US vice-president Mike Pence returned to the White House on Monday after his spokesperson contracted Covid-19, even while other members of the coronavirus task force he leads took precautionary measures following possible exposure.
The Trump administration has scrambled to respond as multiple employees have tested positive for the coronavirus over the past few days. Katie Miller, the vice-president’s communications director, tested positive on Friday. Her diagnosis came on the heels of the news that Donald Trump’s valet had also contracted the disease.
A personal assistant to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House official, has also tested positive, according to a person familiar with the situation. The assistant does not work in the White House.
The White House cases come as several coronavirus task force members, who have frequent interactions with Mr Trump and Mr Pence, have self-quarantined.
Anthony Fauci, 79, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has started “modified quarantine” after coming into contact with an unnamed person who tested positive. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, and Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are also quarantining.
The Trump administration has not explained why different officials have decided to respond in different ways, beyond saying that White House officials were following the advice of the White House’s medical staff.
But the emergence of the cases has complicated the situation for Mr Trump, who has been trying to make the case for states to reopen their economies as cases fall in parts of the country. Mr Trump is concerned about the devastating impact on the economy, which could affect his re-election chances in November.
Mr Trump at the weekend said he was “not worried” about the disease spreading in the White House. But Kevin Hassett, a top White House economic official, told CBS television that it was “scary to go to work” and he knew it was “a little bit risky”.
The first coronavirus cases in the White House are the closest that the disease is known to have come to Mr Trump since he came into contact with an infected Brazilian official at Mar-a-Lago in March. While Ms Miller works with Mr Pence, she has overseen communications for the task force. She is also married to Stephen Miller, one of the longest-serving White House aides to Mr Trump, who also helps write the president’s speeches.
The CDC on Monday said Mr Redfield had “had a low risk exposure” last week to a White House official with Covid-19. It said the director would telecommute for two weeks and would take all required precautions under CDC guidelines if he was required to attend coronavirus task force briefings at the White House during that period.
Mr Trump is expected to hold a press conference later on Monday to discuss his administration’s approach to testing.
Mr Fauci, Mr Redfield and Mr Hahn will on Tuesday testify virtually before a Senate committee about how Americans can safely return to work and school as some states begin to lift their coronavirus lockdowns.
Additional reporting by Courtney Weaver in Washington