President Trump pledged Monday to provide Americans the same groundbreaking treatments he benefited from during his recovery from COVID-19, seizing the campaign limelight as if he had never left it in his first rally since testing positive for infection from the coronavirus at the start of October.
Mr. Trump showed no obvious signs of illness as he gleefully flung campaign swag to the Florida crowd like a stadium vendor with peanuts.
“Here we are!” Mr. Trump told supporters in Sanford after nearly two weeks on the sidelines. “We’re going to make this country greater than ever before.”
The president, trailing in many polls to Democrat Joseph R. Biden, is trying to jump-start his reelection bid after catching the virus that has killed about 215,000 people in the U.S. He held a brief rally-style event at the White House on Saturday and is scheduled to campaign in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and in Iowa on Wednesday.
Mr. Trump’s doctor, Sean P. Conley, said the president is no longer considered contagious after receiving multiple treatments and spending three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last week. The doctor also said the president tested negative on an antigen card for successive days, the first such news since Mr. Trump tested positive on Oct. 1.
“We are going to take whatever the hell they gave me, and we’re going to distribute it around to hospitals,” Mr. Trump said. “Everyone is going to have the same damn thing.”
Mr. Trump received remdesivir and dexamethasone — typical treatments for COVID-19 — but also received an “antibody cocktail” from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which is still in clinical trials.
The president said the drug is akin to a “cure,” though Regeneron’s CEO told Sunday talks shows that supply is limited so the drug would have to be rationed.
Mr. Trump seemed to have his New York-tinged voice and swagger back in the hourlong speech, thumping the side of the lectern and taking swings at Mr. Biden and the notion that he could be considered a politician, despite being president for nearly four years.
“I’m embarrassed by the term,” Mr. Trump said.
He stayed on message in early remarks, pledging to safeguard entitlements, dinging Mr. Biden over his fracking policy and promoting Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Supreme Court pick viewed as a way to reel in conservative voters who may not like the president’s style but want a clear majority on the court.
The president also thanked the Walter Reed staff for their care and boasted that he likely developed immunity. Mr. Trump said he doesn’t know whether he is protected for a few months or life but insisted he is ready to mix with the crowd.
“Give you a big fat kiss,” he said.
Mr. Trump isn’t changing his approach to the coronavirus after his scary brush with the pathogen, during which the 74-year-old required supplemental oxygen on two occasions. He declined to wear a mask when boarding or disembarking from Air Force One and said states need to open fully.
“You’re open — and open for business and doing great,” he said to his Florida audience, crediting Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and close ally.
Mr. Trump said people should choose whether they want to go out during the pandemic. If someone thinks they might have a bad outcome, they should stay home and “relax,” the president said.
“If you want to get out, get out,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s assertion that the virus will “run its course” puts him at odds with state officials, who are preaching caution or cracking down as the nation deals with its heaviest daily caseload in two months.
The president wants voters to live their lives and be “strong and vigilant” until the vaccine arrives.
Yet with transmission rates high across the Midwest and hot spots reemerging in the Northeast, some governors and mayors say it’s more important than ever to don masks and observe physical distancing to stave off a “second wave” by winter.
The seven-day rolling average of reported daily cases is up to 49,000, a level not seen since mid-August, according to a New York Times tracker.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is issuing summonses and fines as cases flare in hot spots around New York City, notably in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. About 5% of tests are coming back positive in the “red zones” compared with less than 1% statewide.
The White House is urging governors to lift virus-related restrictions instead of reimposing them.
A senior administration official on Monday highlighted an anti-lockdown statement from public health experts, known as the Great Barrington Declaration, and a top World Health Organization official’s warning that lockdowns should be avoided as countries try to control the spread of the virus.
The official said the statements align “very strongly with what the president has said for months.”
“Lockdowns do not eliminate the virus. Lockdowns are extremely harmful,” the official said.
Mr. Trump’s push for large rallies contrasts sharply with the Biden campaign, which is shirking large events and dubbing them unsafe.
Mr. Biden, speaking in Ohio, said the U.S. has the world-leading death toll from the virus and said Mr. Trump cannot be trusted.
“This president knew back in January when he was briefed in detail by the intelligence community that this was an extremely dangerous and communicable disease,” Mr. Biden said. “He went on a taped interview with Bob Woodward, the journalist, telling him he knew how dangerous this disease was. But he did nothing. Ask yourselves, why didn’t he tell the country? He said nothing.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, said Mr. Biden is keeping a lighter schedule so he doesn’t make blunders in the public eye.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, who is back at campaign headquarters after testing positive for COVID-19, said it’s “stretch-run time” for the reelection team.
The campaign is back on the air in all 50 states with a TV ad buy costing tens of millions of dollars, plus radio ads in markets targeting evangelical, Black and Hispanic voters.
Mr. Stepien agreed with reports that Democrats have a large advantage in absentee voting but said they are not trending in numbers big enough to win states such as Florida, North Carolina and Michigan.
He said in 2016, 20% of Democrats in Florida who requested ballots never returned them, a figure he expects to increase this year.
Mr. Stepien said, 42% of Democrats in North Carolina have said they plan to vote by mail. He said the Trump campaign has projected that level of mail voting would leave Democrats about 1 million votes short of the 2.46 million needed — according to the campaign’s estimate — for Mr. Biden to win the state.
“Democrats were pinning all of their hopes on absentee ballots. They are falling short,” Mr. Stepien said. “The lesson here is that ballots don’t return themselves. This is why a ground game matters. We have the best ground game.
“Joe Biden has none,” he said. “It takes work. It takes effort to actually make that happen.”