Washington: President Donald Trump faces a tricky proposition this week, as he tries to convince Americans it’s safe to return to work and social life while combating a coronavirus scare moving closer than ever to his own office.
Vice President Mike Pence has been self-isolating from the White House following his press secretary Katie Miller’s diagnosis of Covid-19 on Friday, said three people familiar with the situation. A spokesman said he’d be back at the White House on Monday.
Miller’s infection brought the virus into Trump’s inner circle, as she’s married to one of his closest advisers, Stephen Miller, known best as the architect of much of his immigration crackdown.
Pence didn’t attend a meeting at the White House on Saturday with Trump and top military officials. Neither did two members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who’ve had their own brushes with coronavirus, Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday and the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Air Force General Joseph Lengyel.
Gilday has had contact with an infected family member. Lengyel tested positive on Saturday, and later tested negative, a Defense Department spokesman said. He’ll be tested again on Monday.
A rapid-test screening at the White House ahead of Trump’s meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room caught Lengyel’s positive status, one person familiar with the matter said.
The ripple effects of Miller’s diagnosis became even more extensive on Sunday, as Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds considered self-isolating because she was in contact with the aide during a White House visit on Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Iowa’s state medical director, Caitlin Pedati, accompanied Reynolds on the trip and is already planning to self-isolate, one of the people said.
Trump has ratcheted up his efforts to urge Americans to reopen businesses and resume a more normal social life, as widespread social distancing practices continue to exact unprecedented damage on the U.S. economy — once his favorite argument for re-election.
The president has urged the nation’s residents to consider themselves “warriors,” conceding that reopening while the U.S. coronavirus outbreak continues will result in more sickness and death.
On Sunday, Trump said in a tweet that he’s receiving “great marks” for his response to the outbreak, comparing himself favorably to former President Barack Obama’s handling of a novel flu strain, H1N1, in 2009.
We are getting great marks for the handling of the CoronaVirus pandemic, especially the very early BAN of people from China, the infectious source, entering the USA. Compare that to the Obama/Sleepy Joe disaster known as H1N1 Swine Flu. Poor marks, bad polls – didn’t have a clue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2020
That strain of flu, also consdered a pandemic, is estimated to have killed only 12,469 Americans over nearly a full year, although it sickened many more, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Fifty-one percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s management of the coronavirus outbreak, according to an analysis of polling by fivethirtyeight.com. Still, the responses fall heavily along well-defined partisan lines.
The nation has had more than 1.3 million cases of Covid-19, the largest publicly reported outbreak in the world, and at least 79,500 people have died in only about two months. Last month, Trump had said he expected total deaths to remain under 60,000, despite White House projections that more than 100,000 people would die.
Pence and many of his staff traveled to Iowa after learning of Miller’s diagnosis on Friday, where he was in the governor’s company for much of the day. The repeated contact with Pence and his staff has caused serious concern for the state’s top officials, the people said.
A spokesman for Pence, Devin O’Malley, said the vice president would return to the White House on Monday.
“Vice President Pence will continue to follow the advice of the White House Medical Unit and is not in quarantine,” O’Malley said in a statement. “Additionally, Vice President Pence has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow.”
Pence tested negative for coronavirus infection again on Sunday, one of the people said. He and Trump said last week they’re being tested daily, after a military service member who works at the White House as a valet was infected.
The vice president has been staying at his home at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington out of an abundance of caution, said the people, who asked not to be identified because his isolation hasn’t been publicly announced.
The Iowa trip on Friday was delayed for more than hour so that six members of the vice president’s staff who’d been in contact with Miller could disembark from Air Force Two. Reynolds and Pence practiced social distancing during their joint appearances in Iowa, but neither official wore a mask in a pair of meetings with faith leaders and food supply executives.
Miller is also the primary spokeswoman for the White House coronavirus task force, which Pence leads and which last met on Thursday. On Saturday, following her diagnosis, three top health officials on the task force announced they would adopt isolation measures because they had been in contact with a person known to be infected, though they didn’t name her.
The heads of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they would self-quarantine, while Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he would practice what he called a “modified” quarantine. –Bloomberg
–With assistance from Tony Capaccio.