In the wake of the president’s positive coronavirus test on Thursday night, the administration has claimed that it has initiated a “full contact tracing” program that is “consistent with CDC guidelines.” But according to a new CNN report, the White House that failed to protect a noncompliant president from the pandemic is failing to trace its own outbreak, a crucial, post-infection step that can significantly limit the spread of the virus if properly executed. It was only on Sunday night that White House staff were given a directive to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms; they were also directed not to go to the White House Medical Unit, but to seek care, if needed, at their primary-care provider.
Similar to White House staffers’ negligence prior to Trump’s positive test — he went to an indoor buffet with donors on Thursday hours after officials reportedly learned of Hope Hicks’s diagnosis — the administration has provided little guidance to those exposed or infected by the president and his inner circle. Chris Christie, the president’s debate coach who tested positive this weekend, said that the administration gave no formal directions on contact tracing. And another source admitted that “the scale of the potential contagion at the White House has made it difficult to mount the type of contact tracing that will be required in the coming days,” according to CNN.
The White House Medical Unit, the 30-person team responsible for the health needs of the president and close advisers, was already overworked attempting to keep Trump healthy despite his pandemic carelessness. To engage in contact tracing on top of their previous workload would be a major addition, and according to the report, “a person familiar with the matter said a full CDC contact tracing team hadn’t yet been mobilized.” Another federal official told the New York Times that a Centers for Disease Control team was on standby to help, but the White House had yet to call them in. Meanwhile, the White House is doing little to aid local health agencies. The Washington Post reported Saturday that public-health officials in Minnesota, Ohio, and New Jersey had yet to hear from the administration
regarding the information of those in attendance, leaving them on their own to find out who may have been exposed to the virus.
Rather than mobilize the resources of the CDC, the administration — which exposed hundreds of people between the debate on Tuesday, the rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, and the indoor buffet on Thursday — is reportedly playing fast and loose, mimicking their initial pandemic response. According to one source who spoke with CNN, the White House is relying on the president’s celebrity as a fallback for contact tracing. “People would know if they come into contact with Trump,” the person said.
However, the scale of the problem — and the fact that infected people can infect family members while asymptomatic — frustrates this effort to allow the news cycle to do the contact tracing. Over 200 people attended his campaign fundraiser at his golf club in New Jersey on Thursday. While chasing down all this information is a laborious effort, it is not impossible: Amid the absence of an official tracing effort, Benjy Renton, a Middlebury College senior; Peter Walker, a data visualization specialist at the COVID-19 Tracking Project; and Dr. Jesse O’Shea, an infectious disease expert at Emory University, have been updating a dashboard that aggregates people who may have been exposed in the White House outbreak and what their test results are.
This post has been updated.