President Donald Trump cannot keep the coronavirus out of the White House. While he urges governors to consider lifting restrictions and downplays the need for more testing, the pandemic has made its way into the West Wing. When a White House staffer first tested positive for COVID-19 in March, it appeared to be a singular case that did not spread to other staffers.
Last week, two members of the executive staff — Katie Miller, one of the Vice President Mike Pence’s top aides, and a military valet to Trump — tested positive. Both work in close proximity to Trump and Pence. Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant also tested positive for COVID-19; however, she has been working remotely for nearly two months. The last time she was in direct contact with the president’s daughter was several weeks ago, reports CNN.
Through contact tracing, multiple other people working in the White House are now self-isolating, including a number of aides from Pence’s office and top White House aide Stephen Miller, Katie Miller’s husband. The head of the Food and Drug Administration is also self-quarantining for two weeks after coming into contact with one of the two contagious White House workers. Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is doing the same. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the White House coronavirus task force’s most recognizable members, plans to do a “modified quarantine” after making what is considered to be “low-risk” contact.
All White House staffers received a memo from management on Friday that encouraged employees to “practice maximum telework” and to “work remotely if at all possible.” However, conflicting messages have emerged. According to The Washington Post, several administration officials said White House staffers were encouraged by their supervisors to come into the office. Additionally, aides who travel with Trump and Pence would not self-isolate for the recommended 14 days. White House officials have said it was only a matter of time before the virus made its way to the West Wing, reports CNN. Aides are said by some White House officials to rarely wear masks and while social distancing is encouraged, it is not often put into practice.
“The president’s physician and White House operations continue to work closely to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the president, first family, and the entire White House complex safe and healthy at all times,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Washington Post. “In addition to social distancing, daily temperature checks and symptom histories, hand sanitizer, and regular deep cleaning of all workspaces, every staff member in proximity to the president and vice president is being tested daily for COVID-19 as well as any guests.”
The mixed messaging raises questions about how a safe work environment is being maintained for Trump, Pence, and their staff. The virus reaching the White House despite robust screening and testing practices illustrates the continuous spread of COVID-19, which has now taken more than 77,000 lives in the U.S. alone and has shown little sign of slowing as more than half of the states begin some form of reopening.
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