Media: Last night's White House gathering could end up being a COVID superspreader event

Media: Last night's White House gathering could end up being a COVID superspreader event

Mm, perhaps. But these complaints would hit harder today if equal concern had been shown for certain much larger outdoor gatherings that took place across the country in June. The consensus then, as I recall, was that some causes are so righteous and urgent that the risk of mass superspreader events simply had to be borne in the name of progress.

On the other hand, I’m not part of the majority of the GOP nowadays that calibrates its own ethical behavior to that of the least responsible members of the opposition. “Did anyone in the Obama administration violate the Hatch Act? Well, then, it’s fine for the president to throw a big campaign rally on the White House lawn.” “Did some BLM randos irresponsibly hold rallies in the middle of a pandemic? Well, then, it’s fine for the president to behave just as irresponsibly.”

Healthy skepticism is warranted of all Jim Acosta reporting but it’s not hard to believe what he says below is accurate. The White House gave up on suppressing the virus months ago, when Trump started calling for businesses to reopen before his own guidelines said it was safe:

The BLM protesters had two things going for them that last night’s audience didn’t. Many were wearing masks during the protests, and the protests often took the form of marches in which everyone was on the move instead of breathing the same air in proximity to the same people. Hopefully the fact that Trump’s speech was held outdoors was enough to limit infections because it sounds from this like that was the only precaution taken. Attendees weren’t spaced out, they weren’t masked up, they weren’t even screened upon entry.

The overwhelming majority of guests were not administered rapid coronavirus tests, Trump campaign and convention officials said, despite their relative proximity to the president and other White House officials. A White House official said it was logistically unfeasible to test such a large number of people.

Two attendees said in interviews that they were not offered tests and were not even put through a more basic screening, such as being questioned whether they had any symptoms, such as coughs, or taking their temperature. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly…

“When you look at the way the president has handled the pandemic, it has basically been one evasion after another evasion,” said Amesh Adalja, an ­infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “And when you see this type of event and the way he is acting and the way he is allowing his supporters to act, it cements the fact that they have never taken this outbreak seriously from the beginning.”

There’s no proof that Herman Cain was infected with the virus that would eventually kill him at Trump’s rally in Tulsa on June 20 (which was held indoors, unlike last night), but it’s possible. That possibility alone, one would think, would have led to more stringent precautions before this speech. Amazingly, according to Atlantic reporter Peter Nicholas, precautions inside the White House itself don’t seem to be much more rigorous. Everyone in immediate contact with Trump gets tested, but what about all of the other staffers who work there?

Trump is regularly tested for the virus, as are aides and reporters who are in his presence, but others like me can get perilously close to those who interact with the commander in chief. Some of the West Wing desks are spaced so closely together, and some of the offices are so cramped, that it’s tough to see how people avoid exposure at all. In one small office today, two aides stood and spoke to each other without masks. Young aides sat at desks in an open bullpen-style space without masks. Walking through the hallways accessible to the press, I wore a mask, but I haven’t been tested for COVID-19; had I removed my mask for some reason and coughed or sneezed, there was no hint of a mask patrol prepared to whisk me out the building. The vibe was shockingly lax.

Nicholas claims that when he visited the White House in May, he was at least asked if he had a cough or had experienced headaches lately. Yesterday no one asked him anything even though there are twice as many cases nationally now as there were when he was there three months ago.

The key difference between protesters gathering outdoors and the president’s top aides and admirers gathering outdoors is that many more Americans are apt to take their cues about what’s safe and what isn’t from the latter. An average joe watching the former on TV might think, “Look at these selfish A-holes breaking the rules that the rest of us need to follow.” Watching last night he might reasonably think, “Wait, are crowds safe now?” Just the message you want to send as winter and a second wave of the virus approaches.

Here’s CNN tut-tutting about it this morning. Whether they’d have reacted the same way to Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom, say, gathering a thousand people last night in close quarters for a speech, I don’t know. I do know that MAGA media wouldn’t have.

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