WASHINGTON: As US President Donald Trump moves to reopen the coronavirus-battered country, the White House is battling infections within its own ranks.
It is not an easy task to stem an outbreak of the highly-contagious virus in the famed West Wing, where the president works out of the Oval Office, as it is actually rather cramped, making social distancing difficult.
In the past few days, a personal valet to Trump and the press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, have tested positive for the virus.
Three members of the task force have gone into quarantine including infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration.
Trump on Monday, several hours ahead of a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, made no reference to the outbreak and claimed things were on the upswing. “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere,” Trump tweeted. “Big progress being made!”
Trump, who is seeking to reboot the country and economy ahead of the November presidential election, also fired off a series of tweets at the media and his predecessor Barack Obama.
The coronavirus made its first known appearance among the president’s entourage a few days ago when Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive. A member of the US military who serves as a personal valet to Trump also tested positive. Trump and Pence have been tested daily and the tests have been negative so far, according to the White House.
In a memo issued on Monday, the White House instructed all staff to wear a mask when inside the West Wing, except when at their desks. Journalists who attend White House briefings already wear masks inside the building and have their temperature checked before entering.
Unlike a number of other world leaders, Trump has not been wearing a mask in public, most recently during a visit to a factory in Arizona last week that makes personal protective gear.
Neither has Pence, who did not take part in a meeting at the White House with Trump and military leaders last weekend but was at the White House on Monday. Following press reports over the weekend that Pence was in quarantine, his spokesman said that was not true.
The United States is the country the hardest-hit by the virus with more than 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths.
While the situation has improved in New York, epicentre of the US outbreak, progress has been slow elsewhere and the spread of the virus to the White House itself is a worrying development.