White House orders staff to wear masks after officials contract coronavirus

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The White House on Monday ordered everyone entering the west wing, where daily operations of President Donald Trump’s administration take place, to wear masks after two aides tested positive for the coronavirus, said administration officials.

The new guidelines, released in a note to the president’s staff on Monday afternoon, reflect a tightening of procedures at the highest levels of the U.S. government, fearing that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence may be exposed to the virus.

Trump’s military valet and Pence’s press secretary both tested positive for the coronavirus last week.

The 73-year-old president said on Monday that he did not think the cases suggested the White House system was down.

“I did not feel any vulnerability,” said Trump, adding that he believed the situation was “very well controlled.”

Despite the new White House rules, Trump has always decided not to wear a mask in public. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Still, the president has said he will discuss keeping Pence away, perhaps by contacting him by phone, for a while. Pence worked at the White House on Monday, but did not attend a press conference at the Rose Garden. The officials who attended wore masks and the speakers used a different podium from that used by Trump.

Trump himself was not wearing a mask while speaking and ended the briefing after a terse confrontation with a reporter.

WATCH | Trump abruptly ends the COVID-19 press conference:

US President Donald Trump interrupts press conference at White House after quarreling with reporter over question on COVID-19 tests and saying “Don’t ask me, ask China” . 1:28

ABC News first reported the memo, which also said that unnecessary visits to other parts of the White House complex in the west wing area, which includes the oval office and workspace for the senior advisers, were discouraged.

The officials who work near the president have been tested for coronavirus, but previously they did not wear a mask regularly.

“Common sense finally prevailed,” a senior administration official told Reuters.

Trump hesitates to wear a mask

Trump resisted wearing a mask himself and has not publicly released one, although he said he tried it behind the scenes during a visit to an Arizona mask factory last week .

On Saturday, he met with key U.S. military chiefs, chiefs of staff and members of his national security team in the White House Cabinet Room. The officials were not wearing masks, but had been tested for the virus in advance, a Pentagon spokesperson said, adding that the social distancing measures appeared to have been followed. Secret service agents in the room wore masks.

The president is in the age group considered to be at high risk of complications from the coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States alone and ravaged countries and economies around the world.

Staff members, including Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, wore masks on the White House grounds Monday.

The White House said last week that it is tightening precautions for people spending time around Trump and Pence, who have both resumed their trips outside of Washington. Both men are tested daily for the virus.

“In addition to social isolation, daily temperature checks and symptom history, hand sanitizer and regular thorough cleaning of all workspaces, each member of staff near the president and of the vice president undergoes daily tests of COVID-19, as well as guests, “said White House spokesman Judd Deere in a statement.

Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller, on the right, tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. She is the second person to work at the White House complex known to have tested positive last week. (Doug Mills-Pool / Getty Images)

After Pence’s press secretary Katie Miller tested positive for the virus last week, Trump was asked if people in the west wing would start wearing masks. He replied that people were already doing it. But he and his guests that day did not put on masks, nor did the west wing personnel wear them.

Miller is married to Stephen Miller, a senior White House official and speechwriter for the president.

Some who have had contact with Katie Miller have entered partial quarantine. An administration official said that Pence worked from the White House on Monday, but that he would keep his distance from the president in the immediate future, in consultation with the White House medical unit.

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