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White House now has two CDC epidemiologists helping with contact tracing

President Trump and at least 34 White House staff members and other contacts have tested positive for the virus, according to Wednesday’s senior leadership brief on the covid-19 response prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some of those people are suspected of having become infected at White House and Republican National Committee events.

The White House by Tuesday completed contact tracing related to the president’s infection and cases involving several other people, a senior White House official said, raising concerns among infectious-disease experts about whether a thorough investigation could be completed so quickly. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said anyone meeting the CDC’s definition of “close contact” with someone who tested positive had been notified and given health recommendations.

It remains unclear when the White House began contact tracing. If the effort did not begin right away, or go far back enough, infections may have been missed, experts said.

If the White House had started immediately, “then early control could have held back numbers of infections and further need for ongoing tracking,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, an infectious-diseases expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Several White House staffers and administration officials expressed anger and bewilderment that the White House had not undertaken a more robust contact-tracing effort sooner. They said many people — including White House residence staff who do not have the stature of a lawmaker or a top political aide — had not been contacted despite possible exposures, putting them and others at risk in a still-growing outbreak. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

The CDC began offering help last Friday, after President Trump announced he had tested positive, only to be repeatedly spurned, according to a CDC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. On Wednesday, an arrangement was made for “some limited CDC involvement,” the official said.

White House officials rejected the assertion they have turned down help, pointing to the CDC epidemiologist already detailed to the White House Medical Unit. That epidemiologist is leading the White House investigation and has been in communication with agency officials, according to a senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

White House officials said they have completed their investigation of the Rose Garden event celebrating the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett that was attended by nearly 200 people, based on photos.

The White House Medical Unit, with a staff of more than 50, has been in touch with the D.C. Department of Health and mayor’s office to report confirmed cases, the official added.

“Any positive case is taken very seriously, which is why the White House Medical Unit leads a robust contact-tracing program with CDC personnel and guidance to stop ongoing transmission,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

White House officials said their investigation is unlikely to find the outbreak’s source.

“There were a number of guests who