Coronavirus outbreak: White House staff, Secret Service eye COVID-19 with fear, anger
Washington, Oct 06: The West Wing is a ghost town. Staff members are scared of exposure. And the White House is now a treatment ward for not one but two COVID-19 patients, including a president who has long taken the threat of the virus lightly.
President Donald Trump's decision to return home from a military hospital despite his continued illness is putting new focus on the people around him who could be further exposed if he doesn't abide by strict isolation protocols.
Throughout the pandemic, White House custodians, ushers, kitchen staff and members of the US Secret Service have continued to show up for work in what is now a coronavirus hotspot, with more than a dozen known cases this week alone.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House was "taking every precaution necessary" to protect not just the first family but "every staff member working on the complex" consistent with Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and best practices.
He added that physical access to the president would be significantly limited and appropriate protective gear worn by those near him. Nonetheless, the mood within the White House remains somber, with staff fearful they may have been exposed to the virus.
As they confront a new reality - a worksite that once seemed like a bubble of safety is anything but - they also have been engaged in finger-pointing over conflicting reports released about the president's health as well as a lack of information provided internally.
Staff who develop symptoms were advised to "go home immediately" and contact their doctors rather than the White House Medical Unit. Even when Trump was at the hospital, his staff was not immune to risk.
Trump had aides there recording videos and taking photographs of him. On Sunday evening, he took a surprise drive around the hospital to wave to supporters from the window of an SUV. The Secret Service agents in the car with him were dressed in personal protective equipment.
"Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the president and all those supporting it, including PPE," Deere said.
It's not the first time a White House has had to contend with a virus. During the flu pandemic of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson was infected as were members of his family and White House staff, including his secretary and several Secret Service members, according to the White House Historical Association.