By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump briefly left the military hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19 in a motorcade on Sunday to wave to supporters gathered outside, sparking criticism that he was putting others at risk for a political stunt.
Trump was captured on video waving from the back seat of a black SUV Sunday evening, wearing a mask, as crowds cheered and waved American flags and pro-Trump banners outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Maryland.
Two people could be seen in the vehicle's front seats.
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 are generally required to quarantine for 14 days, the typical incubation period for the coronavirus to avoid infecting others. The disease has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
Trump tested positive on Thursday and did not disclose his infection until the early hours of Friday morning.
Shortly before the brief ride, Trump posted a video on Twitter saying he would "pay a little surprise to the some of the great patriots we have out on the street."
White House spokesman Judd Deere described the drive as a "short, last-minute motorcade ride to wave to his supporters" and said Trump quickly returned to his hospital suite.
Deere said "appropriate precautions were taken" before the ride to protect the President and those supporting him. "The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do," he said.
Criticism of the ride was swift, including from an attending physician at Walter Reed.
"Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential 'drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days," James Phillips, who is also an assistant professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University's medical school said https://twitter.com/DrPhillipsMD/status/1312867868028141568 on Twitter. "They might get sick. They may die. For political theater."
Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, added that he was praying for the health of Trump's Secret Service security detail: "They understood the risk inherent in the job, but they shouldn't have to contemplate that the risk is coming from the protectee."
The White House Correspondents Association issued a statement saying it was "outrageous" that Trump left the hospital without a press pool present. "The American public deserves independent coverage of the president so they can be reliably informed about his health."
There were some messages of support. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, reacted to news of the motorcade by tweeting https://twitter.com/GregAbbott_TX/status/1312880822639300611: "Looks like @realDonaldTrump is making a swift recovery from COVID. So many prayers answered."
(Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Diane Craft)