Washington (AFP) -
Doctors were to decide Monday whether to discharge Donald Trump from hospital but news that the president's spokeswoman had also tested positive for Covid-19 underlined the out-of-control spread of the virus through a chaotic White House.
Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced her positive result in a statement saying that she had tested negative ever since Trump's own diagnosis last week but 'I tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday morning while experiencing no symptoms.'
McEnany -- the combative, main public interface between Trump and the media, giving daily television interviews and holding frequent briefings -- said that no journalists were believed to have come into close contact with her.
The news rammed home just how infected the White House has become.
Cases now include Trump's wife Melania, his close aide Hope Hicks, his campaign manager Bill Stepien, and more than half a dozen others from the president's circle both inside and outside the White House.
Despite this, Trump made clear he's itching to get out of hospital and back to the campaign trail with the clock running down on his hopes of beating Democrat Joe Biden on November 3.
- Discharge decision on Monday -
The 74-year-old Republican is doing everything to try and project strength and health, despite his hospitalization Friday at the Walter Reed military hospital just outside Washington.
Early Monday, a stream of election slogans, all in capital letters, filled his Twitter feed. Late Sunday, he drew criticism from independent medical experts by making a brief sortie in an armored SUV to drive past a crowd of supporters gathered nearby.
The White House published photos over the weekend of Trump working in his hospital suite and he tweeted two videos in which he talks about his recovery.
Doctors treating the president and aides say he is in good spirits and eager to return to the White House, where a large medical team is permanently on hand.
Chief of staff Mark Meadows said this could happen Monday.
'We are still optimistic that based on his unbelievable progress and -- and how strong he has been in terms of his fight against this Covid-19 disease, that he will be released,' Meadows told Fox News.
'But that decision won't be made until later today.'
The rosy image built up by Trump is running up against snippets of more alarming information given by doctors, including that he is being given the steroid dexamethasone and two experimental drugs -- a cocktail more usually associated with serious Covid-19 cases.
White House doctor Sean Conley also said in a Sunday briefing that Trump had indeed been given extra oxygen after a 'rapid progression' of his illness and falling oxygen levels on Friday. He said he had initially held back this crucial information to reflect the 'upbeat attitude.'
- Trump singlehandedly 'defeats' Covid? -
Beset by revelations that he avoids paying almost any income tax and a slew of other scandals, Trump was already behind Biden when he fell ill.
But the biggest liability in his scramble for a second term was always his handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has so far killed more than 209,000 Americans this year.
For months, Trump has given the appearance of trying to wish away the catastrophe and get back to his reelection narrative of a strong economy.
Now, Trump's transformation into a patient threatens to supercharge his opponents' own narrative that his recklessness in refusing to wear masks and frequent downplaying of the public danger is what pushed the country over the edge.
Facing these extraordinary challenges, Trump looks poised to try and claim that in getting quickly out of hospital he has personally vanquished the virus -- and will go on to do the same for the rest of the country.
Trump is 'battling as tough as only President Trump can,' campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine said on Fox News.
An unofficial White House themed gift shop announced Monday it will sell a commemorative coin titled 'President Donald J. Trump Defeats COVID' for $100.
- Biden gets advantage -
For all of Trump's determination to reassert himself, he has already lost several precious days of a campaign that revolves heavily around his large-scale rallies and image of personal strength.
On the day he announced his positive test he had been due to hold a rally in Florida. The next day he was to have flown to another important battleground, Wisconsin, ignoring the fact he was to gather crowds in one of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country.
Biden meanwhile has maintained his slow-but-steady campaign which has always emphasized health precautions -- a pared-back style that Trump calls weakness and mocked as recently as last week.
The upheaval has led to unusual interest in this Wednesday's televised debate between the vice presidential candidates -- Republican Mike Pence and Biden's pick, Kamala Harris.
With the current president sick and Biden turning 78 next month, Pence and Harris find themselves potentially closer to the hot seat than many others in their position over the years.
The biggest factor now in the tense coming few weeks will remain Trump's health, including whether he will be able to take part in the next presidential debate with Biden scheduled for October 15.