Trump team’s infections raise questions about Covid-19 aboard ‘the flying White House’

The positive coronavirus test for a high-profile Air Force One passenger raises the possibility that has concerned aviation experts for months: that the virus can easily spread inside a confined aircraft cabin.

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 16: Air Force One is seen for  U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

© Chris Graythen/Getty Images
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 16: Air Force One is seen for U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Experts fear the infection potentially puts at risk hundreds of people who travel on, operate and maintain “the flying White House” — threatening not only a highly recognizable icon of America, but also the smooth operation of a key national security tool used to evacuate the president in a crisis.

Administration officials said Friday that presidential senior adviser Hope Hicks was showing coronavirus symptoms while she flew on the world’s most famous jet earlier this week, raising the concern her infection could be linked to the infections of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump.

Experts have cautioned that during the pandemic, the unique air flow dynamics in the confined cabin of a jetliner — even one as large as the Boeing 747-200, known in the military as a VC-25 — could put unmasked passengers at a risk of catching the deadly virus.

Administration officials said Friday that Hicks began displaying symptoms on the flight back from the President’s Wednesday rally in Minnesota and was isolated in a separate cabin. She was seen deplaning Air Force One from a rear set of steps not typically used by the President.

“Social distancing is much easier on Air Force One than any commercial airliner,” said Professor Yan Chen of Purdue University, a researcher who studies the airborne spread of coronavirus inside an airliner. Chen said most passengers do not sit in cramped rows on board the multi-room, highly modified jet, “but complete isolation is very difficult.”

Chen said the air onboard large jets, including commercial airliners and Air Force One, is typically filtered through High Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filters, which are designed to catch most particles. The result is the air even on large planes is completely replaced every few minutes.

Air Force One also carries a special onboard oxygen system, although its capabilities aren’t clear.

Commercial airlines insist air filters make flying in a plane safer than sitting in a shared room in a building. But it does not eliminate the risk of contracting the virus when a contagious passenger is onboard.

“If you have a patient inside of an airplane, then the droplets breathed out by this patient could be transported in the airplane,” he said.

The White House said the 747 typically used as Air Force One (the term can refer to any aircraft carrying the President) features “4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels, including an extensive suite for the President that features a large office, lavatory, and conference room.” CNN journalists who

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Interior Employees Raise Concerns After Department Celebrates ‘European Heritage Month’

The Interior Department celebrated European Heritage Month in August, an unusual move that has caused some employees to feel uneasy. 

Interior published an online monthly magazine as part of that celebration, which highlighted the history and accomplishments of various European cultures in the United States. While the same publication put out previous issues that focused on other groups such as LGBTQ and Asian Americans, the publication caused a stir among some employees who saw the celebration as insensitive and improperly promoting ideals related to white pride.

Employees at Interior said they could not recall Interior ever recognizing European Heritage Month previously, with one saying the department “made up their own commemorative month.” The publication was put together by the head of “special emphasis programs” at the Interior Business Center, though the magazine is labeled as a publication of Interior’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administrative Services. A division of Interior’s Office of Civil Rights, the department’s special emphasis programs website lists nearly a dozen events and groups as part of its observance policy and European heritage is not one of them. There does not appear to be any national recognition of August as European Heritage Month. 

Some Interior workers who were aware of the publication became annoyed and angry about it, one employee said. The message appeared to promote a “white lives matter” ideology, said the individual, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, and was especially troubling “during a time of civil awakening.” 

Steve Carlisle, the editor of the magazine, told Government Executive he had no intention of making a political statement and did not want to “insult anybody or hurt anybody.” He said he and his colleagues gave “a lot of consideration” to the potential blowback of publishing the issue, but ultimately decided it was important to “make content relevant to everyone” and saw it as a way to “celebrate immigration.” Carlisle came up with the idea for the magazine during the novel coronavirus pandemic, as Interior employees could no longer gather in person to celebrate various cultures each month. 

“Taken as a whole,” he said of the project, “it is really about including as many groups and backgrounds of people as we possibly can.” 

The issue highlights the history of many Europeans arriving to the United States through Ellis Island and goes on to highlight specific experiences of Welsh, Irish and German Americans, including some first-person narratives of Interior employees who vacationed in their ancestral homelands. It also included references to National Parks with “European connections.” The Interior employee took issue with a blurb on the large number of Native Americans in Florida at the time of European contact, suggesting it only served to highlight that those populations have been almost entirely wiped out. 

Another Interior employee said the entire issue of the magazine was “tone deaf.” 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has flagged various organizations that celebrate European heritage as associated with white nationalism. Former Gov. Jim Gilmore, R-Va., once sparked a brief

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Homespun BLM products including cookie kits, garden gnomes raise concerns of exploiting movement

A few weeks after nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, Julie Muller looked for something positive she could contribute to the movement from her Houston home.

The 67-year-old white woman, who has been selling homemade cookie-decorating kits online since March, decided to offer one with a Black Lives Matter theme. The kit comes with cookie cutters imprinted with former President Barack Obama’s face, sprinkles and icing in red, black and green — the colors of the Pan-African or Black Liberation flag.

Other examples of homespun BLM merchandise include wine stoppers and even garden gnomes — objects more often associated with white suburbia. The white sellers insist they are not trying to make light of racial issues or widen their profit margins. But to many onlookers, the sales through the crafts marketplace Etsy may straddle an uncomfortable line between supporting the movement and exploiting it.

Muller’s three children were the first to warn her she might appear to be capitalizing on racial unrest. But that’s partly why she wanted to act.

Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, poses in her kitchen Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Julie Muller, who sells cookie decorating kits on Etsy, poses in her kitchen Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“I’ve been thinking about what’s systemic racism and what is racial profiling,” Muller said. “It’s more about doing my part. What can I offer?”

The protest movement ignited by Floyd’s death in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer compelled businesses large and small to declare publicly that they were “woke” to the pain of Black people. Manufacturers soon began making BLM T-shirts, face masks and signs.

It’s not surprising that independent merchants wanted to express solidarity too, said Patti Williams, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

To demonstrate sincerity, sellers should commit to making these items permanently to show their efforts are not just an attempt “to jump on a fad,” she added.

There’s also potential for the items themselves to be seen as offensive or tone-deaf.

Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller's cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, on Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Sugar cookies with the likeness of President Obama are displayed as part of Julie Muller’s cookie decorating kits which she sell on Etsy, on Sept. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ashleigh Boutelle, 45, of Twin Peaks, California, custom paints garden gnomes as a side business. After making gay pride gnomes, he decided in July to try painting a Black Lives Matter gnome. The yellow-and-black-clad gnome — a nod to the colors used on a Black Lives Matter website — wears a “BLM” hat. He also painted it with a darker skin tone.

“I was just trying to be very careful and present something that you might say is neutral,” Boutelle said. “Hopefully, someone who sees it is not offended.”

He has since gotten a few orders for either Black Lives Matter gnomes or African American gnomes. Boutelle hopes people don’t question his sincerity because his support is displayed on a mythical figure with a pointy hat.

“I like the idea of offering it to

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Electrical fires raise concerns in Alabama State House

A fire that forced evacuation of the Alabama State House last week has drawn new attention to problems with the building that serves as home for the Alabama Legislature.

An exhaust fan in a third-floor bathroom caught fire on Friday, causing heavy smoke and forcing the evacuation of the eight-story building.

One week earlier, Alabama Senate Secretary Pat Harris said an electrical outlet caught fire in his office on the seventh floor. It was put out with a fire extinguisher.

Harris said both fires could have grown worse had they happened on a weekend or evening when the building was not occupied.

Harris said he plans to meet Wednesday with the company that manages the fire alarm system in the State House. One concern, Harris said, is that the alarm did not go off on the seventh floor on Friday. Another concern is that a fire could trigger the building’s sprinkler system and damage computers and other equipment.

Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency, said a report on the condition of the State House and its systems, including the electrical system, is due by September 30. The report on the building’s condition is not specifically related to the fires but was part of an annual maintenance agreement with the state Finance Department.

The State House was completed in 1963 to serve as headquarters for what was then known as the State Highway Department, which is now called the Alabama Department of Transportation.

The Legislature moved into the building in the 1980s for what was expected to a temporary stay to allow renovations of the Capitol. But the Legislature never went back to the Capitol.

About 250 people work in the State House year-round, Lathram said. That includes employees of the Senate, House of Representatives, Legislative Services Agency, Executive Budget Office, and Secretary of State. The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the number of people in the building on a regular basis.

Lathram said the building is a concrete structure that was retrofitted with air conditioning and has had problems with moisture.

Alabama House Clerk Jeff Woodard said he did not know about many recent problems with the electrical system in the House offices, which are on the fifth floor, although he said a couple of outlets have burned in the past.

Woodard said mold has been an issue in the State House for some time. He said that includes mold on multiple walls and mold discovered behind wall coverings during renovations.

The House this year adopted a resolution to set up a nine-person committee to study the environmental conditions and physical plant systems of State House and make recommendations to the Legislature.

The resolution said the State House has many problems, “including air quality, plumbing leaks, electrical power surges, flooding, inconsistent heating and air conditioning, accessibility, and lack of space for public access to committee meetings and other legislative business.”

The Senate did not pass the resolution.

The condition of the State House came up earlier this year when

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