Hot Air

Is there an outbreak at the White House? Update: Masks at (almost) all times?

There’s no hard evidence that transmission is happening *at* the White House but there’s plenty of evidence of a recent spike of infections among people who work there. First was Trump’s valet, the news of which the president reportedly didn’t take well.

After learning that one of his valets was infected, Trump became “lava level mad” at his staff and said he doesn’t feel it is doing all it can to protect him, according to a person close to the White House.

The source said the unknowingly infected valet was consistently close to the president throughout the day. Trump publicly disputed that Thursday, telling reporters that he’d had “very little contact, personal contact, with this gentleman.”

The valet served Trump his meals, among other duties. Then came Katie Miller, Mike Pence’s press secretary (and wife to Trump advisor Stephen Miller). “The news of Katie Miller’s positive test has left everyone in the West Wing of the White House genuinely nervous,” said CNN, quoting a White House source. “The source said Katie Miller’s nature is to communicate in person so she makes lots of in-person contacts during her day-to-day work.” Stephen Miller is now reportedly working from home given the possibility that he’s infected too. White House officials did contact tracing over the weekend to try to figure out how Katie Miller might have picked it up but hadn’t come to any conclusions as of this morning.

Oh, meanwhile: 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive and 60 more are in self-quarantine as a precaution. Where they were stationed and whether any of them had close contact with Trump or Pence is unclear. But the president is now being tested for the virus every day.

That’s not all. The Navy’s top admiral, who was supposed to attend a meeting with Trump at the White House on Saturday, is in self-quarantine after coming into contact with a family member who was infected. The head of the National Guard was supposed to attend the same meeting but backed out after he tested positive on Saturday at the White House, after he was given a precautionary test before meeting Trump, although a follow-up test the same afternoon showed him negative. His status is pending.

Anthony Fauci and the directors of the CDC and FDA are all self-isolating right now just to be on the safe side. The optics here … aren’t great:

“Now that [the heads of the CDC and FDA] are staying away, some officials said they don’t know if they should keep going to work at the White House,” WaPo reported over the weekend. The management office has sent out a memo encouraging telework if possible, although “several administration officials said White House staffers were encouraged to come into the office by their supervisors.”

Bloomberg claimed last night that even Mike Pence has been staying away from the White House over the last few days because of his exposure to Miller, but Pence rushed out a statement afterward insisting that it wasn’t true and that he’d be there today. On Friday, the same day that his press secretary’s infection was confirmed, he met with a bunch of CEOs in Iowa — and asked them to remove their masks after they showed up wearing them. I can understand why the White House would be reluctant to keep personnel at home at a moment when it’s begging the country to get back to work but the antipathy to mask-wearing seems like nothing more or less than moronic strongman posturing. Real men don’t take precautions. Only wusses would put on a mask and risk … crushing the pandemic in a matter of months.

Take this for what it’s worth:

That might be nothing more than a reference to Pence’s brief self-isolation. Miller is his press secretary; of course he might have been “impacted” by being around her before her infection was confirmed. But he’s being tested daily. If he has the bug we should know immediately, assuming the White House doesn’t cover it up because “it’d look bad.”

The evidence will be whether he’s seen around others at the White House, especially Trump, this week. I can believe they’d bring him back into the building even if he were infected as a matter of keeping up appearances during the big “reopen now” push. I can’t believe they’d risk having him infect anyone else while he’s there.

Here’s Trump advisor Kevin Hassett admitting that it’s “scary” to go to work right now. Imagine how scary it is for people in far less glamorous jobs, with no testing or contact tracing personnel on the premises. If you’re wondering how they’re testing people at the White House, by the way, apparently it’s through the use of one of those portable insta-result machines from Abbott. The problem: “[S]ome hospitals and doctors found that [the Abbott equipment] was turning up too many false negatives — cases in which people really had the virus, but the test said they did not.” False negatives are much more dangerous than false positives since it means an infected person is walking around with a clean bill of health. How many people like that are in the West Wing today?

Update: I’m guessing that the boss will not be following this rule, but lesser employees might have to.

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