President Donald Trump is protected at the White House by snipers, sensors, a new 13-foot-tall fence, and a dozens-strong force of Secret Service agents, but none of that managed to keep out the deadly and wily virus that infected him and has killed more than 211,000 Americans.
Nonetheless, the President went back to the Oval Office on Wednesday, less than 48 hours after being released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital and still undergoing aggressive treatment. Medical experts warn that Trump may face a challenging, second-week phase of COVID-19 and could still be contagious.
Trump insisted on working out of the iconic office anyway, and was briefed by aides about the pandemic aid package talks with Congress — which he temporarily cut off in a tweet on Tuesday — and Hurricane Delta’s threat to the Gulf Coast, said White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern. To accommodate the President while he is ill, the Oval Office’s ventilation system was upgraded to change and filter the air more frequently, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday. Staff seeing Trump in person are asked to wear a yellow gown, mask and goggles.
Seven months into the pandemic, there’s a newfound realization among White House staff that they relied too heavily on a rapid testing regime to alert them to COVID-19 in their midst, and didn’t do enough to enforce that masks be worn and distance be kept, measures recommended by federal health officials for months and used in workplaces around the country. Over the course of the last week, it has become clear that the West Wing is part of a COVID-19 hotspot in the nation’s capital, infecting Trump and at least 10 White House officials, with more than 100 believed to have been infected in Capitol Hill offices, and leading senior military officials isolating themselves.
Trump’s decision to leave the main residence of the White House and work from his office was seen by many as another example of the President’s disregard for those around him, his willingness to put his staff at risk, and his unwillingness to be a model for responsible public health recommendations that could stem the spread of the virus. It echoed Trump’s insistence on Sunday evening that a Presidential limousine driver and two Secret Service agents risk being exposed to the virus while riding with him while he waved through the car’s bullet-proof glass to supporters outside Walter Reed hospital.
As the scale of the outbreak has come into focus, the White House leadership has now told the few still working in the cramped West Wing to space themselves apart in meetings and cover their faces, after months of actively discouraging staff from wear masks and not keeping their distance in meetings.
U.S. Service members wear masks and eye protection before President Trump’s return to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 05
Win McNamee—Getty Images
But given President Trump’s publicly stated dislike for masks and social distancing measures,