But midafternoon — less than a week after testing positive for the potentially lethal virus — Trump returned to work in the West Wing, potentially endangering any staffers still in the building.
Trump’s presence there sent yet another message to the public that illness has not chastened a president who has consistently eschewed masks and social distancing. His rush to get back to business as usual just two days after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has been the most prominent example of the continued defiance of public health guidelines at the White House. But it isn’t the only one.
Though aides who have tested positive, including counselor Hope Hicks and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, have stayed home, aides who have continued to test negative have remained on the job. Among them were Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, senior adviser Jared Kushner, social media director Dan Scavino and political director Brian Jack, administration officials said.
Kushner was in contact with Christie, Hicks and others involved in prepping the president for last week’s debate. Meadows has been in contact with virtually everyone in the president’s orbit who is now sick. And at least four aides who traveled on Air Force One and Marine One with a maskless Trump last Thursday were in the White House this week, officials say.
Meanwhile, Vice President Pence, who aides said has had several negative tests, flew to Utah on Tuesday to prepare for his debate late Wednesday with the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).
Pence attended the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony — to announce Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — that is suspected to be at the center of the White House outbreak. He was near others during the ceremony who have since tested positive and was in the Oval Office last week with Trump, albeit briefly.
And almost every senior official in the White House this week shared a room with an aide or adviser who has since tested positive, officials said, but they defended their presence by saying it was usually not in “close contact” — or within six feet for more than 15 minutes.
Their decisions reflect a White House that has declined to follow the best medical practices to contain the virus, even as at least 13 employees in the complex have tested positive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that anyone exposed to the virus remain isolated for at least two weeks to avoid the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Beyond the White House gates, other Trump aides also have exhibited a reluctance to fully embrace the CDC guidelines — most prominently Attorney General William P. Barr, who also attended the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony. Despite that, Barr attended a Justice Department meeting Friday and, after several days at home, returned again to his office Wednesday, aides said.
Since news of Trump’s infection was made public last Thursday, Barr has had six coronavirus tests