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If President Trump’s Covid-19 infection was a wake-up call in Washington, not everyone appears to have heard it.

Vice President Mike Pence is continuing public activities, even though he was at the Sept. 26 White House ceremony where Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court was announced and where multiple members of the president’s inner circle — and perhaps even the president himself — appear to have been infected. Pence sat directly in front of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and within a few feet of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), both of whom announced on Friday that they had tested positive for the virus.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was tested for Covid-19 but still decided to attend a Republican event in his home state Friday night. By the following day, he announced he had contracted the virus, suggesting he may have spread it further at the Friday gathering. Despite having tested positive, Johnson continues to oppose Wisconsin’s mandatory mask mandate, telling the Wisconsin State Journal that masks are “certainly not a cure-all.”


Three Republican congressmen who traveled with the president on Air Force One last week — on the flight during which Trump senior adviser Hope Hicks was ill — flew back to Minnesota on a commercial flight on Friday, despite having been in contact with the president.

And Sunday afternoon, Trump himself left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a brief drive-by to wave to supporters outside the facility. The president and Secret Service agents in his vehicle were all wearing masks — but that may not be enough protection, according to James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University School of medicine and an attending physician at Walter Reed.


“That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack. The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures,” Phillips tweeted. “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”

Public health experts are aghast at the way the administration is approaching the spread of Covid-19 within the highest echelons of the government and the Republican Party.

“Public officials who know they have been exposed to the virus and should be in quarantine are either displaying blatant arrogance or numbing ignorance,” Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, told STAT.

“The laws of virus transmission aren’t different for public officials than they are for everyone else,” he said.

A state public health official who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said in an email: “It is SO frustrating to have well-known elected officials disregarding public health guidance. It does not model the behavior we want to see in the public or that we expect of them.”

The official added: “Kids have to miss the sports they love to be in quarantine and our elected officials just ignore the guidance. It suggests that some people feel they are above looking out for the people around them.”

Though there seem to be many more Republican instances of flouting the guidance, public health experts have also raised concern about Democrats. Some question whether Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden ought to be taking part in in-person campaigning, given he shared a debate stage last Tuesday with Trump, who was certainly already infected by that time and may have been emitting virus. The Biden campaign said Sunday night that Biden tested negative for the coronavirus for the third time since the debate.

Others question whether Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), should take part in a live debate this week with Pence. Physician Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s former chief medical editor, lost her job for breaking quarantine after returning from an assignment in an Ebola outbreak.

On Sunday, Snyderman called for the debate to be moved to a virtual format. “Will one of these doctors stand up to this crew and set them straight?” she tweeted.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control says people should wear masks when they are in public settings with others with whom they do not share a household. But President Trump has rarely been seen wearing a mask and has mocked people who do. He criticized Biden during last Tuesday’s debate for wearing a mask and accused a masked reporter at one of his press conferences of trying to be “politically correct.”

Olivia Troye, Pence’s former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, has told reporters that the president would sometimes denigrate White House staffers if they wore masks at meetings, instructing them to take them off. (Troye recently left that role and declared she is voting for Biden for president.)

The CDC also recommends that people who test positive for the virus isolate themselves for 10 days from the point of their positive test if they don’t develop symptoms, and at least 10 days from the start of symptoms if they do become ill. People who have symptoms should remain in isolation for longer if they are continuing to run a fever, the guidance says.

People who have had close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 should quarantine for 14 days after the exposure, the CDC says; quarantining is a way to try to halt onward transmission of the virus. The CDC defines close contact as being within 6 feet of someone for 15 minutes or longer or having been hugged or kissed by a person who later was diagnosed with Covid-19. Both Lee and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who has also contracted the virus — were photographed embracing a number of other guests at the White House event for Coney Barrett.

Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said there appears to be a belief among prominent politicians that these public health rules do not apply to them.

“There’s almost this sense — and I see this with both quarantining and isolation — that, ‘Yeah, it would be nice to have. In the ideal world, sure, if we didn’t have a campaign going on. Sure, if there weren’t more urgent issues,’” he said.

But everyone who is asked to isolate or quarantine themselves by public health officials is inconvenienced — and yet the expectation is that they will do so for the greater public good.

“And the truth is in many ways it’s much, much easier for Vice President Pence to quarantine,’’ Jha said. “He’d do it in a nice home. He’d be able to do 90% of his work still. If you ask a person who’s basically an hourly wage worker to quarantine for two weeks because they’ve had a direct exposure, they lose their wages.”

Osterholm said the number of infections that have emerged within the president’s inner circle ought to serve as “an absolute wake-up call” that mask wearing, social distancing, isolating of the infected, and quarantining of their contacts must be taken seriously by the political class.

“This goes to both parties and all events over the next month,” he said, warning that failing to do so “is playing with both political and public health fire.”

Jha said politicians who think that testing negative after an exposure somehow gives them a get-out-of-quarantine card are wrong. Covid-19 tests aren’t 100% accurate and can produce both false positive and false negative results.

“Clearly somebody was infectious last Saturday at the White House. And they tested negative. So, what more proof do you need that testing isn’t going to get you where you need to be?” he asked.

The lack of support for containment measures among political leaders has eroded public support for things like wearing masks and quarantining, Jha said.

“The bottom line is that when our leaders undermine public health messaging by not doing it themselves, they send a very clear signal to the American people that this stuff is actually not that important,” he said.

“I think that’s the single biggest reason we are at 7.5 million [Americans] infected and 210,000 deaths.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Chris Christie as the governor of New Jersey.

  • Jha’s comment clearly somebody who tested negative was at that event…what more proof do you need that testing won’t (get us out of the crisis).
    Remember all of the criticism by public health officials about needing millions more daily tests? This is why people continue to make up their own minds about how life will be lived for them and their families during this protracted pandemic. Everything about COVID has been politicized and we know that. Free humans will not allow themselves to be restricted beyond what is reasonable for long.

  • They are just being sensible. Nothing guarantees you won’t get the virus. It is no worse than the flu or the Swine Flu when all of these stupid precaustions were never even considered. Let it run its course! It’s nothing but a political stunt! I’m not saying the virus isn’t real. Just the reaction to it is out of line from normal.

    • CDC keeps track and estimates number of deaths each year related to the flu (including Swine flu and other variants). Looking at their chart between 2010-2011 season to 2019-2020 shows estimates between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths in a given flu season. There are over 210,000 confirmed deaths due to COVID19. How can you make statements that C19 is no worse than the flu/Swine flu? That is totally inaccurate. Please don’t quote uninformed sources (including political leaders) about comparisons between flu and COVID19. They are not even close to the same. Your “opinion” is more harmful than helpful. The comments are completely irresponsible.

  • Trump and his flock of hench-people are very obviously displaying the double standard of White House upper echelon versus lowly normal Americans. If that does not bring blinders off the eyes of anyone still contemplating to vote the moron back in, then I don’t know what does. America is doomed with this ghastly reprehensible senseless turd at the helm for more years.

  • Mask wearing general population in accordance with guidance goes against on record regulations by OSHA. It says on the N95 mask that it does not prevent viral exposure. The cloth masks are bacterial, fungal, and otherwise microbial traps right up there on your face. You will soon be aware of the Global lawsuit.
    After we win, you will be able to possibly hone your investigative journalistic skills.

  • Pres. Trump sounds like an awful patient – he can demand and get whatever treatments and flexibility he wants. He heard about and got hydroxychloroquine as a preventative course. He doesn’t want masks or distancing at his events and everyone caves to his desires. Once he’s sick, he gets a list of promising treatments and receives all of them. He wants to go for a ride around the block; they can’t say no to the commander in chief. I suspect he’s not nearly as sick as the list of treatments implies – he’s just a really obnoxious (and probably somewhat frightened) patient. The docs at Walter Reed probably can’t wait to discharge him.

    • Dear Ms Swift,
      Your comment is nothing but speculation, colored by your political leaning. You actually have no idea what’s going on with Trump inside the Walter Reed hospital and neither do I. Therefore, I’m going to wait for more facts and you should too.

    • Ms. Swift, pay no attention to the attack by Bob Adams defending the Trump cult. Most of what you wrote contained facts about Trump’s past and present behavior, not speculation. Adams claims that he will wait for facts– how long, I wonder, and what facts would be enough to shake his faith as a follower. Trump’s outrageous behavior is a fact which has been out there in the open for everyone to see, but “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”

    • Dear Ms Nunn,
      “Ad hominem” much?
      I never revealed my political leaning in my reply to Ms Swift. But you did. I only pointed out that she stated an opinion based on her political leaning. As for how long I must wait for the facts to come out about Trump’s illness and how and why he was treated medically for it, maybe forever. It’s jaw dropping how everything and I mean everything has been so completely politicized. So sad and tragic.

    • Looks like my reply got censored because it doesn’t fit the mainstream narrative.
      Equating mask wearing with a person’s IQ is a disgusting, low brow thing to do. A comment like that is more reflective of the person making it than anything else. It is unbecoming of a person with an MD after their name. Shameful.

    • IQ test? I think people who I see taking their masks, crumpling them up in their pockets after wearing them and never washing them between uses as not so smart. Too many in the general public has neither the will, the training or the supervision to wear masks safely.
      I wear a mask where the law requires. But I think too many rules have no basis. Wearing a mask into a restaurant, only to take it off 30 seconds later when water is served, has virtually no benefit to anyone. So many rules like that make the public skeptical.

  • I’m confused by the apparent absence of hospital protocol at Walter Reed which would address the behavior of an infected patient demanding to leave the hospital, and significantly the medical decisions of a care team that would allow this.

    • I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Walter Reed is a military hospital and Trump, for better or for worse, is the commander-in-chief; he outranks the highest general. Military protocol outranks medical protocol. That is why many people are still skeptical about the reports of Trump’s illness; when Trump prevaricates, if he says it’s a matter of national security for the military doctors to back him up, they can’t contradict him without losing their jobs and their pensions. Just look at the number of military people who have already caved to Trump or had to leave the services; they take an oath to obey orders from higher up. The toddler-in-charge is a nightmare!

  • Two comments:
    1) You noted: Johnson continues to oppose Wisconsin’s mandatory mask mandate, telling the Wisconsin State Journal that masks are “certainly not a cure-all.” To this I would say that of course masks are not a cure-all. They are a “prevent-all.”
    The attacks on Biden are simply ways the Republicans seek to prevent him from campaigning (which he does following CDC recommendations). By this time we know he did not get infected at the debate. He hasn’t come close enough to a known infected person to have to isolate.

    • No, we don’t yet know if Biden was or wasn’t infected at the debate. The virus is airborne, so distancing indoors isn’t fool proof . We will know for sure if he’s free of it in a few more days.

  • Not excusing the stupidity of POTUS road trip, but let’s give the Secret Service a little credit. They likely assigned agents who have already had COVID recently to the limo detail. POTUS’ Suburban also has a classified HVAC/filter system designed for a biological attack.

    The media needs to let this go and focus on the never tried “kitchen sink” interventions POTUS received. IMO Regeneron’s antibodies likely worked as intended, hence his rapid recovery, but with an N=1 who knows?

    A big positive is this will shine a light on monoclonal antibodies which are here now, as opposed to unproven future vaccines. The media has done an awful job of explaining this therapy. If mAbs can save lives as they very well might have for President Trump, they need to be rapidly evaluated by the FDA (no politics please) and strategically ramped up and deployed to infected patients.

    • What I have read about the monoclonal antibodies is that they may help some patients fight the infection, but they are difficult and expensive to produce, therefore rare and not available to the millions of patients who will be infected by this plague. Prevention of infection seems to be a better strategy over all. Trump, of course, can have whatever he wants at the moment whether it works or not or whether it costs us a lot or not.

    • Supposedly the WH is using rapid antigen tests-which have a component of false negatives (and false positives), not the far more sensitive PCR test (which may be too sensitive for general mass testing). So he could have had a negative antigen test – while a PCR test may have shown a positive. The question is-even with a positive test would WH behavior have changed at all?

    • How would we know? One cannot rely upon any factual information coming from the WH as they lie with impunity, calling it political theatre. At present I operate on the assumption that every statement from there is a lie until proven true by disinterested, scientific sources– and that takes time.

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