STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A tally kept by Johns Hopkins University shows more than 210,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States alone. But one very high-profile patient has returned home from the hospital. The infected president of the United States rode a helicopter from the hospital back to the White House. He stood on the balcony, took off his mask and turned toward nearby aides to help him make a video.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I learned so much about coronavirus. 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.
INSKEEP: It is not clear if the president has beaten the illness. He is back in a building where many people work and others have tested positive. In a moment, we question an ICU doctor who watched that spectacle from Texas. We begin with NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Franco, good morning.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What did this staged event show about the president's approach to the pandemic?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it was a really dramatic moment. He - you know, it was like he knew this was going to be something that was captured by cameras, could be part of history. You know, how they set up the flags in front of the White House, how he pulled off his mask and stood there to salute Marine One and even how he turned to walk into the White House as cameras clicked away - not wearing his mask, by the way. It was really a dramatic made-for-TV moment.
INSKEEP: Did all of the showmanship actually illustrate the president's strategy against the pandemic?
ORDOÑEZ: You know, it does. I mean, it's less about masks and distancing than having a positive attitude. You know, he told Americans in that video that they should get out there and not be afraid of the coronavirus.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines - all developed recently.
ORDOÑEZ: But it was a message that - you noted - that left out the 210,000 people who have died from the virus and the more than 7 million people who have contracted the virus. And - you know, but it does fit with that overall strategy to focus on beating this and reopening the country and not on the people who have gotten sick or have died.
INSKEEP: Well, let's focus on the people who've gotten sick or who've died and focus on the public health aspect of this as opposed to the attitude side of it. Has the public health strategy changed at all?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, you know, those daily coronavirus briefings with Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci, those ended a long time ago. And there really hasn't been much change recently, except now Trump can claim this firsthand experience. The strategy really appears to be doubling down on getting therapeutics and vaccines and portraying things as getting better, that the best is just around the corner.
You know, he's really trying to make this case for reelection, and this is on an issue where Americans judge him very harshly. So the goal for him is to convince people otherwise. We saw that last night, and I expect we'll hear a lot more about that in the weeks going forward.
INSKEEP: I guess it's possible that the president could even resume a public schedule. But hasn't his doctor said it's going to be at least a week before we know if the president is better?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, it's very interesting because President Trump even suggested that he may be immune. And it's kind of startling considering he's only a few days into his treatment. He's taking very strong medications. And a big question remains about the White House and President Trump. There's a lot of questions that they are not answering about the timeline, details about his health.
And, frankly, this imagery that they put out last night doesn't even reflect the reality surrounding him at the White House. His press secretary is just the latest in a growing number of his inner circle to test positive. And, you know, all that kind of interferes with this kind of heroic message.
INSKEEP: Franco, thanks for your insights. Always appreciate it.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.