Written By: Eleanor Pratt
On Saturday, Sept. 26, President Donald Trump held a ceremony outside the Rose Garden to announce his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. The majority of those who attended the event were not wearing any kind of face mask, and there were very little social distancing measures in place. As of Oct. 14, 11 people who attended the event tested positive for COVID-19, including the President himself and the First Lady.
Currently, it is difficult to know how many people who went to the event have contracted the virus as signs and symptoms can take around 14 days to appear. According to Newsweek, of the 328 people who attended the Rose Garden event or who were in close contact with someone who attended, around 11% have tested positive for COVID-19, 23% have tested negative, and a concerning 66% are unknown.
Following the event, President Trump was in close proximity to a number of people, many of whom are now testing positive for the virus. According to the New York Times, the President chose to attend the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 and then held large campaign events in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota in the following days. It has been reported that at least five people who flew with the President on Air Force One during this period have now contracted the virus.
Many of the president’s closest advisors and supporters contracted COVID-19 either at the Rose Garden Event or shortly afterward. For example, Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and his former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway both tested positive, as well as former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Although there was little to no social distancing and almost no masks to be seen during the ceremony outside, experts told The New York Times that the indoor reception before the event was probably the main cause of the spread. Mask-less people gathering in a tight indoor space is an excellent way to spread COVID-19, as it has been proven time and time again that the virus thrives indoors.
Unfortunately, the White House seems to be doing very little in terms of contact tracing. The New York Times reports that the White House decided to only notify anyone who came into close contact with the president within the two days before he tested positive rather than the week beforehand. In a bizarre turn of events, the White House has also chosen to cut the CDC almost completely out of the process.
In response to this, Dr. Joshua Barocas, a public health expert at Boston University, said “This is a total abdication of responsibility by the Trump administration,” and that “The idea that we’re not involving the CDC to do contact tracing at this point seems like a massive public health threat.”
It seems that even the contact tracing for the two-day window is severely limited, with people only receiving emails about potential exposure rather than a phone call with detailed explanations and guidance for what to do if one does test positive. The White House claims that there is a “robust contract tracing program” going on that is being led by an epidemiologist from the CDC; however, the White House also declined to name the scientist, and two anonymous senior scientists from the CDC claim to be completely unaware of anyone occupying that role.
With more and more information coming out about the White House’s mismanagement of the situation, many experts are blaming the administration for putting all their faith in constant testing rather than using masks and social distancing. The tests only tell you whether you are positive or negative at the time of the test, and often someone who tests negative in the morning can test positive later that afternoon. Experts stress that the general public must not follow the White House’s lead, and should instead continue to constantly wear masks and social distance.