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The Trump White House is dealing with a potential outbreak of coronavirus, even as the administration is pushing forward, against the advice of public health experts, with plans to reopen the country.
Two White House staffers have tested positive for coronavirus in less than a week. The first, a member of the U.S. Navy who serves as a personal valet for Trump, tested positive last Wednesday. Then on Friday, the White House announced that Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller, wife of White House aide Stephen Miller, had tested positive as well.
The pair of positive coronavirus cases has rocked the White House, particularly Miller’s, as virtually anyone who’s come into contact with either her or Stephen in recent weeks is at risk for exposure.
“It is scary to go to work,” Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett admitted in an interview with “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing. But, you know, it’s the time when people have to step up and serve their country.”
Who’s tested positive?
Trump was reportedly informed about his personal valet’s positive test on Wednesday, which “upset him,” according to CNN. The valet reportedly began experiencing symptoms on Wednesday. Following the news, Trump insisted that he had “very little personal contact” with the man but would begin daily coronavirus testing anyway.
Just two days later, Pence’s office confirmed that a staffer had also tested positive for the illness. While they initially refused to name the staffer, Trump later blurted it out, telling reporters that a press person for Pence named “Katie” had tested positive. Miller reportedly tested negative on Thursday but tested positive on Friday; her husband tested negative on Friday.
“She tested very good for a long period of time,” Trump said of Miller. “And then all of a sudden today she tested positive. She hasn’t come into contact with me. She’s spent some time with the vice president.” On Friday, as Pence set off for a trip to Iowa, six staffers who’d been in contact with Miller reportedly had to get off the plane as a precaution.
Previously, in March, an unnamed Pence staffer had tested positive for coronavirus. Miller said at the time that the staffer hadn’t been in close contact with either Pence or Trump, and both Mike and Karen Pence later tested negative.
So far, three of the federal government’s top public health officials have voluntarily gone into a two-week quarantine following the news that Miller tested positive.
The Food and Drug Administration confirmed Saturday that FDA head Dr. Stephen Hahn was self-quarantining for two weeks after he “recently came into contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.” Hahn tested negative on Friday, and will continue working from home, the FDA said.
In addition to Hahn, Dr. Anthony Fauci — perhaps the most visible member of the president’s coronavirus task force — and CDC chief Dr. Robert Redfield have gone into self-quarantine. Redfield’s office said he had “low-risk exposure on May 6 to a person who has COVID-19,” but that he’s “feeling fine and has no symptoms.”
Fauci, meanwhile, is going into a “modified” quarantine, he told CBS News on Sunday. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said he’ll wear a mask, work mostly remotely, and generally stay at home for two weeks, but will wear a mask and socially distance if he’s asked to participate in a White House briefing or committee meeting.
On Tuesday, all three are scheduled to testify remotely in a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee meeting. The committee chair, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is also in self-quarantine after one of his staffers tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds reportedly may self-isolate after a visit to the White House last Wednesday, and the state’s medical director, who sat in on a meeting with Pence’s staff Wednesday, is self-quarantining.
Who’s not quarantining?
Notably, neither Trump nor Pence is self-quarantining.
The vice president planned to be at the White House on Monday, and “will continue to follow the advice of the White House Medical Unit and is not in quarantine,” Pence spokesperson Devin O’Malley told CNN.
Both the president and the vice president have faced scrutiny in recent weeks for not wearing masks in public. In a late-April visit to the Mayo Clinic, Pence didn’t wear a mask, something he later admitted was a mistake. But on Friday, when Pence landed in Iowa for a roundtable with food industry executives in Des Moines, those executives were asked to remove their masks before the event started.
And last week, Trump didn’t wear a mask while hosting a V-E Day event for World War II veterans, the youngest of whom was 96.
Trump later said that the wind “was blowing so hard in such a direction that if the plague ever reached them, I’d be very surprised,” and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told the press that the veterans “made the choice” to come to the White House for the event.
Cover: President Donald Trump listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a meeting about the coronavirus response with Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)