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Thursday, October 22, 2020

How the White House flouted basic coronavirus rules

And at several events last week, White House staff members defied recommendations — from scientists, local authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — on curbing infection, even after the president tested positive.

By: New York Times | Updated: October 9, 2020 6:53:35 pm
donald trump, trump coronavirus, trump coronavirus health update, white house, white house covid rules, white house covid rule violationsA Marine stands post outside the West Wing doors of the White House in Washington. {The New York Times}

Written by Lauren Leatherby, Amy Schoenfeld Walker, Larry Buchanan and John Keefe

The coronavirus outbreak at the White House has now grown to more than 20 people, and evidence is mounting that the administration did little to prevent or contain the virus’s spread. For months, President Donald Trump minimized the threat of the virus and ignored basic safety precautions like wearing a mask or maintaining 6 feet of distance from other people. And at several events last week, White House staff members defied recommendations — from scientists, local authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — on curbing infection, even after the president tested positive. Here is a look at some of the ways Trump and his staff members ignored basic guidelines.

The White House relied too heavily on rapid tests.


The Food and Drug Administration approved the rapid coronavirus tests used by the White House for use only “within the first seven days of the onset of symptoms.” These tests frequently miss infections in people without symptoms.

The CDC says it may be necessary for those who test negative on a rapid test to confirm the result using a lab-based test, especially if they have symptoms or have been in contact with an infected person.


Since the early days of the pandemic, the White House has regularly used rapid tests to screen staff members and guests for the coronavirus because they are fast, portable and easy to operate. But those who tested negative would often skip other precautions, like wearing a mask or social distancing. Experts say rapid tests are less accurate for people who are not showing any signs of infection, and they should not be used as the only precaution.

Testing negative does not guarantee a lack of infection, since people who have been recently infected may not have enough virus in their bodies for tests to detect. Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the president, and Kayleigh McEnany, the press secretary, both tested positive early this week after testing negative in the preceding days.

And while officials had given the impression that Trump was getting tested every day, the White House has since conceded that tests were not as frequent and has refused to reveal the last time Trump tested negative.

Members of the administration held meetings indoors, did not wear masks, and failed to maintain recommended social distance.


The CDC’s guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus say to remain at least six feet away from people outside your household and to “cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others.” The nation’s health protection agency also recommends hosting gatherings outdoors when possible.


The Trump administration allowed those who received a negative result to go without a mask to meetings and events, including at a reception inside the White House for the Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

The president also huddled with advisers for maskless preparation sessions ahead of the first presidential debate, held on Sept. 29. Several of those involved — including Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey; Kellyanne Conway, a former White House adviser; Hope Hicks, a current adviser; and Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager — have said they have since tested positive.

The president and his staff members also spent several hours in the enclosed space of Air Force One last week traveling to events in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio and New Jersey. At least eight people aboard those flights, including Hicks, McEnany, Miller and Stepien, have since tested positive for the virus.

The White House and Trump campaign hosted large gatherings that flouted state and local restrictions.


CDC guidelines say large, in-person gatherings where it is difficult to maintain social distance of at least 6 feet apart pose the “highest risk” of spreading the coronavirus among all types of gatherings and events. This includes both indoor and outdoor events.


The White House and Trump campaign held several large rallies, fundraisers and other events in the week before Trump tested positive.

The day after Trump hosted at least 200 people in the Rose Garden, the president hosted a White House reception honoring Gold Star families. At least 100 people attended the indoor event, including Adm. Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, who has since tested positive, prompting many of the country’s top military officials to go into quarantine.

A citywide order in Washington prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people, but because the White House is on federal property, it is exempt from local rules.

The Trump campaign also held three large outdoor rallies that week in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, three states whose guidelines limit gatherings to 250 people. Officials in Pennsylvania criticized the Trump campaign for flouting local regulations, and the Virginia event also drew scrutiny.

The White House is not tracing contacts of those at a potential ‘super-spreader’ event.


The CDC advises contact tracing for close contacts of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus or are considered probable cases. Contact tracers notify, interview and advise the close contacts of the infected person, and the CDC says close contacts should themselves be tested.


Even though at least 12 attendees have since tested positive, the White House has decided not to trace the contacts of those who attended the Rose Garden event for Barrett. Instead, the White House said it would notify only those who came into contact with Trump in the two days before his positive test on Oct 1.

A White House spokesman did say contact tracing “was completed” for Trump’s Oct. 1 trip to Bedminster, New Jersey. One guest confirmed he received three emails alerting him to possible exposure — one from the Trump campaign and two from state and local government tracers — but said no one had called him.

The president and his aides did not quarantine after people near them showed symptoms and tested positive.


The CDC says those who have been in “close contact” with someone who tests positive should quarantine for 14 days, starting from two days before the infected person’s illness onset. The White House says it is following CDC guidelines for essential personnel who have come in contact with infected people.


On Sept. 30, Trump flew aboard Air Force One with staff members and members of Congress to Minnesota for a fundraiser and rally. That night, Hicks felt ill and sat apart from others at the back of Air Force One on the way home.

Anyone who was in close contact with Hicks in the two days before she started feeling symptoms should have quarantined.

Yet despite knowing of Hicks’ illness, Trump and his aides traveled the next day to Bedminster, to a small indoor round table and then a larger outdoor fundraiser. That evening, Bloomberg News reported that Hicks had tested positive, and after midnight, Trump revealed he had also tested positive.

Even after Trump and Hicks tested positive, McEnany, who had been in close contact with both of them, continued to go to work. She hosted a news conference while maskless on the White House lawn the day after the president tested positive and went to work that weekend, later saying she acted as an essential worker. On Monday, she said she had tested positive.

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Dan Scavino Jr., a deputy chief of staff, have continued to work from the West Wing despite repeated exposure to the president. Both were with Trump at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after he was hospitalized over the weekend and joined the president in the Oval Office on Wednesday, six days after the president’s positive test.

The president failed to isolate after testing positive.


Those who test positive for the coronavirus should isolate themselves from others for a minimum of 10 days after testing positive, according to the CDC, or for at least 10 days after symptoms first appear.


Officials say Trump tested positive on Oct. 1. That means he should have isolated until at least Sunday, Oct. 11 — even if he had stopped experiencing symptoms.

Instead, Trump, escorted by Secret Service agents, left isolation Sunday for a drive-by to greet supporters, flew to the White House on Marine One on Monday, and reentered the White House without wearing a mask, defying guidance that is intended to protect others. Video footage of the president before he walked into the White House on Monday showed him in proximity to a photographer and several other people.

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