White House races to contain virus in ranks
The Trump administration is racing to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus inside the White House, as some senior officials believe that the disease is already spreading rapidly through the warren of cramped offices that make up the three floors of the West Wing.
Three top officials leading the government’s coronavirus response have begun two weeks of self-quarantine after two members of the White House staff — one of President Trump’s personal valets and Katie Miller, the spokeswoman for Vice-President Mike Pence — tested positive. But others who came into contact with Miller and the valet are continuing to report to work at the White House.
“It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the President, said on CBS’s Face the Nation programme on Sunday. Hassett said he wore a mask at times at the White House, but conceded that “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing.”
He added: “It’s a small, crowded place. It’s, you know, it’s a little bit risky. But you have to do it because you have to serve your country.”
The discovery of the two infected employees has prompted the White House to ramp up its procedures to combat the virus, asking more staff members to work from home, increasing usage of masks and more rigorously screening people who enter the complex.
It is not clear how many other White House officials Miller or the valet might have come into contact with in recent days, but many members of the West Wing staff who were most likely in meetings with Miller before she tested positive are still coming to work, according to senior administration officials.
The concern about an outbreak of the virus at the White House — and the swift testing and contact tracing being done to contain it — underscores the broader challenge for Americans as Trump urges them to begin returning to their workplaces despite warnings from public health officials that the virus continues to ravage communities across the country.
Most restaurants, offices and retail stores do not have the ability to regularly test all their employees and quickly track down and quarantine the contacts of anyone who gets infected.
At the White House, all employees are being tested at least weekly, officials said, and a handful of top aides who regularly interact with the
President are being tested daily. “To get in with the President, you have to test negative,” Hassett said.
Trump continues to reject guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear a mask when meeting with groups of people.
But a senior administration official said the president was spooked that his valet, who is among those who serve him food, had not been wearing a mask. And he was annoyed to learn that Miller tested positive, the official said.
Two senior officials said there were no plans to keep Trump and Pence apart.
Concern about the spread of the virus in the White House has temporarily sidelined three of the most high-profile members of the coronavirus task force — Dr Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Dr Redfield and Dr Hahn announced over the weekend that they would self-quarantine for two weeks after coming in contact with an infected member of the President’s staff. Both attended a meeting in the Situation Room last week where Miller was present, and they said they would continue to participate in the response effort from home. New York Times News Service