Pentagon scrambles to retrace steps after White House COVID-19 outbreak

The Pentagon is retracing the steps of its top brass after a positive coronavirus case among senior officials forced Defense Department heads into quarantine.



Pentagon scrambles to retrace steps after White House COVID-19 outbreak


© Greg Nash
Pentagon scrambles to retrace steps after White House COVID-19 outbreak

News of Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray testing positive, which came after he attended a Sept. 27 White House event, broke after Ray had met with several other senior leaders at the Pentagon last week.

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The Defense Department has since raced to conduct contact tracing, highlighting the stark difference between the Pentagon and White House, where administration officials have been reluctant to reveal key timeline details after President Trump and top aides tested positive.

“Simply because it is such a threat to readiness and can disable a ship, a building, a base, they take this very seriously,” Steve Morrison, a public health expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said of the Pentagon’s response.

“It didn’t seem they were looking to be micromanaged by anyone, they sort of kicked in to gear,” he added.

Top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Tuesday that the Pentagon is “conducting additional contact tracing and taking appropriate precautions to protect the force and the mission.”

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for specifics regarding its contact tracing and what additional precautions are being taken.

Hoffman said Tuesday that all potential close contacts from the meetings involving Ray “are self-quarantining and have been tested.”

One of those close contacts, Gen. Gary Thomas, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, has since tested positive. He was quarantining when his results were announced by the Defense Department.

“We are aware of General Thomas’ positive test for COVID-19. At this time we have no additional senior leader positive test results to report. We will continue to follow CDC guidance for self-quarantining and contact tracing,” the Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday night.

Most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, are self-quarantining following Ray’s positive test.

Others who are quarantining include Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten; Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday; Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown; Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond; National Guard Bureau chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson; and Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.

The officials were possibly exposed during several meetings that Ray attended last week.

Ray tested positive on Monday after experiencing mild symptoms over the weekend. He had been indoors at the White House on Sept. 27 for a Gold Star family event in which several other top defense officials, including Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, were in attendance.

His diagnosis came amid a growing coronavirus outbreak centered on the White House, where Trump held an event in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court.

Milley and Esper have so

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Interior minister scrambles to dispel ‘slander’ he broke travel lockdown

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tuesday that someone was spreading an unfounded rumor among journalists that he had broken a virus lockdown by traveling from his Jerusalem home to be in the northern city of Tiberias for the recent Yom Kippur holiday.

Deri’s denial came as a fellow cabinet member, Environment Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, faced a possible police investigation for allegedly having tried to conceal from Health Ministry officials that she was in Tiberias on Yom Kippur, even though her home is in Tel Aviv. Gamliel was diagnosed with COVID-19 after the holiday, and reportedly gave misleading information during an epidemiological probe to trace the source of her infection.

Though Deri did not name anyone in his rebuttal, the former mayor of Tiberias, Ron Kobi, posted earlier in the day on Facebook that “another senior minister” had been in the city on Yom Kippur.

Kobi and Deri have a personal beef, as the minister was instrumental in seeing the mayor dismissed from his position at the beginning of the year after he failed to pass a city budget.

Ron Kobi in Tiberias. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“A message to members of the media: There is a detestable liar going to reporters since yesterday and slandering that I prayed on Yom Kippur in a Tiberias synagogue,” Deri tweeted. “The liar already said that to four reporters in an attempt to frame me. On Yom Kippur I prayed in an open space next to my home in Jerusalem.

“Don’t fall into the liar’s trap,” he said.

In a video message posted on the Knesset Channel’s Twitter feed, Deri said that his public relations adviser had called him in a panic after a reporter had asked about the minister’s whereabouts on Yom Kippur. In the video Deri likewise denied that he had been away from home.

Earlier, Kobi wrote on Facebook: “Another senior minister stayed in Tiberias on Yom Kippur!!! Believe me, they have no boundaries (literally: They have no God)!”

Kobi, who was dubbed the “Donald Trump of the north” by Israeli media over his combative style, swept into local office in the fall of 2018 on a campaign that focused on combating the growing ultra-Orthodox community and its influence in the city, highlighted in a series of frequently foulmouthed and menacing Facebook live videos.

However, he failed to form a coalition and with his party making up just six of the city council’s 15 spots, other members refused to get behind his budget proposals, even after he was given an extension until September 30, 2019.

After his ouster Deri appointed Interior Ministry deputy director Moni Ma’atok to chair a special committee that will run the city for the next three years until the next municipal elections. The council is made up of other civil servants from the ministry.

Police on Tuesday conveyed to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit the results of an initial probe of

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Pence tests negative as White House scrambles to deal with its coronavirus outbreak

Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday morning, his office announced. <span class="copyright">(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)</span>
Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday morning, his office announced. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday morning, his office announced, suggesting that he might not have been infected by President Trump or others on the White House staff.

“As has been routine for months, Vice President Pence is tested for COVID-19 every day. This morning, Vice President Pence and the Second Lady tested negative for COVID-19,” tweeted Devin O’Malley, Pence’s press secretary. “Vice President Pence remains in good health and wishes the Trumps well in their recovery.”

Pence’s office did not immediately respond to questions about when he was last in contact with Trump, who announced his positive test results early Friday morning. But during a rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Pence told the crowd that he had been in the Oval Office with the president earlier that day.

The news that Pence had tested negative alleviates some questions about the presidential line of succession if Trump becomes badly ill and is unable to perform his duties. As an elderly, overweight man, Trump is a prime candidate to develop serious symptoms from the coronavirus.

Pence is currently scheduled to participate in a debate Wednesday with Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

It’s unclear where Trump contracted the virus, but one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, tested positive on Thursday.

The viral spread presents a nightmare scenario for the White House. Trump has been traveling in close quarters with top members of his administration and his campaign in recent days. The people closest to the president are tested regularly, but they rarely wear masks despite advice from public health experts.

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