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As Trump Enjoys Balcony Photo-Op, White House Cleaning Staff Sick With Covid-19 Told to Use 'Discretion'

"The behavior of the first family has endangered not only their own health, but that of the staff."

A member of the White House cleaning staff sanitizes the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room on October 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump, several members of his staff, and three members of the press corps have recently tested positive for coronavirus. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

At least two members of the White House residence staff tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, the same day President Donald Trump returned home after a three-day stay at Walter Reed Medical Center following his Covid-19 diagnosis last week—indicating that the White House outbreak has reached far beyond high-profile insiders like press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and adviser Kellyanne Conway.

The two Covid-positive housekeepers were urged to use "discretion" after learning of their diagnosis, while Trump arrived back at the White House to dramatically remove his face covering while posing for photos on the building's South Portico. 

"This is what I was worried about," tweeted emergency physician Megan Ranney after the housekeepers' diagnoses were first reported by Forbes. "The behavior of the first family has endangered not only their own health, but that of the staff."

The housekeepers, who are part of a staff of more than 90 residence workers including ushers, butlers, valets, florists, and cooks—did not have direct contact with the first family in recent days, when the president and First Lady Melania Trump both announced they had tested positive. 

But the gathering Trump hosted on Sept. 26 to celebrate his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court has been identified as a "super-spreader" event, with at least eight attendees now infected. Many attendees were maskless and did not socially-distance at the gathering, which took place both indoors and outdoors. The president has openly mocked mask-wearing and ordered a White House reporter to remove his face covering at a briefing last month. 

According to Forbes, multiple White House staffers who have been in close contact with people who tested positive for Covid-19 after the event have continued to report to work at the executive mansion, flouting CDC guidance—suggesting that several more members of the residence staff may have contracted the disease.  

"There's obviously the chance that the residence team is just walking, doing their job and catching the droplets or whatever," Deesha Dyer, who served as White House social secretary during the Obama administration, told the Washington Post on Monday. "It makes me angry because I do care about these people, and they're amazing, and so many of them did not have a choice... And it's just trifling and unnecessary to put them at risk because you can't be bothered to wear a mask."

The members of the White House residence staff are largely Black and Latino. Many are elderly, putting them at greater risk for severe Covid-19 infections. 

Critics on social media condemned the president for treating the building staff "recklessly" and endangering them "for his own vanity."

"No one should have to work in this building," tweeted author and historian James Gleick on Tuesday, responding to a video of a White House staffer in a hazmat suit sanitizing the press room. "Not reporters, not housekeepers, not cleaners and cooks."

Other congressional staffers and essential workers have also likely been exposed due to the Barrett event, said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Outside the White House, restaurant workers in Minneapolis have been forced to quarantine for two weeks after catering a fundraiserTrump attended last Wednesday, a day before he revealed his positive Covid-19 test. Despite his exposure to adviser Hope Hicks, whose diagnosis was revealed Wednesday, the president forged ahead with his campaign schedule, hosting a rally in Duluth and meeting with 40 contributors at a private home. Thirteen catering staffers at Murray's Steakhouse are now in isolation and are being tested for Covid-19. 

At least two Secret Service members were in close contact with Trump on Sunday evening as they escorted him in a vehicle to greet his supporters outside Walter Reed Medical Center while he had an active coronavirus infection. All three occupants of the vehicle were masked, but some Secret Service members uncharacteristically spoke out about the incident.

"He's not even pretending to care now," one agent said during Trump's appearance, according to the Washington Post. 

Former First Lady Michelle Obama expressed concern for White House residence staffers and all the workers and families whose lives have and will be touched by the outbreak. 

"My heart goes out to everyone touched by this virus, from those at the White House, especially the Secret Service and residence staff whose service ought never be taken for granted, to all those names and stories most of us will unfortunately never know," Obama tweeted

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