Medical experts are questioning Donald Trump’s decision to greet supporters in a drive-past outside the hospital where he is being treated for Covid-19.
There are concerns the US president, who wore a mask, may have endangered Secret Service staff inside the car.
White House spokesperson Judd Deere said the trip on Sunday had been “cleared by the medical team as safe”.
Questions remain over the seriousness of Mr Trump’s illness after conflicting statements over the weekend.
The president has been in hospital since Friday, after he announced hours earlier he had tested positive for the virus.
Covid-19 has infected nearly 7.4 million and killed nearly 210,000 people across the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.
President Trump’s diagnosis has upended his election campaign, as he faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden on 3 November.
A growing number of people around the president, including his wife Melania Trump, senior aides and Republican senators, have tested positive with the virus.
Mr Trump waved to well-wishers from behind the glass of a sealed car after tweeting that he would leave Walter Reed hospital, near Washington, to pay a “surprise visit” to “patriots” outside. Inside the car, at least two people could be seen wearing protective gear in the front seats, with Mr Trump sat in the back.
Experts say the president’s short car trip broke public health advice to quarantine when seeking treatment for the virus, and may have put Secret Service agents inside the vehicle at risk of infection.
“That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of Covid-19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures,” tweeted Dr James Philips, a doctor at the same hospital where the president is being treated.
Those inside the president’s car would now need to quarantine for 14 days, he said.
Democrats have also criticised the trip, with House of Representatives Hakeem Jeffries tweeting: “We need leadership. Not photo ops.”
But the White House’s Judd Deere defended the move, saying “appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the president and all those supporting it, including PPE [personal protective equipment]”.
Meanwhile, NBC News reports that Melania Trump, who has remained at the White House with mild symptoms, decided against visiting her husband in hospital because of the risks to staff.
“She has Covid,” an unnamed official told NBC on Saturday. “That would expose the agents who would drive her there and the medical staff who would walk her up to him.”
It emerged the president’s condition was more serious than previously reported when he went to hospital on Friday evening.
The White House had said Mr Trump was experiencing “mild symptoms” of Covid-19, but then it was confirmed that he had received extra oxygen after his levels dipped twice in two days.
He was also given the steroid dexamethasone, which is normally reserved for serious cases, according to experts.
On Sunday, White House Physician Dr Sean Conley addressed widespread confusion over the state of Mr Trump’s health, after conflicting accounts from him and the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
Dr Conley had offered an upbeat prognosis on Saturday, which was later contradicted by Mr Meadows who said the president’s vital signs the previous 24 hours had been “very concerning”.
“I was trying to reflect an upbeat attitude of the team and the president about the course his illness has had,” Dr Conley told reporters on Sunday. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction.”
There is scepticism over the prospect – raised by doctors earlier – that Donald Trump could leave hospital as early as Monday.