The country’s top health officials battling the COVID-19 pandemic are now in self-quarantine or a “modified” quarantine following coronavirus exposure at the White House.
In the past week, many White House staffers, secret service members, and aides have tested positive for the virus, which generally spreads by respiratory droplets. Those infected include a military valet to President Trump; Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant; Vice President Mike Pence’s spokesperson, Katie Miller; and at least 11 members of the US Secret Service.
Many senior health officials working on the White House Coronavirus Task Force have been exposed at some level, leading to self-quarantines.
Among those affected are Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert and director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—a position he has held since 1984. Dr. Fauci has advised six presidential administrations on how to deal with infectious disease outbreaks, beginning with the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the Reagan administration.
Dr. Fauci told CBS News on Sunday, May 10, that he will be in a “modified quarantine” for two weeks following what he described as a “low risk” exposure with one of the positive cases in the White House. He will stay isolated at home, teleworking, and wear a mask continually. He may go to his office at the NIH’s campus in Bethesda, Maryland, but will ensure no one else is there during that time—making it a “modified” quarantine. He also said that if he is asked to go to the White House, he will do so as safely as possible with social distancing measures.
Fauci tested negative for the virus on Friday, May 8.
Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are also self-quarantining and teleworking after exposures at the White House. Both are members of the federal coronavirus task force.
All three are scheduled to testify in a Congressional hearing on Tuesday before the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing will cover the government’s COVID-19 response and reopening plans. The three are expected to testify via video-conference.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, also working with the task force, is still considering a potential quarantine. He has tested negative multiple times.
Overall, the White House is reportedly struggling to put in place consistent policies for quarantining staff members and officials after exposures. In a statement to the Post, White House spokesperson Judd Deere declined to comment on quarantines but said:
The president’s physician and White House operations continue to work closely to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the president, first family and the entire White House complex safe and healthy at all times. In addition to social distancing, daily temperature checks and symptom histories, hand sanitizer, and regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, every staff member in proximity to the president and vice president is being tested daily for COVID-19 as well as any guests.