The Slatest

Multiple White House Staffers Diagnosed With COVID-19 as Trump, Pence Hold Photo-Ops With the Elderly

Pence, wearing a shirt and tie, speaks into a phone while standing next to piles of boxes.
Mike Pence delivers medical supplies to a nursing home in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday. Susan Walsh/AP

On Thursday, CNN reported that one of Donald Trump’s White House “valets”—a member of the Navy who serves him food and beverages—has tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that one of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff members has also tested positive. (Update, May 8, 2020, at 3:10 p.m.: Politico reports that the staffer is in fact Katie Miller, Pence’s spokeswoman, who is married to top Trump adviser Stephen Miller, which puts the ring of potential infection even tighter around Trump than it was previously.)

The White House subsequently announced that Pence, Trump, and other staffers will be quarantined to the greatest extent possible, and that they will wear protective masks and gloves while attending meetings that are too critical to cancel.

No, I’m kidding! The president and vice president continue, instead, to carry out public events in the service of their economy-oriented (i.e., reelection-oriented) push to reopen a pandemic-stricken nation as quickly as possible. On Thursday, Pence delivered supplies to a nursing home, and on Friday he is scheduled to meet with executives from the Hy-Vee grocery chain in Iowa—which, if you think about all the people that grocery executives interact with, and who those people interact with, and so forth, seems like one of the most efficient ways possible to spread an infectious disease. Some vice presidential staffers who were thought to have had recent contact with the infected individual were pulled off Air Force Two before it left for Iowa, but the trip appears to be otherwise proceeding as planned. (CNN cites a “source familiar” who says the COVID-positive staffer was never on board the plane on Friday.) For his part, Trump is scheduled to hold a photo opportunity Friday with eight World War II veterans who are each 95 years old or older, aka the most vulnerable people imaginable.

PPE-wise, Pence didn’t wear a mask during his interactions in front of the nursing home, and Trump never wears a mask—he didn’t even wear one to tour a mask-making facility—so we’re dealing with basically an entire Typhoid Mary branch of government at this point.

The White House’s excuse for not following social distancing rules is that the president and VP, unlike everyone else in the country, have unlimited access to rapid-result COVID-19 testing, so that they are both being tested daily, as are the people who come into contact with them. But many coronavirus tests produce false negatives, and you can be a coronavirus carrier for several days before symptoms appear, if they appear at all. And Trump’s hostility to mask-wearing has evidently kept the White House from backing up the testing with routine protective measures; until the presidential valet tested positive, the people who serve meals were reportedly doing their job with faces bare.

The people who are supposed to be running a national coronavirus response plan, in sum, have not even implemented a successful virus-control program at the White House.

For more on the impact of the coronavirus, listen to the Political Gabfest.