More than a dozen Republican politicians, lawmakers and their staff have tested positive for the coronavirus, including President Donald Trump, who remains in isolation, undergoing experimental treatment for the potentially fatal virus. The top general in the U.S. military is in quarantine and the GOP-controlled Senate’s ability to fast-track the confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is in doubt. The White House outbreak threatens the lives of service workers and Secret Service agents, who work in close proximity to their more powerful, potentially contagious bosses. It may also reverse Washington’s progress in combating the pandemic: On Monday, the city recorded a spike in new coronavirus cases and a jump in the test positivity rate.
The chaos in the nation’s capital appears to have stemmed from a reckless in-person political ceremony at the White House on Sept. 26, an event consistent with the Trump campaign’s months-long practice of holding in-person rallies and gatherings with limited coronavirus protections, if any. Even as new people linked to the White House test positive for COVID-19 each day, the Trump campaign shows little concern about limiting the spread of the virus. On Thursday, several of Trump’s family members, advisers and surrogates who had been around the president before he tested positive for COVID-19 are scheduled to travel around the country to appear at campaign events.
Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, is planning to travel to Nevada and Arizona on Thursday for back-to-back “Make America Great Again” events at an airplane hangar and a military and police gear manufacturer. Later that day, the president’s son Eric Trump will host two events in North Carolina while his brother Donald Trump Jr. hosts an event in Panama City Beach, Florida, at a Holiday Inn. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Trump campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski will also be in Florida, hosting an event at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Naples. That evening, Trump campaign advisers Katrina Pierson, Mercedes Schlapp and Lara Trump, who is Eric Trump’s wife, will appear at a “Women for Trump” bus tour event at the New Englander Banquet Center in New Castle, Pennsylvania.
Each of those events features campaign surrogates who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, should be in quarantine. Pence attended the Sept. 26 Supreme Court nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. At least 11 people who attended the ceremony, including Trump, have since tested positive for COVID-19. Three days later, Don Jr., Pierson, Schlapp and Eric and Lara Trump attended the presidential debate in Cleveland, where members of the president’s family and some of his aides were seen ignoring mask requirements inside their hotel and at the debate venue. The debate has been linked to at least 11 coronavirus cases, according to the city of Cleveland. The next day, Noem attended a fundraiser that Trump appeared at in Minneapolis.
Trump announced about 1 a.m. Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, although his own doctor’s description of the timeline suggests he may have been diagnosed as early as last Wednesday, the day of the Minneapolis fundraiser. Trump’s doctor has refused to provide the date of the president’s last negative test result.
The upcoming Trump campaign events are scheduled for just eight days after the fundraiser, nine days after the presidential debate and 12 days after the Supreme Court nomination ceremony.
The CDC recommends that people who come into close contact with someone diagnosed with the coronavirus self-quarantine for 14 days, even if they do not experience symptoms and their tests come back negative. Tests aren’t always accurate, and asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 can unwittingly spread the disease.
The Trump campaign did not respond to an email asking when the people hosting Thursday’s campaign events last interacted with Trump or anyone else who has tested positive for the coronavirus. The campaign also did not respond to a question about what safety precautions will be in place at the events to protect attendees and staff. The event pages on the campaign’s website do not advise attendees to wear masks or practice social distancing, although they do include a disclosure that by registering for the event, individuals forfeit their right to sue if they contract COVID-19.
Pence’s physician released a memo Tuesday claiming the vice president does not need to quarantine because he doesn’t have symptoms, has tested negative and “is not a close contact with any individuals who have tested positive.” Pence was seated directly in front of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has since tested positive, at the Supreme Court nomination ceremony.
Despite his risk of infection, Pence and the Trump campaign have fought even modest efforts to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including opposing the use of plexiglass barriers at the vice presidential debate scheduled for Wednesday.
The Trump campaign “didn’t want the vice president surrounded by plexiglass,” debate commission co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. told The Washington Post. “They didn’t want to have him in what looks like a box.”
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