If you watched Friday’s White House press briefing with Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, you may have noticed something different. All of the reporters present in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room were wearing face masks. It marked the first time that happened, though the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams recommended that people wear masks in public in that very room on April 22. The photo above is from that press briefing.
What changed? Though Kayleigh McEnany was not wearing a face mask as she answered questions from the podium, members of the press did. Social distancing precautions have grown more strict in the press briefing room as time goes on during the coronavirus pandemic, but face masks were not worn by most of the reporters. Suddenly on Friday, they all were wearing them. It is out of an abundance of caution because staffers in the White House are beginning to test positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Frankly, it’s a testament to the precautions taken up to now that some staff is just now testing positive. The first case to be reported this week was that of a personal valet for President Trump. Then, by Friday, Vice-President Pence’s spokeswoman Katie Miller was reported to have tested positive. Katie, married to Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to President Trump, is actually the second person on Pence’s staff to test positive. In March, an aide tested positive, but no one else since then has been reported to test positive until this week.
Katie Miller didn’t wear a face mask at work. The President and others working in the White House depend on frequent testing to guide their behavior. She serves as a coronavirus task force spokesperson and attends their press briefings. Both the president and the vice-president continue to test negative for the virus. Trump pointed out Friday, when asked about her by the press, that her results show how quickly the test results can change.
“She’s a wonderful young woman, Katie, she tested very good for a long period of time, then all of a sudden today she tested positive,” Trump told reporters.
“She hasn’t come into contact with me. She’s spent some time with the vice president,” Trump said.
“So she tested positive out of the blue. This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great. The tests are perfect but something could happen between a test where it’s good and then something happens and all of a sudden. She was tested very recently and tested negative and then today I guess for some reason, she tested positive. Mike knows about it and Mike has done what he has to do.”
The president isn’t worried, he said, with some people around him now testing positive. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that many in the White House go mask-free but “as you get closer to the president, some of those people that serve him will wear a mask in those closer proprieties.” After Katie Miller’s diagnosis on Friday, reporters, en masse, began wearing masks, too.
Reporters traveling with Pence Friday on Air Force Two were told of Miller’s diagnosis and some staff was taken off the plane and sent to be tested.
A senior administration official told reporters on Air Force Two, before Miller’s identity was revealed, that “the vice president and the president have not had contact with this person recently.”
“Out of abundance of caution, we went back and looked into all the person’s contacts most recently,” the official said. “That’s why we asked some of our staff to deplane. Nobody else was exhibiting any symptoms or having any feeling of sickness. We asked them to go get tested and to go home out of an abundance of caution.”
So, those around the White House, including the press, are now taking an additional step in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Aides and journalists are regularly tested for the virus using a rapid-results test. Temperatures are taken before reporters enter the briefing room. President Trump and Vice-President Pence are now tested daily.
Members of the Secret Service are dealing with the coronavirus, too. Eleven agents have tested positive. Documents at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) show that 23 employees have already recovered from the disease, with an additional 60 who are reportedly self-quarantining.
Justin Whelan, a spokesperson for the Secret Service told Yahoo News that the agency is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“To protect the privacy of our employee’s health information and for operational security, the Secret Service is not releasing how many of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, nor how many of its employees were, or currently are, quarantined,” Whelan added.
Also disclosed this week is that Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant tested positive for the virus. She has been working from her home for several weeks and has not been around Ivanka. Both Ivanka and Jared Kushner were tested Friday and the results were negative.