As President Trump exited the golden doors of Walter Reed hospital Monday, a reporter shouted, “How many of your staff are sick? Do you think you might be a superspreader, Mr. President?” Trump ignored him and boarded Marine One to the White House where he marched up to the balcony. He waved, saluted, took off his mask, appearing out of breath, then went inside. Trump’s defiant mask removal threatened the household staff, a majority of whom are older people of color, thus at the greatest risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Trump’s callous disregard for these workers and the outbreak at the White House overall is a metaphor for his shameful pandemic response, as he denies science, mocks masks and social distancing, and presides over the planet’s highest, ever-growing national death count.
Trump announced via tweet his and First Lady Melania Trump’s positive COVID-19 test results at around 1 am ET on Friday, October 2nd. The White House Rose Garden event and indoor reception on Saturday, September 26th, where Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before a crowd of over 200 predominantly unmasked people, likely spread the virus. At least eleven people at the event, including Trump, have since tested positive for the coronavirus. The White House refuses to say when Trump last tested negative, leading many to question whether he was COVID-19 positive during the first presidential debate with Joe Biden.
His indifference to those workers, and the country at large, is criminal, and portends a deepening pandemic with many more deaths in the cold, dark months ahead.On Sunday, Trump’s Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced that the White House would no longer disclose when staff tested positive, just one day before she herself tested positive, along with two of her deputies. Also on Monday, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman tweeted, “2 White House residence staff members who tested positive–they worked for the housekeeping department…When their tests came back positive, they were told to use ‘discretion’ in discussing it.”
When trying to contain a pandemic, “discretion” is not needed. Aggressive testing, quarantining of those exposed to an infected person, isolation of those who are infected, and contact tracing of those who may have been exposed and should be tested are critical tools to end the pandemic.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky of Massachusetts General Hospital shared her concerns about the Rose Garden event at an Infectious Disease Society of America news briefing this Wednesday: “There are over 300 people who work in the White House who might be considered…essential personnel, who might go home to places where it might be harder to find a test, harder to find quarantine, and who might live in multigenerational households,” she said.
The White House, now a COVID-19 hotspot, seems more concerned with controlling the spin than with controlling the spread, so Middlebury College journalist Benjy Renton helped create an online White House COVID Tracker. Using public reports, pictures, flight manifests, and a tip line, they’ve identified 327 people linked to Trump and the White House during the past week or two, of whom 35 have tested positive for the coronavirus.
They categorize infections by event, including the Amy Coney Barrett announcement, a White House event hosting Gold Star Families and Trump’s debate preparation on Sunday, Sept. 27th, the presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday, Sept. 29th, a rally in Duluth, Minnesota on Wednesday Sept. 30th, and a fundraiser at Trump’s Bedminster, NJ golf club on Thursday, Oct. 1st. At all of these events, masks were almost entirely absent. Additionally, all but one of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff are in quarantine after exposure to a COVID-19 positive admiral.
Nature Magazine reported that contact tracing all those who Trump may have infected, in the seven states he visited in the week leading up to his COVID-19 diagnosis, would be “massive but very feasible.” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is seeking to contact all 206 attendees at Trump’s Bedminster fundraiser, as well as at least 19 of Trump’s golf club’s workers. Wealthy donors and prominent politicians easily access testing and can comfortably quarantine, if needed.
But what about the workers — those on the front lines of our pandemic response, essential workers keeping the economy going, and those trapped in the White House with a maskless Donald Trump? Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said in a statement, “The outbreak of coronavirus at our highest level of government highlights the urgent need to provide essential worker protections and comprehensive COVID relief for all of us.”
The White House was built by and later staffed by enslaved people. Racism and white supremacy are built into its walls. Now, a dedicated staff of essential workers in the residence, many of them older people of color, cook, clean, provide maintenance and attend to the First Family. President Trump, reportedly, doesn’t wear a mask in the residence. His indifference to those workers, and the country at large, is criminal, and portends a deepening pandemic with many more deaths in the cold, dark months ahead.