WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said some White House employees have started wearing face masks as a staffer to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions about the safety of the country’s top leaders.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump heads to the Marine One helicopter to depart for a weekend at Camp David from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 1, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
The new coronavirus case on Pence’s team, which briefly delayed his flight to Iowa, a White House official confirmed, came a day after news that Trump’s personal valet had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The two cases in quick succession heightened fears of contagion to the United States’ top two leaders, with both Trump and Pence recently resuming robust travel schedules despite a national death toll from the virus that has topped 75,000.
The White House has taken some steps to further protect top officials. Before news of the case on Pence’s team, Trump was asked in a Fox news interview on Friday whether those who serve him food would now cover their faces.
“They’ve already started,” he said on the network’s “Fox and Friends” morning program.
The White House on Thursday said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus and were feeling well after the Trump staffer – a U.S. military service member who works at the White House as a valet – came down with the virus. The White House has also instituted daily, as opposed to weekly, coronavirus tests of the President and Vice President.
Still, the two maintain busy public schedules. The vice president has led the White House coronavirus task force that Trump this week said he was going to wind down before reversing course to keep it. On Friday, Pence flew to Iowa to meet with faith leaders about holding “responsible” gatherings and to discuss the food supply at the headquarters for Midwestern grocery chain Hy-Vee Inc.
According to a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity, a Pence staffer tested positive for the virus prompting officials to deplane Air Force 2 on Friday morning and briefly delay the planned takeoff. It was not immediately clear whether the staffer with the virus had been aboard the plane.
Trump attended a public event at the World War Two memorial on Friday and was scheduled to meet face-to-face with Republican members of Congress at the White House, according to the White House.
Trump also told Fox News that he has not yet been tested for antibodies to the novel coronavirus but probably would be soon. Such a test could confirm previous exposure to the virus.
DICTATORS, KINGS, AND QUEENS
Even as White House staffers don masks, protective facial coverings have been a harder sell for Trump and Pence.
Trump himself has said he would not wear a mask and has not publicly worn a mask to any of his events so far amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but told reporters this week that he tried some on behind the scenes during his visit to a Honeywell face mask factory in Arizona.
“As I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens … I don’t see it for myself, I just don’t,” Trump said in early April when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending widespread mask use to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The virus, which first surfaced in Wuhan, China late last year, has infected more than a million Americans and driven millions into unemployment as a result of lockdown measures to curb a rise in infections. Those measures are being eased in some states, but many are still requiring mask use.
Both Trump and Pence have drawn fire for not donning face masks, with critics arguing they are setting a bad example for Americans.
Pence did not wear a mask while visiting coronavirus patients during a recent visit to Minnesota’s famed Mayo Clinic, noting that he was tested frequently for the disease. But he later said he should have worn one, pointing out that it carries a symbolic weight as well.
Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Writing by Susan Heavey and Alexandra Alper; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis