Crowded, mask-free: Why the White House is a danger zone

Updated 03 Oct 2020

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A view of the White House. — Reuters/file
A view of the White House. — Reuters/file

WASHINGTON: Offices are crowded, visitors are constant, and the boss doesn’t like people wearing masks: welcome to the White House where President Donald Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The revelation during the early hours of Friday that Trump and his wife Melania were both positive sent staff into a frantic cycle of contact tracing and emergency testing. It’s not an easy job.

Crowds and travel

Avoid large groups, stay masked and socially distanced? Not for this president. Trump has been holding growing numbers of reelection rallies with thousands of people pressed tight and in most cases not covering their faces.

The last one was in Minnesota on Wednesday, where he was accompanied by close aide Hope Hicks, who was revealed on Thursday to have tested positive.

Another planned for Florida on Friday has been cancelled.

Trump had been due to fly for a rally in Wisconsin, a state where infections are rising, on Saturday. Next week it was to have been a long-distance swing through the west, including Arizona.

Many of these events are outside, but last week Trump met indoors with hundreds of supporters in Florida and Georgia.

He also hosted a large gathering in the White House Rose Garden last Saturday to announce Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. The White House said Friday that she has since tested negative.

Tight spaces

The White House is less a typical government office building than a stately home converted for government use, with warrens of small offices and corridors.

Even the famed Oval Office gets quickly cramped, while for staff “office” often means little more than a desk crammed into an alcove.

Powerful Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, for example, works out of one of the smaller offices. But as he told Time magazine, it’s got “good location” — right by the president’s private dining room, a favorite hangout for Trump.

Nearly 400 people work in the White House, aside from the journalists, who work from an even more cramped press wing. And while journalists rigorously adhere to mask guidelines, few staff do.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2020