At the White House, an Eerie Quiet and Frustration With the Chief of Staff

WASHINGTON — In a memo to his senior staff on Friday morning, Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, encouraged everyone to stay away from their offices in the Old Executive Office Building while contact tracing was going on. On Saturday, he held an all-staff conference call to discuss what the coming weeks would look like while President Trump remained under treatment for the coronavirus, and later reiterated the message that staff members were to work from home.

At the Trump campaign headquarters in Virginia, Bill Stepien, the campaign manager who tested positive for the virus himself, instructed staff members to “wear a mask, wash your hands, socially distance, check in via the LiveSafe app on a daily basis and work from home if you’re not feeling well.”

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, delivered no guidance to the president’s aides about how they were expected to behave in a moment of crisis. But the West Wing has also been a ghost town since Mr. Trump’s departure for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday afternoon.

With the president hospitalized and Melania Trump, the first lady, who also tested positive, recovering in the residence, only a few officials came in over the weekend for television appearances or to give Mr. Trump a national security briefing by phone.

The West Wing always clears out when the president is not in the building, usually because a large portion of the senior staff travel with him wherever he goes or on weekends. But over the past few days, it has been even quieter.

A number of staff members are either sick themselves or quarantining after being in contact with Mr. Trump or colleagues who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Some advisers, like Mr. Meadows and Dan Scavino, the deputy White House chief of staff for communications, have been at the hospital in order to remain in the president’s immediate orbit.

Missing as well in recent days has been a deployment of West Wing staff members, including Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and some communications staff members like Julia Hahn and Ben Williamson, who have been working out of Mr. Pence’s office on Capitol Hill in preparation for the expected Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Mr. Pence himself was working from his residence over the weekend.

The lack of marching orders from Mr. Meadows was not exactly a surprise to many administration officials. They have long expressed frustration at how he operates, neglecting to relay messages to the president from agency leaders who ask to speak with him and giving off the impression that he is focused solely on trying to score a legislative victory for himself to please the boss.

Some Trump allies on Capitol Hill said it was “disturbing” to see how Mr. Meadows was handling the current crisis. And administration officials were left puzzling over his strategy or motives for delivering information about Mr. Trump’s health.

On Saturday, Mr. Meadows

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‘It’s been too quiet’ at Garden City elementary school as kids return

It’s never an easy logistical task, shepherding more than 400 second-, third- and fourth-graders into an elementary school on the first day of classes. And that’s especially true in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, when children are supposed to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other, while following directional signs and keeping their masks above their noses.

Still, Linda Norton, principal of Stewart Elementary School in Garden City,  was moving them along at a brisk pace Tuesday morning, welcoming as many as she could and wearing her own mask with the inscription “Be kind, world, be kind.” 

“That’s in the second gymnasium,” Norton said, directing one backpack-toting boy to a converted classroom. 

“She’s on the second floor,” the principal told another student who remembered her teacher’s name but not the classroom number. “It’s 228.” 

And to a third student, “You go up the stairs. It’s right next to the art room. To the left.”

Arrivals at the Stewart School began shortly before 8:30 a.m. and were mostly secured in classrooms, some in converted gyms and a library, by shortly after 9 a.m.

A few things had gone wrong on welcoming day as they always do, staffers said later.  Too many students had bunched up rather than maintaining social distance, after alighting from buses or their parents’ cars. Many parents found themselves unable to use cellphone apps that were supposed to verify that students had experienced none of the headaches, fevers and other symptoms associated with coronavirus.

On the other hand, students were in school for the first time in almost six months.. 

“I think they were excited to be back,” said Zeynep Vitale, a PTA officer with a daughter enrolled in third grade at Stewart School. “They’ve been chomping at the bit. They missed school, they missed their friends. We told them things would look a little bit different — so just hang in there.”

“There’s laughter,” said Keri Hand, the elementary school’s assistant principal. “This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s been too quiet.” 

Garden City was among more than 60 school districts that opened Tuesday across Long Island, providing the first live instruction since schools closed abruptly in mid-March. Traditionally, the day after Labor Day marks the biggest wave of student returns to classes, and Tuesday was no exception in that regard.  

In other ways, however, the lingering threat of coronavirus infection has had a major impact. For starters, this season’s school schedules include a combination of in-class and online instruction. Parents of about 30 students at Stewart, for example, have opted for their children to spend full-time in remote instruction.  

Moreover, a substantial number of districts have pushed opening schedules back this month, in part to gain more time for establishing health safeguards. 

In Garden City, as elsewhere, school administrators are taking a flexible approach to the question of opening

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