At least nine White House employees have now tested positive for the virus, including senior adviser Stephen Miller, who got his result late Tuesday, a senior administration official said. Trump’s aides, allies and advisers find themselves grappling with how to implement more safety measures and precautions without displeasing their boss, who continues to say — as he did in a tweet Monday — “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
In a video he recorded maskless from the White House south balcony Monday night, the president also falsely claimed that perhaps he was “immune” to the virus, said he felt “better than 20 years ago” and urged the public to “get out there.”
The result is a bifurcated culture in Trump’s White House and broader orbit, with informal and halting steps toward more rigorous health measures often undermined or upended by the president.
His team, for instance, tried to puzzle out if there was a way for him to safely return to the Oval Office on Tuesday but ultimately nixed the request, said two people familiar with the discussions, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.
“The White House really isn’t doing anything you’re supposed to be doing in these situations,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist on the faculty of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Rasmussen added that while she agreed with Trump’s call not succumb to fear, “we also shouldn’t not take the virus seriously just because President Trump says he feels better and is flying around on Marine One and standing on the balcony like Evita.”
On Monday, the White House Management Office sent out an email to senior staff who routinely interact with Trump, aimed at protecting both the president and his advisers. The memo, obtained by The Washington Post, urges staffers to “limit all foot traffic on the first floor of the West Wing as well as in the Residence” and says that “staff should only go to the Oval Office or the second floor Residence when they are requested and expected.”
For staffers who do visit the Oval Office or the second floor of the residence, where Trump lives and holds meetings, and who expect to be within six feet of the president, the memo also requires that they wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before entering; remove any outer garments; and don personal protective equipment provided in an “Isolation Cart” — including a yellow gown, surgical mask, protective eyewear and gloves.
The White House has not changed its mask guidance and is still following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that recommend, but do not require, wearing a mask. Several administration officials said nearly everyone in the White House has been wearing a mask in recent days, including Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who usually does not sport one.
Rapid coronavirus testing is still required for anyone in proximity to Trump, and the White House is also offering testing