The incoming administration wants to handle things differently. “It’ll be a sea change, obviously,” one Biden transition official told me, when I asked about plans. In addition to requiring masks for all staff members, the incoming administration will mandate vaccines for aides who interact closely with the president and vice president (both of whom have been vaccinated); it will limit the number of people working inside the West Wing; and it will regularly test all staffers in the White House complex, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
But the new administration faces considerations outside the West Wing. The executive mansion is a dense warren of high-traffic rooms, including the tiny flower shop and the staff locker rooms beneath the North Portico, and the White House mess hall under the West Wing. Staff in these spaces eat and work in extremely close quarters, so protecting them will mean allowing only absolutely essential employees to come to work, or at least alternating schedules. The Trump administration has already furloughed some staff members to prevent infection spread, but the Biden team may need to do even more—at least until everyone can get vaccinated.
That’s totally doable, Anita McBride, a former chief of staff for First Lady Laura Bush and assistant to President George W. Bush, told me. “It is not ideal when you’re starting a new administration, but unless it’s of the most critical nature, [Biden should] limit the number of people that need to come in,” she told me.