News World US White House, military leaders quarantine as COVID count grows
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White House, military leaders quarantine as COVID count grows

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Trump spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany has denied the surging number of COVID-19 cases at the White House is disrupting the work of the US government.

There are reportedly only a handful of staff and journalists remaining at the White House, with many in quarantine and others staying away to avoid contracting COVID.

The Associated Press reported there was just a single staff member in the ground floor press office of the West Wing of the White House on Monday morning (local time). Two medical staff members were administering COVID-19 tests, surrounded by empty desks.

So far, there are at least 16 cases among White House staff and recent visitors to the complex, including Ms McEnany.

Several journalists covering the White House have also tested positive.

US news outlets reported on Tuesday (Washington time) that three more staff – close to the President – had contracted the deadly virus, just a day after President Donald Trump returned to the White House after being hospitalised with the highly contagious disease.

They included Stephen Miller, Mr Trump’s senior adviser and speechwriter. He tested positive to the virus on Tuesday (local time).

Mr Miller is an architect of the President’s “America first” foreign policy and restrictive immigration measures.

His wife, Katie Miller, who is communications director to Vice President Mike Pence, previously had the virus and tested negative after the last time she saw him.

One of Mr Trump’s valets, an active member of the US military who travelled with the President last week, also has the coronavirus, a Bloomberg News reporter said on Twitter, citing unnamed sources.

Bloomberg, CNN and NBC also reported that a military aide to Mr Trump has COVID-19.

Asked if the spread of the virus among staff in the Trump administration and Republican US senators was harming the US federal government’s ability to function, Ms McEnany told Fox Business Network in an interview: “Not in the slightest.”

“We are regularly meeting,” although some staff must attend remotely, she said.

“We move forward.”

white house covid
Donald Trump and Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the Rose Garden ceremony. Several high-ranking Republicans have been confirmed with COVID since the event. Photo: Getty

On Monday, Stephanie Grisham, the spokeswoman for Ms Trump, said “all precautions are being taken to ensure the health and safety of the residence staff”.

The next day, according to AP, her office released a memo outlining extensive health and safety precautions introduced to the executive residence. They included cleaning with hospital-grade disinfection policies, encouraging “maximum teleworking” and installing more sanitisation and filtration systems.

Any residence staff who have direct contact with the Trumps – who are both still considered infectious – are tested every two days. Staff are also reportedly wearing full protective equipment.

Elsewhere, the Pentagon said on Tuesday that at least nine US military service chiefs and other top military leaders were in quarantine after the US Coast Guard’s No.2 official tested positive for the virus at the weekend.

The COVID-19 outbreak linked to the White House includes several people who attended the Rose Garden ceremony to announce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on September 26.

The outdoor ceremony was notable for its VIP guest list, and a lack of virus measures such as masks and social distancing.

However, Military.com is reporting there are also concerns about an event for bereaved military “Gold Star” families that was held indoors at the White House the following day.

Admiral Charles Ray, the coast guard’s second-highest ranking officer, attended that ceremony – along with other high-ranking military leaders, Mr and Ms Trump. He tested positive for the virus on Monday (local time).

In pictures of the event posted to social media by Ms Trump, there is also a distinct lack of coronavirus measures.

Admiral Ray also attended high-level meetings at the Pentagon in the days before his diagnosis.

A coast guard spokesman told Military.com contact tracing was being done, under US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Several White House staffers also contracted the coronavirus earlier in 2020.

-with AAP