The Slatest

Your Own Household Is Probably Trying Harder to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Than the White House Is

Gidley, Kushner, and three others stand among shrubs on the White House grounds.
Trump administration spokesman Hogan Gidley (in sunglasses), presidential adviser Jared Kushner, and other White House staff members stand closely together, without wearing masks, on Friday, the day that Vice President Mike Pence’s spokeswoman reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One of Donald Trump’s personal valets has the coronavirus, as does Mike Pence’s press secretary and Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant (who has, allegedly, been working from home). In response, the White House has announced what USA Today describes as “extra precautions”:

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will be tested daily for the virus, as will every staff member in close proximity to them. White House guests will be tested, workspaces will undergo regular deep cleaning, and staff will follow social distancing guidelines, undergo daily temperature checks and have their symptom histories reviewed, White House spokesman Judd Deere said Sunday.

The “extra” precautions are that they’re going to follow social distancing guidelines and clean the desks? What was the first round of precautions?

“This is probably the safest place that you can come to,” said new presidential chief of staff Mark Meadows, which is objectively false, because there are many “places” one could go—probably most of the other places in the world, at the moment—where people who have been directly exposed to a COVID-19-positive co-worker would respond by staying home or at least wearing a mask, something that Mike Pence, for example, has not done. Pence in fact reportedly made the grocery executives he met with Friday in Iowa, after he’d learned his own staff member had tested positive, take their masks off; later in the weekend his office shot down a report that he would be self-isolating—a proactive announcement that he would not be doing the right thing, in other words, and one that was issued by a gentleman named Devin O’Malley rather than vice presidential press secretary Katie Miller because, if you’ll recall, Katie Miller was infected by the coronavirus.

On Saturday night, one of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got a positive coronavirus test result at the White House; he went home, and then Trump held the meeting with everyone who was left, and no one wore masks.

I mean:

Because the president only processes events as developments in a TV-mediated narrative about himself, rather than as data points that could help him form a model of an underlying reality that includes other human actors, his response to the people around him contracting the virus is about the effects it might have on his “message,” which is supposed to be that “the outbreak is waning”:

It is in this light and only this light that Trump’s response to the White House cases makes “sense,” in that he is treating the question of whether his aides have the coronavirus like he treats everything else—as a situation that will be resolved in his favor if he insistently demands a particular outcome. Often, this approach works well for him. But it will probably not prevent more people in the White House from getting COVID-19.

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