Governments around the world have dealt with the pandemic not only in terms of policy, but also personal health and well-being.
A smattering of cabinet ministers, backbenchers and diplomats have tested positive for COVID-19. This includes Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Iranian Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and, most notably, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Now it’s starting to circulate through the White House.
A personal valet to U.S. President Donald Trump recently tested positive for COVID-19. Vice-President Mike Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, the wife of senior presidential aide Stephen Miller, was later confirmed with the same diagnosis, as was Ivanka Trump’s personal assistant.
Meanwhile, three members of the White House’s COVID-19 task force reportedly self-isolated after encountering someone who has since tested positive: Dr. Stephen Hahn (U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner), Dr Robert Redfield (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director) and the well-respected Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the health committee, self-isolated after one of his staff members tested positive. Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday, a four-star admiral, was forced to do the same after one of his relatives received a positive test. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, was supposed to meet with Trump last weekend, but the meeting was cancelled after a spot check revealed he had contracted COVID-19.
Why is this happening?
Some have suggested working in the White House increases the odds of testing positive.
CNN White House reporter Stephen Collinson wrote on May 11: “if there is one workplace in the world where social distancing is impossible, it’s the West Wing of the White House.” He noted that political aides “cram into tiny spaces, some offices not much bigger than a desk.”
“It’s almost impossible to believe that it has not infected more people than already identified,” Collinson incredulously suggested. He claimed “adopting tougher measures to stop the White House from becoming a coronavirus hot spot would undermine Trump’s political narrative.”
Collinson also criticized Trump because he “refuses to wear a mask (incredibly, his valet didn’t wear one either) … if the virus can penetrate the inner sanctum of the White House – how can he argue with a straight face that everyone is safe?”
Hard to believe that Collinson works for Trump’s least favourite TV network. The political partisanship and disdain have been hidden to perfection!
All kidding aside, this description is overblown. According to the White House Historical Association, the president’s official residence is “168 feet (51.2 metre) long … 85 feet 6 inches (26.1 metres) wide without porticoes; 152 feet wide with porticoes.” There are 132 rooms spread out over six storeys, which comes out to roughly 55,000 square feet.
The White House obviously isn’t the Taj Mahal but it’s much bigger than a breadbox.
What about Trump and Pence not wearing masks?
Some studies have shown the benefits of using N95 masks and homemade cloth masks when outdoors. Other studies suggest the benefits are almost nil, other than making you feel a bit more at ease.
There’s also an argument to be made that political leaders wearing masks in public sends out the wrong signal and isn’t a sign of strength. That’s why so few of them regularly do it, if you take a closer look.
No one is suggesting Trump has handled COVID-19 to perfection. His political hand has been unsteady at times, as it has been for most world leaders. But the recent slew of positive cases in the White House has far more to do with America’s battle against this virus than his personal choices.
As of May 10, there were nearly 1.38 million active cases and 81,157 total deaths in the U.S. These numbers continue to climb daily, meaning the odds of testing positive in the White House have increased multifold.
This likely means more White House staffers will get COVID-19 symptoms before long. It’s also plausible Trump, Pence or both could eventually test positive.
What this could do to the state of U.S. politics remains to be seen.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.