The D.C. regulations do not cover federal property, meaning the White House was technically exempt, but the fallout has left city officials scrambling over how to respond. For now, they have deferred to the Trump administration for contact tracing efforts to contain the transmission of a disease that has killed more than 208,000 Americans.
Experts said contact tracing for an event with more than 150 people — who were on hand in the Rose Garden as Trump introduced his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett — would be extraordinarily difficult. Seven people besides Trump who were there have tested positive in recent days: first lady Melania Trump, former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and an unnamed journalist.
It is not known how many others in the crowd have been tested, contracted the virus or begun to self-quarantine in Washington or in other cities. Hope Hicks, a senior White House aide, also has tested positive, though it is not known if she attended the Rose Garden event. Her case raises the possibility that the virus spread through the White House afterward, and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has said more positive tests among White House staff are likely.
The uncertainty comes at a crucial moment for the city, which has fared better than most states in controlling the virus, averaging about five new daily cases per 100,000 residents. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has said it is safe to begin partially reopening the city’s 51,000-student public school system in November, and she is expected to make a decision in the coming days after tussling with the teachers union about safety plans.
A local resurgence of cases could disrupt those plans.
“It is disappointing that the White House has flaunted not wearing masks and gathering large crowds,” said D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), who represents a downtown district that includes areas surrounding the White House. “That is not only dangerous messaging for the country, but it is directly threatening to our efforts to decrease our spread across the District.”
The White House has dismissed such criticism. Since June, President Trump has routinely staged large gatherings, including official events and campaign rallies, in Washington and other cities, in some cases flouting local regulations. Last month, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) slammed Trump as “reckless and selfish” after the president held an indoor rally with thousands of supporters in Henderson, Nev.
In Washington, Trump welcomed scores of guests for a fireworks show on Independence Day and spoke on the South Lawn to 1,500 supporters, most not wearing masks and seated closely together, during his renomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in August.
“For months in the midst of a global pandemic, the media has celebrated large gatherings of so-called ‘peace protesters,’ — some of whom have burned down, looted, and rioted in cities across the country,” White