As President Donald Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — prematurely, given his lingering COVID sickness — he sent the wrong message and missed an opportunity to move the needle on America’s response to the deadly virus.

While all can be glad to see the president recovering, the message he sends about dealing with the coronavirus remains an important signal for how large swaths of the country understand the response. He left the hospital Sunday for a drive-by for supporters before he was discharged and had Secret Service agents close by as they rode around in an SUV. We hope the agents did not catch COVID from this photo opportunity. It was ill-advised.

Trump was seriously ill. His oxygen levels had dropped to risky levels at least two times over three days. He was treated with Remdesivir and another experimental drug that was a powerful, though somewhat risky, treatment for his symptoms. He left the hospital Monday, with his doctors saying he’s “not out of the woods” for another week but could continue recovery from the White House.

Trump used his battle with the virus to tell Americans “not to be afraid” and then entered the White House without a mask. Already, several members of his staff have caught COVID, as has the first lady.

Trump’s message will prompt some to let their guard down and likely not take seriously state and federal distancing mandates and other precautions that remain in place as several states see a spike in cases.

Medical experts decried the president’s messages. Trump can be more cavalier about his battle with the virus because he has the medical support and care most Americans don’t have, said Dr. David Nace, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Another expert had more severe criticism of the president’s video where he says, somewhat out of breath, how people can beat the virus and they shouldn’t be afraid.

“It’s an unconscionable message,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “I would go so far as to say it may precipitate or worsen the spread.”

With COVID deaths at 210,000 in the U.S. and growing, now is not the time for the president to downplay its seriousness.

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