President Donald Trump’s decision to return home from Walter Reed despite his continued illness is putting new focus on the people around him who could be further exposed if he doesn’t abide by strict isolation protocols.
Throughout the pandemic, White House custodians, ushers, kitchen staff and members of the U.S. Secret Service have continued to show up for work in what is now a coronavirus hot spot, with more than a dozen known cases this week alone.
“My heart goes out to everyone touched by this virus, from those at the White House, especially the Secret Service and residence staff whose service ought never be taken for granted, to all those names and stories most of us will unfortunately never know,” tweeted former first lady Michelle Obama.
Trump, still contagious, has made clear that he has little intention of abiding by best containment practices.
As he arrived back at the White House on Monday evening, the president defiantly removed his face mask and stopped to pose on a balcony within feet of a White House photographer.
He was seen inside moments later, surrounded by numerous people as he taped a video message urging Americans not to fear a virus that has killed more than 210,000 in the U.S. and 1 million worldwide.
Even when Trump was at the hospital, his staff was not immune to risk.
Trump had aides there recording videos and taking photographs of him. On Sunday evening, he took a surprise drive around the hospital to wave to supporters from the window of an SUV.
The Secret Service agents in the car with him were dressed in personal protective equipment.
“Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the president and all those supporting it, including PPE,” Deere said.
Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley dismissed media concern about the agents’ safety as “absolutely stupid and foolish.”
“How do they think he’s going to leave? Is someone gonna toss him the keys to a Buick and let him drive home by himself? They’re always around him because that’s their job,” Gidley said on Fox News.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the White House was “taking every precaution necessary” to protect not just the first family but “every staff member working on the complex” consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and best practices.
He added that physical access to the president would be significantly limited and appropriate protective gear worn by those near him.
But agents told a very different story.
Several who spoke with The Associated Press expressed concern over the cavalier attitude the White House has taken when it comes to masks and distancing. Colleagues, they said, are angry, but feel there’s little they can do.
One, speaking after White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tested positive on Monday, said it felt like he and some of his colleagues had been spared only by a measure of good luck.
Others noted the difference between facing outside threats they have trained for — a gun, a bomb or a biohazard — and being put at additional risk because of behaviour they characterised as reckless at times. The agents spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardising their jobs.
The Secret Service has refused to disclose how many of its employees have tested positive or have had to quarantine, citing privacy and security.
But in the midst of the election, thousands of agents are on duty and anyone who tests positive can easily be subbed out, officials have said.
Secret Service spokeswoman Julia McMurray said the agency takes “every precaution to keep our protectees, employees and families, and the general public, safe and healthy.”
[Sourced from Agencies]