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The White House’s apparent failures to thoroughly contact trace its current coronavirus outbreak has led local health officers to take matters into their own hands.
The District of Columbia and nine neighboring jurisdictions are calling on White House staff and visitors who might be connected to the recent outbreak there to contact their local health departments.
“We recommend that if you have worked in the White House in the past two weeks, attended the Supreme Court announcement in the Rose Garden on Saturday, September 26, 2020, and/or have had close contact with others who work in those spaces or attended those events, you should get a test for COVID,” the health officers wrote in a letter shared by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser early Thursday morning.
The authors note that this recommendation is being made based on “our preliminary understanding that there has been limited contact tracing performed to date.”
Thirty-seven White House staff and other contacts have tested positive, according to a website tracking the outbreak, citing public information such as media reports and tweets. Eleven of those positive cases are connected to the Amy Coney Barrett nomination event in the Rose Garden on September 26, according to the tracker, from which many attendees flew home to other states.
Emergency physician Leana Wen notes that, given that that event was nearly two weeks ago, it’s likely the outbreak has already sparked other infections.
“We’re not even talking about first generation spread or second generation to spread, we’re talking about third generation spread,” she says. In other words, those who were exposed at the Rose Garden could have infected others who have since infected still more people.
When it comes to tracking down all the contacts that might be connected to the White House outbreak, there are many daunting challenges, from the country’s fractured public health system to the Trump administration’s approach.
1. The White House is on federal land
There are reports of an increase in coronavirus tests in D.C., and some high case numbers in recent days, which has prompted concerns that the outbreak at the White House could be driving spread in the local area. It’s difficult to know for sure if these things are connected.
But because the White House is federal property, the job of contact tracing an outbreak on the White House grounds doesn’t fall to the District’s public health staff, it falls to the White House Medical Unit.
The open letter comes after D.C. Mayor Bowser