White House staff told to wear face masks following coronavirus outbreak

12 May 2020, 00:42

President Trump is not expected to wear a face mask in the White House
President Trump is not expected to wear a face mask in the White House. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

White House staff must wear face masks when entering the presidential West Wing following a coronavirus outbreak, but the rule will not apply to Donald Trump.

Two confirmed Covid-19 cases among White House employees has caused three of the USA's top medical experts to quarantine and forced Vice President Mike Pence into self-isolation.

The outbreak has surprised some in the country due to the building's incredibly high levels of protection and security.

It comes as President Trump's administration this week reassured citizens there were steps being taken to ensure they are kept safe as he moves to reopen the country.

Alyssa Farah, the White House director of strategic communications, tweeted: "This week - you'll hear the WhiteHouse talk about preparedness & confidence.

"The Trump Admin is working around the clock to build our testing capacity, grow our PPE stockpiles, distribute therapeutics, & get $ to states to SAFELY reopen in a way Americans can have CONFIDENCE in."

However, the outbreak in one of the world's most-protected buildings has shown that the coronavirus can spread anywhere indiscriminately, which is one of the reasons behind the new, protective measures.

White House staff will be allowed to remove face masks if they sit at least six feet away from their colleagues.

The president, however, will not be expected to wear one.

Vice President Pence led the White House's weekly call with governors on Monday from an isolated room after his press secretary tested positive on Friday.

Dr Deborah Birx and other staff participated as usual from the Situation Room, Mr Pence said, explaining the "slightly different circumstance".

"We are taking the appropriate countermeasures to protect the president's health," he added.

US Vice President Mike Pence self-isolates after coronavirus exposure

Meanwhile, the White House will begin testing some staff members daily in order to detect the disease.

The stepped-up protective measures come as Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Robert Redfield, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, were all quarantining following exposure to the White House employee.

They are all scheduled to give evidence to a Senate panel on Tuesday on "Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School".

All three are expected to participate remotely, along with committee chairman Lamar Alexander who is also quarantining after one of his staff members tested positive for the disease.

The images of senior administration officials taking such precautions come as states begin loosening economic restrictions initially put in place to mitigate the virus's spread.

Mr Trump complained on Monday that Democratic governors were too slow in lifting lockdowns in their states.

"The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails," he tweeted.

"The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don't play politics. Be safe, move quickly!"

He is scheduled to travel to the state on Thursday, according to advisories from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Alongside Mr Trump's encouragement to reopen, the administration moved on Monday to address significant death rates in nursing homes and other senior care facilities.

On the call with governors, Mr Pence and Dr Birx recommended that every occupant and employee be tested for Covid-19 in the next two weeks, with vigilant monitoring going forward, especially of staff.

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