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A number of top public health officials are taking extra precautions after coming into contact with people who have the new coronavirus—including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIAID].
Fauci, a familiar (and, for many Americans, reassuring) figure for his fact-based approach to the White House’s coronavirus task force, told CNN he would be in “modified quarantine” because of his interaction with a White House staffer with the virus. It’s unclear which staffer he came into contact with, but Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. Pence is the head of the task force, and Miller is married to one of Trump’s closest advisers, Stephen Miller.
The contact was described as “low-risk,” which CNN explained “means he was not in close proximity to the person who tested positive during the time when that person was known to be positive for the virus.”
To err on the side of caution, Fauci said he is doing what he calls a “modified quarantine,” meaning he will stay at home and telework, wearing a mask continually, for 14 days. He said he might also go to his office at the National Institutes of Health where he is the only one there. He also will be tested every day, he said, noting he was tested yesterday and was negative.
NIAID told ABC News, “Nevertheless he is taking appropriate precautions to mitigate risk to any of his personal contacts while still allowing him to carry out his responsibilities in this public health crisis.”
CBS reports that Fauci is still expected to testify before a Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday.
FAUCI UPDATE: WH still plans for Dr. Fauci & Adm Giroir to appear in person before Senate Committee Tuesday, Fauci tells @CBSNews he will wear a mask & socially distance. FDA Chief Hahn & CDC Dir Redfield will appear remotely. H/T @MajorCBS #COVID19 https://t.co/ZjWTcNUGV5
— Paula Reid (@PaulaReidCBS) May 10, 2020
Dr. Robert Redfield, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will also be isolating himself after contact with an unidentified White House staffer who is infected. Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, will be going a step further than “modified quarantine” and will completely self-quarantine after contact with Miller. The FDA said, “Per CDC guidelines, he is now in self-quarantine for the next two weeks. He immediately took a diagnostic test and tested negative for the virus.”
However, the Washington Post reports that despite those high-profile figures quarantining themselves, “[S]everal administration officials said White House staffers were encouraged to come into the office by their supervisors, and that aides who travel with President Trump and Vice President Pence would not stay out for 14 days, the recommended time frame to quarantine once exposed to the virus.”
Fauci, Pence, Redfield, President Donald Trump, Dr. Deborah Birx, and others in the task force are never seen wearing masks in press briefings or in meetings. Trump himself has said he would not wear a mask, even as federal health agencies and officials recommend wearing a mask or face covering. An upcoming study suggests that mask-wearing can help infection rates plummet.
The briefings and meetings also take place without any social distancing of officials. The White House says its protocols—including daily testing of officials, as well as reporters—allow them to operate this way.
White House spokesman Judd Deere told the Washington Post, “The president’s physician and White House operations continue to work closely to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the president, first family and the entire White House complex safe and healthy at all times. In addition to social distancing, daily temperature checks and symptom histories, hand sanitizer, and regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, every staff member in proximity to the president and vice president is being tested daily for COVID-19 as well as any guests.”