appears To Struggle To Breathe In New Video. What Does That Mean?

Photo: Ken Cedeno/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty Images.
After a three-day stay at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center following his COVID-19 diagnosis, on Monday Donald Trump returned to Pennsylvania Ave. But whether he's actually over his illness is the subject of some debate. In fact, when he addressed reporters from the steps of the White House on October 5, Trump appeared to be gasping for air.
"Just watched Trump hospital video a second time. His breathing is clearly labored. He seems to be leaning on table for support. And there’s so much fear in his eyes," one Twitter user wrote.
"I watched the video of Trump on the balcony," JaneDoeMD, who claims to be an EM doc, also wrote on Twitter. "Here is what I saw: Extra-respiratory muscles to breathe. Visible chest wall rise. Open mouth breathing at times. Rapid shallow breaths at roughly 25-30 breaths per minute. More than twice normal. This is respiratory distress."
We asked Shannon Sovndal, MD, an emergency medical services medical director in Boulder, Colorado and the author of Fragile, for his opinion on the video clip. And Dr. Sovndal confirmed that something looks off. "He looks like he has increased work of breathing, which is a term we use to say that someone is breathing with more effort than what a normal person would use," he says. "Basically, hey, that's not normal respiration."
The coronavirus is known to affect the lungs. The virus seems to irritate the lower respiratory tract, and can even lead to acute respiratory distress. Some people have reported that their respiratory symptoms persist for weeks after they "recover" from the illness.
"To me, if you told me that someone had COVID-19 and you showed me this video of them I'd say yeah, they have COVID-19. This isn't an asymptomatic person you're looking at," Dr. Sovndal, who has never worked directly with Trump, continues. "But the problem is with this disease it can turn sideways pretty quickly."
According to a letter from the White House, the president received an eight gram dose of Regeneron's polyclonal antibody cocktail, and has been taking zinc, vitamin D, famotidine, melatonin, and daily aspirin. Sean Conley, MD, and other White House physicians have said that Trump is "not entirely out of the woods yet" when it comes to the virus.
"The way he looks when he's walking, he looks like a person who's experiencing symptoms from COVID. They're not having a mild disease course with no symptoms," Dr. Sovndal says. "He's clearly having some respiratory issues, that's what we worry about with COVID and it's concerning that you see those symptoms." But we still know relatively little about the virus, so it's impossible to say for sure whether Trump is on the mend — or at risk for taking a turn for the worse.
It's likely that Trump will continue receiving treatment while back at the White House. Hopefully, he'll get strict about quarantining to avoid continuing to spread the virus, which has killed more than 210,000 people in the United States.

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