We’re committed to keeping our readers informed.
We’ve removed our paywall from essential coronavirus news stories. Become a subscriber to support our journalists. Subscribe now.
Not all members of the White House coronavirus task force are taking the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to heart. In the past two weeks, the vice-president and the president were seen in public spaces indoors without a mask, ignoring local protocol. Following confirmations that the vice-president’s press secretary, Katie Miller; the person who serves the president his meals; and 11 Secret Service agents tested positive for COVID-19, Trump is flouting CDC recommendations in his decision not to enter a two-week quarantine period. And while public health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci intends to self-isolate for 14 days after contact with one of the White House staffers, Mike Pence will quarantine just for the weekend, despite the time he’s spent with his press secretary.
On Sunday, Bloomberg first reported that the vice-president has been self-isolating since Friday, when Miller was diagnosed. “Vice-President Pence will continue to follow the advice of the White House Medical Unit and is not in quarantine,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Additionally, Vice-President Pence has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow.”
Unlike Pence’s quiet weekend, Fauci intends to work from home for the full two weeks recommended by the CDC, and said that he may go to his office at the National Institutes of Health, where he would be the only person there; he will undergo a COVID-19 test every day of his time in isolation, and he tested negative on Saturday. CDC director Robert Redfield and Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn will also self-isolate after a similar exposure to one of the patients.
The budding West Wing hotspot shows the difficulty of controlling workplace exposure as states reopen to an unknown level of risk, due to the gross inadequacy of testing around the country. Unlike the White House — where all employees are tested at least weekly — stores, restaurants, and offices won’t be able to have extensive access to tests to determine if their staff remains healthy. “It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the president, said on 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.” (Hassett did not address the fear that working-class Americans would face in workplaces around the country that do not have unlimited access to PPE or frequent reassurances that they are not infected.)
Trump, with his historically shallow reserve of empathy, has not been thrilled by the outbreak so close to him, according to the New York Times: “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 Ms. Miller tested positive and has been growing irritated with people who get too close to him.”
Fauci’s two-week work-from-home period may also prove to be an opportunity for the president to further sideline the National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Disease head — and task force response coordinator Deborah Birx — as he reportedly intends to reel back public-health experts’ input on the reopening, which he perceives as a political concern. The decision to quarantine will also require Fauci to testify remotely before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Tuesday. Last weekend, Trump blocked Fauci from testifying before the Democrat-controlled House on the botched coronavirus response. “The House is a setup,” the president told reporters. “The House is a bunch of Trump haters.”
This post has been updated.