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Two people who work in close proximity with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive for the new coronavirus, raising questions about the president’s continued approach to eschew wearing masks.
On Thursday, one of the president’s personal valets, a member of the U.S. Navy, was confirmed to have COVID-19. According to CNN, “The valets are members of an elite military unit dedicated to the White House and often work very close to the President and first family. Trump was upset when he was informed Wednesday that the valet had tested positive, a source told CNN, and the President was subsequently tested again by the White House physician.”
Another report, from NBC News, described, “After learning that one of his valets was infected, Trump became ‘lava level mad’ at his staff and said he doesn’t feel it is doing all it can to protect him, according to a person close to the White House. The source said the unknowingly infected valet was consistently close to the president throughout the day. Trump publicly disputed that Thursday, telling reporters that he’d had ‘very little contact, personal contact, with this gentleman.”
Then, on Friday, Pence’s trip to Iowa was delayed because his press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for the virus. At first, the White House did not disclose which Pence staffer had the virus, but then Trump inadvertently outed Miller that afternoon saying, “She’s a wonderful young woman, Katie, she tested very good for a long period of time. And then all of the sudden today she tested positive. She hasn’t come into contact with me. She’s spent some time with the vice president.”
Miller is married to one of Trump’s closest advisers, Stephen Miller. The president and vice president are tested for coronavirus every day and have, thus far, remained negative. A personal assistant to the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, has also tested positive, but she has reportedly been working from home and has not been in contact with Ivanka, whose husband Jared Kushner is also one of Trump’s top advisers.
Both Trump and Pence have consistently foregone wearing masks when making public appearances with others; neither do many of their aides. Pence notably did not wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic, even though the hospital requires visitors wear them; the vice president later admitted he should have worn one.
A former White House official, who served in prior administrations, told the Washington Post that Trump has “tried to minimize this threat from day one. It’s the only way he can laugh in the face of this disease. If he backtracks now, and starts wearing a mask, it will contradict the red meat he’s feeding to his base constantly. This is the first health crisis that has been politicized.”
On Friday, during a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., Trump and First Lady Melania Trump did not wear masks, an event that included eight World War II veterans, ages 96 to 100 years old. While those veterans are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age, the White House said they were “choosing nation over self” in deciding to participate.
While access to widespread testing is often mentioned as one of many keys to reopen states and businesses, the New York Times reported that Trump pointed out on Friday, “The tests are perfect, but something can happen between a test where it’s good and then something happens and all of a sudden” it changes.
“When you take a test you’re basically getting a slice in time. You know what is happening at that moment, but you don’t know what may happen even soon after that,” acknowledged Nellie Brown, an expert in workplace health and safety programs at Cornell University, in an interview with the Times.
But she said the president should wear a mask. “You need to model the behavior you want others to exhibit because you’re so powerful an example. It’s so important for others to see we’re all doing this because we’re all in this together.”