POST 25. May 10, 2020, CORONAVIRUS. “It is scary to go to work,” said Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the president. “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing.”

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“In the latest sign of worry that the coronavirus could be spreading through the senior ranks of the Trump administration, three top public health officials have begun partial or full self-quarantine for two weeks after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Representatives for Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, confirmed the precautions on Saturday. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, confirmed a CNN report that he had begun a “modified quarantine” given what he called a “low risk” contact.

The actions come after the disclosure on Friday that Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for the virus. Ms. Miller has attended numerous meetings of the White House’s coronavirus task force, which also includes Dr. Redfield, Dr. Hahn and Dr. Fauci.

Dr. Fauci will telework from home and wear a mask for 14 days, he told CNN, possibly visiting his office at the National Institutes of Health when he will be the only person present. He tested negative for the virus on Friday and plans to be tested daily from now on.

Dr. Redfield also had a “low-risk exposure” with a person at the White House, on May 6, and will be teleworking for the next two weeks, Benjamin Haynes, a C.D.C. spokesman, said in a statement. Dr. Redfield “is feeling fine, and has no symptoms,” he said, adding that if Dr. Redfield needed to visit the White House for official business he would follow C.D.C. safety guidelines for essential workers who may have been exposed to the virus. Those guidelines call for temperature checks, screening for symptoms, masks as well as social distancing.” (A)

“The Trump administration is racing to contain an outbreak of Covid-19 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….

Others who came into contact with Ms. Miller and the valet are continuing to report for duty at the White House.

“It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the president, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Mr. Hassett said he sometimes wears a mask in the White House, but he 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.”

Dr. Fauci was scheduled to testify at a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday; he and other witnesses will now appear by videoconference instead of in person, according to the office of the committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

The discovery of the two infected staff members has prompted the White House to step up its procedures to combat the coronavirus, including daily tests for some senior staff, increased use of masks and more rigorous screening of people entering the complex.

The concern about an outbreak at the White House — and the swift testing and contact tracing being done to contain it — underscores the broader challenge facing Americans as Mr. Trump urges them to begin returning to their own workplaces. Public health officials continue to warn that the virus is still ravaging communities across the country and that precautions are still needed.

Mr. Trump himself 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. Mr. Trump was annoyed to learn that Ms. Miller had tested positive, and has been growing irritated with people who get too close to him, the official said.” (B)

“Experts have repeatedly remarked on how highly transmissible the coronavirus is, a particularly dangerous fact given the close quarters of the West Wing. Trump and Pence were in meetings together with the governors of Iowa and Texas each of the last two days, and Pence has led task force meetings this week with the administration’s top health officials.

But if Trump was nervous about the virus spreading within the White House, he did not make it known publicly.

“I’m not worried. But you know, look, I get things done. I don’t worry about things. I do what I have to do,” he said. “We’ve taken very strong precautions at the White House. But again, we’re dealing with an invisible situation. Nobody knows.”

“All you can do is take precaution and do it the best you can,” he added.

The White House is said to be implementing more stringent policies and procedures meant to protect the president and vice president. Trump and Pence and their closest aides will now be tested daily, rather than weekly, for the virus.

Visitors who meet with Trump or Pence are given rapid virus tests upon arriving at the White House, and events have been set up in recent weeks to accommodate a greater level of social distancing…

Masks have appeared to be a particular sticking point for a president who is known to be extremely image-conscious and is trying to convince the country that it’s safe to go back to work.

All 14 reporters seated in the briefing room for Friday’s press briefing wore masks, as did the White House stenographer. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the three aides who joined her did not.

Trump, an admitted germaphobe, did not wear a mask to visit the World War II Memorial to mark the 75th anniversary of V-E Day. He said he did not consider wearing one to greet the veterans in attendance, noting that he kept several feet away when greeting them.

Zero of the roughly three dozen Republicans and administration officials seated in the State Dining Room for the meeting with Trump had a mask on. The officials were seated only a couple feet apart from one another. Lawmakers could be spotted touching their faces and picking up microphones to move them closer throughout the nearly two hours reporters were allowed to observe…

Meadows, apparently unaware the president’s event with Republican lawmakers was being broadcast live, said “off the record” that reporters in the building could get tested for peace of mind, and many did on Friday afternoon.” (C)

“Despite a second White House staffer testing positive for COVID-19 this week, President Donald Trump has continued to undermine social distancing efforts. As the Washington Post reports, new protocols were put into place to secure the White House complex over the past two days, during which a military valet to the president and Katie Miller, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, tested positive…

Trump attended the meeting less than an hour after Pence’s plane took off for Des Moines, a trip that was delayed for more than an hour as two aides who had been in close contact with Miller were removed from Air Force Two out of precaution. While the White House said Pence and the aides tested negative for the virus, the Post notes that Miller has attended almost all of the White House coronavirus task force meetings—during which almost no aides wore masks—in the Situation Room, prompting concern for who else Miller interacted with. During an event with GOP members, the president sent conflicting messages, suggesting that “the whole concept of tests isn’t great” while also claiming “I don’t worry about things” and that “we’re dealing with an invisible situation. Nobody knows.” According to several security officials, not wearing a mask—which Pence and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have followed suit— and gathering with guests for photo-ops at the White House speaks to Trump’s repeated efforts to minimize the public health crisis.

“This is a show of bravado,” a former security official told the Post. “If he backtracks now, and starts wearing a mask, it will contradict the red meat he’s feeding to his base constantly. This is the first health crisis that has been politicized.”

…While Secret Service spokesperson Justine Whelan said that the agency “continues to follow guidelines issued by the CDC to ensure the health and welfare of our employees and those they come in contact with,” Yahoo notes that measures taken at the White House have not necessarily followed such guidelines, with many Secret Service employees on the White House complex among those not wearing a mask. And while temperature checks have been occurring for everyone entering the White House, testing has been partial, with reporters entering the Oval Office without being required to wear masks or being given tests. This remains true even as the virus seems to spread within the White House: Yahoo reports that the press covering the event where Trump discussed Miller’s diagnosis were not given tests before being brought into the State Dining Room.” (D)

“Vice President Pence and President Trump are now both being tested daily for the coronavirus and continued to test negative as of Friday…

But the White House’s own coronavirus guidance urges people who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home, and away from others who haven’t been exposed to the virus for 14 days, even if they’re not sick. ..

The coronavirus is highly contagious and may spread easily between people who aren’t showing symptoms, which is why it’s critical for people to stay home when they’ve been exposed to a sick person, even if they aren’t feeling ill. People over 60 (which Trump and Pence both are) are also at a much higher risk of developing some of the virus’s most severe complications, making social distancing even more critical for the pair right now.

Since not everyone can stay home, even when they’re sick, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued special guidance for essential workers who’ve had close contact with an infected person. The guidance says they can still go to work, if they must, but only so long as they wear a mask for 14 days after their exposure, maintain a 6-foot distance from others, monitor themselves for symptoms, and disinfect workspaces regularly. 

Neither Pence nor Trump has been wearing a mask, though…

Recent studies have suggested that the coronavirus thrives especially well in enclosed, indoor workplaces where people sit next to each other, chat, and exchange air all day long…

“More distance is better,” University of Maryland virologist Don Milton recently told Business Insider.” (E)

“The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press…

The trove of emails obtained by The Associated Press show the nation’s top public health experts at the CDC spending weeks working on guidance only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation…

The document, titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework,” was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed “decision trees,” or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.

“The re-opening guidance shared prematurely was in draft form and had not been vetted through the interagency review process,” Redfield said in a statement released by the White House on Saturday.

“This is an iterative effort to ensure effective, clear guidance is presented to the American people. I had not seen a version of the guidance incorporating interagency and task force input and therefore was not yet comfortable releasing a final work product,” the statement said.

This new CDC guidance — a mix of advice already released along with newer information — had been approved and promoted by the highest levels of its leadership, including Redfield. Despite this, the administration shelved it on April 30.

As early as April 10, Redfield, who is also a member of the White House coronavirus task force, shared via email the guidance and decision trees with President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, top adviser Kellyanne Conway and Joseph Grogan, assistant to the president for domestic policy. Also included were Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other task force members.

Three days later, CDC’s upper management sent the more than 60-page report with attached flow charts to the White House Office of Management and Budget, a step usually taken only when agencies are seeking final White House approval for documents they have already cleared…

The CDC’s guidance was shelved. Until May 7.

That morning The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration had buried the guidance, even as many states had started allowing businesses to reopen.

After the story ran, the White House called the CDC and ordered them to refile all of the decision trees, except one that targeted churches. An email obtained by the AP confirmed the agency resent the documents late Thursday, hours after news broke.

“Attached per the request from earlier today are the decision trees previously submitted to both OIRA and the WH Task Force, minus the communities of faith tree,” read the email. “Please let us know if/when/how we are able to proceed from here.”” (F)

“One day after President Trump complained that the amount of coronavirus testing happening nationwide makes the United States “look bad,” Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said such efforts are essential and should be stepped up.

Birx’s comments came Thursday evening in an answer to a pointed question from CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who wanted to know whether she agreed with Trump’s take on testing.

Though the president continues to brag about and take credit for U.S. testing, in recent days, he has expressed skepticism about the need for so much of it. On Tuesday, he did both in the same breath.

Trump said that while the U.S. has “the greatest testing in the world” and “the most testing in the world,” he didn’t think “you need that kind of testing or that much testing.” The next day, Trump took his remarks a step further, telling reporters at the White House, “In a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”…

Cooper, who was joined by CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, opened Thursday’s interview with Birx by asking her about why guidelines on reopening the country from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not yet been released, despite being in the works for weeks.

Earlier in the day, the Associated Press and CNN reported that the White House had shelved the recommendations — a move that would further limit the CDC’s public role during a pivotal moment in the country’s coronavirus response as more than half the states are now reopening or in the process of lifting restrictions.

In response to Cooper, Birx stressed that administration officials are “in deep partnership” with the CDC on a number of different guidelines, including those related to reopening the country.

“No one has stopped those guidelines. We’re still in editing,” Birx said with a smile. “I just got my edits back from the CDC late yesterday. I’m working on them as soon as I get off of this discussion. We are in constant work with the CDC and really value their partnership.”…

Then, the conversation turned to another delicate subject: the practice of wearing masks at the White House, in light of news that a valet, whose job potentially puts him in close daily contact with Trump, had tested positive for the novel virus…

“All of us are very nervous every day. None of us want to be the one to ever bring coronavirus into the White House,” Birx said. “Most of us don’t do anything but go to work and come home. If we go out at all, even to take a walk, I can assure you we do wear masks in public.”

“I think all of us are very nervous every day. None of us want to be the one to ever bring coronavirus into the White House,” says coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx.

When Gupta asked Birx if she would tell people to start wearing masks around Trump given how easily transmittable the virus is, the doctor artfully dodged the question.

“Certainly there are people who wear masks on the White House complex,” she said, before shifting to discuss the effort being made by officials to maintain social distancing in their daily interactions.

“I’m very scrupulous and I know all of the meetings we have are very much focused on social distancing,” she continued. “We all are very concerned about protecting others as well as ensuring that we don’t become positive ourselves.”” (G)

“President Donald Trump hoped this would be the week he emerged into a nation recovering from pandemic. Instead the pandemic came to him…

The arrival of coronavirus to the West Wing only served to illustrate the continued spread of the disease months into a pandemic that’s taken more than 77,000 American lives and turned a once hot economy to ice. Even the nightly deep cleanings, regular testing and a lot of wishful thinking couldn’t prevent the virus from arriving on Trump’s doorstep…

As Trump agitates for states to loosen their restrictions and allow Americans back into workplaces and businesses, the sight of his aides contracting the disease did little to boost confidence the nation is ready to return to normal, even as jobless claims skyrocket to never-seen-before levels and options for reviving the economy fall short….

The new testing rules have only underscored to aides the new reality in which they find themselves: forced to confront a virus that hasn’t yielded, even though Trump says the country must reopen and Americans must return to work.” (H)


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