White House directs staff to wear masks after officials contract coronavirus

White House directs staff to wear masks after officials contract coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House has directed staff working in the West Wing, where the daily operations of President Donald Trump’s administration are carried out, to wear masks except when they are at their own desks, two senior administration officials said on Monday.

The residence of the White House is seen reflected in water on the West Wing driveway shortly after the conclusion of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force daily briefing in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

With Trump’s valet and Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary both testing positive for the deadly coronavirus last week, pressure is growing for the White House to take further steps in protecting the health of the 73-year-old president.

ABC News first reported that the White House had informed its staff in a memo that everyone entering the West Wing would be required to wear a mask or facial covering. Unnecessary visits from other parts of the White House complex to the West Wing area, which includes the Oval Office and work space for senior advisers, was discouraged.

“Common sense has finally prevailed,” said one senior administration official.

Trump has been resistant to wearing a mask himself and has not put one on in public, though he said he tried some on backstage during a visit to a mask factory in Arizona last week.

The president is in the age group that is considered high risk for complications with the coronavirus, which has killed tens of thousands of people in the United States alone and ravaged countries and economies worldwide.

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

The White House said last week it was stepping up precautions for people who are around Trump and Pence, both of whom have resumed travel outside of Washington. The two men are being tested for the virus daily and close associates are receiving tests on a daily basis as well.

“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 close proximity to the president and vice president is being tested daily for COVID-19 as well as any guests,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.

After Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, tested positive for the virus last week, Trump was asked whether people in the West Wing would begin to wear masks. He responded that people already were doing so, but he and his guests that day had not donned masks, and staff in the West Wing were not wearing them either.

Miller is married to Stephen Miller, a senior White House aide and speech writer for the president.

Some who were exposed to Miller have gone into partial quarantine. The vice president’s office said Pence would be at the White House on Monday.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Alistair Bell

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