- President Donald Trump and at least 34 White House staffers and contacts have been infected with the coronavirus following Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination ceremony at the White House Rose Garden on September 26.
- The White House accepted the CDC’s offer to help with contact tracing on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported.
- Epidemiologists say those efforts may have come too late: People should be tested within two weeks of getting exposed.
- The outbreak has likely “spread beyond the White House at this point,” one expert said.
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Recent visitors to the White House received a letter from health officials on Thursday. It came with a warning: If they had worked in the White House in the past two weeks, attended the recent Supreme Court announcement ceremony, or had close contact with people who fit that description, they should get tested for the coronavirus. Ideally, they should already be quarantining as well.
The letter, signed by 10 health departments in the Washington, DC, area, expressed concern about a lack of contact tracing following a superspreader event at the White House.
Nearly 200 people gathered in the White House’s Rose Garden on September 26 to see President Donald Trump officially nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The majority of those attendees didn’t wear a mask. Many hugged and shook hands. A smaller group attended an indoor reception following the ceremony, where they again mingled without masks.
At least 34 White House staffers and contacts have since been infected with the coronavirus, according to an internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That includes bodyguards, family members, pastors, journalists, GOP senators, and advisors.
Trump tested positive for the virus on October 1. Shortly after, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered to help the White House with contact tracing, The Washington Post reported. The White House initially rejected the invitation, a CDC official told The Post, but finally began cooperating with two CDC epidemiologists on Wednesday.
On Thursday, a senior White House official told The Post that the White House had finished contact tracing related to the president’s infection. But White House staffers and administration officials said that many people with potential exposure hadn’t heard from health officials yet.
Epidemiologists say attempts to identify infections at the Rose Garden ceremony may have come too late.
“It’s hard enough to do a normal contact trace. I’m in the middle of doing one right now, and it’s hard enough to do when people are cooperative and you’re doing it by the book,” Yvonne Maldonado, an epidemiology professor at Stanford University, told Business Insider. “But when you have a random email out to a bunch of people and some people might respond, some won’t, it’s going to be really hard to know.”
The administration’s delayed efforts could forever obscure the true scale of the outbreak, she added.
“I bet you we’ll never find out because you’re assuming that everybody got tested whether they had symptoms