WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump continued to paint an improving picture of the coronavirus pandemic Monday even as the threat of the virus hit home inside the White House, which increased precautions again in the wake of positive employee tests the previous week.
The White House began requiring all staffers entering the West Wing to wear a facial covering Monday, according to two sources familiar with the decision, and asked aides to avoid going there “unless you absolutely need to conduct in-person business in the West Wing,” according to a memo sent to staffers.
The decision comes days after a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for coronavirus. Trump has repeatedly declined to wear a face-covering in public settings.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control has been that any employees who are exposed to the virus should be wearing a mask in the workplace for 14 days after any contact with a person who tests positive.
White House staffers returned in the morning to a thoroughly cleaned West Wing and new protocols around testing and masks after the president’s personal valet and Pence’s spokesperson both tested positive for the virus in recent days.
Secret Service members in close proximity to the president have begun wearing masks and visitors were asked additional questions before entering the White House grounds about whether they’d been experiencing any symptoms in addition to temperature checks. Staffers who are in regular, close contact with the president — roughly a dozen people — are also being tested daily.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to push forward his narrative of an improving situation, tweeting Monday morning that the “coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere” and accusing Democrats of not opening their states sooner because they are trying to hurt his re-election efforts.
While the number of cases have been declining in some areas, like New York, other regions continue to see an increase or a plateau in new cases. Nationally, the U.S. has seen at least 20,000 new cases per day for more than a month, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.
While those in close contact with the president, such as those serving his food, have begun wearing masks, there is no policy requiring staffers wear masks in the West Wing with its close working quarters and narrow hallways. Several senior administration officials were seen entering the West Wing without masks on Monday morning.
Trump was scheduled to hold a press conference giving an update on testing Monday afternoon, his first in two weeks. The White House is planning to have separate microphones for individuals who speak at events with the president, an official said.
Several key figures won’t be in attendance. Three members of the White House coronavirus task force said over the weekend they would self-quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, will follow some form of quarantine for 14 days along with Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration.
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller is also expected to work remotely for the time being, a White House official said. Miller tested negative for the virus after his wife, Katie Miller — spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence — tested positive.
Vice President Mike Pence, who had spent the weekend staying away from the White House after his spokesperson tested positive, arrived at the White House campus Monday morning for a video conference with governors.
White House staffers received a memo late Friday from the White House management office, which encourages aides to “practice maximum telework” and to “work remotely if at all possible,” re-emphasizing a policy that has been in place since March, an administration official said.
Staffers in the East Wing who work for the First Lady are all working from home, and if they do need to go into the White House they are tested and practice social distancing during meetings, said Stephanie Grisham, a spokesperson for Melania Trump.
Many senior officials were seen arriving at the White House on Monday, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino, and trade adviser Peter Navarro, along with a number of lower level aides.
But not all of them were unfazed by the recent West Wing cases.
“It is scary to go to work,” economic adviser Kevin Hassett said Sunday. “I was not part of the White House in March. I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home instead of going to the West Wing. But, you know, it’s a time when people have to step up and serve their country.”