How the Virus Trumped the White House
Bloomberg Businessweek|October 12 - 19, 2020
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How the Virus Trumped the White House
The Covid outbreak in the president’s inner circle is America’s pandemic failure in microcosm
By Robert Langreth and Michelle Fay Cortez

SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t pay attention to party affiliation. Nor does it listen to spin that the nation is turning a corner in the pandemic or promises that a vaccine to solve everything is imminent. All it does is spread, silently and efficiently, wherever and whenever it can, taking advantage of people who let their guard down to find more throats and noses to infect.

The coronavirus apparently found plenty of throats to colonize at the White House. At least 12 people who attended a Rose Garden ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26, or other indoor events associated with it, have now tested positive, including the president and the first lady, two Republican senators, the president of the University of Notre Dame, former aide Kellyanne Conway, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Numerous others in Trump’s orbit who aren’t known to have attended the Rose Garden event, including top aides Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller and campaign manager Bill Stepien, have also contracted the virus.

The White House outbreak, consuming the highest levels of the U.S. government, is a superspreader event with geopolitical shock waves. It’s driven several of the country’s top military leaders into quarantine and could ultimately put thousands of ordinary people, including staff at the White House and Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., golf club and their families, in danger. And it’s a microcosm of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic from the beginning: All along, it has bet on quick fixes over unglamorous preventive measures like masks, social distancing, and contact tracing.

Even now, the White House is focused on moving on. “The president is conveying confidence and resilience and demonstrating to the American people that we must not live in fear, that we must reopen in a safe way and go back to school, go back to work, go back to church because to do otherwise would be un-American,” deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said on Oct. 6.

Trump announced on Twitter that he’d tested positive for the virus soon after midnight on Friday, Oct. 2, hours after Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs broke the news that Hicks, one of his closest aides, had tested positive. He spent three days in the hospital before returning to the White House on Monday night. Exactly how serious his condition was isn’t clear. But physicians were worried enough to administer an experimental antibody cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., and then, when his blood-oxygen level dipped for a second time, they started him on a steroid treatment that’s usually reserved for severe Covid cases. On his release, Trump’s doctors said he wasn’t out of the woods yet; the illness can take a severe turn 7 to 10 days after symptoms appear. By Oct. 7, Trump had been symptom-free for over 24 hours, his doctor said.

Given how many crowded events the president attended the week he got sick, including rallies in two states and a fundraiser in a third—as well as hours of apparently mask-free prep for his Sept. 29 debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden—it’s not clear exactly how or when the virus spread through the White House, and it may never be. What is clear is that the White House, for months, has been ignoring basic public-health precautions urged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as limiting large gatherings, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing.

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October 12 - 19, 2020