White House not contact tracing Rose Garden event considered possible ‘superspreader’: report

The White House is not contact tracing guests and staff who attended a Rose Garden event for the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, despite many viewing it as a possible spreader of the coronavirus, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The celebration, which took place 10 days ago, is viewed by some as the potential epicenter or “superspreader” of the White House’s coronavirus outbreak because it has been followed by at least 11 attendees testing positive for COVID-19, including President TrumpDonald John TrumpQuestions remain unanswered as White House casts upbeat outlook on Trump’s COVID-19 fight White House staffers get email saying to stay home if they experience coronavirus symptoms White House says ‘appropriate precautions’ were taken for Trump’s outing to see supporters MORE, first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpGOP lawmaker calls on Pelosi to apologize for response to Trump contracting coronavirus White House gave New Jersey officials list of 206 people at Trump’s Thursday fundraiser events Photo of Mark Meadows rubbing his head during update on Trump’s health goes viral MORE, adviser Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayBarr reverses, will quarantine for several days after potential coronavirus exposure White House gave New Jersey officials list of 206 people at Trump’s Thursday fundraiser events Pence tests negative for COVID-19 for third time since Trump’s diagnosis MORE, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, at least three Republican senators and other White House staff.

An unnamed White House official told the Times on Monday that officials were not contact tracing those connected to the event.

Contact tracing includes public health workers trying to stop COVID-19 transmission by reaching out to people who have tested positive for the disease and asking them to both self-isolate and provide a list of people they had contact with 48 hours before becoming sick, who will, in turn, also get a call. In this way, health officials are able to stop the potential spread of the virus before it can be passed on to someone else.

The White House is still technically following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that require contact tracing for the 48 hours leading up to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, the official told the Times. 

Public health experts have criticized the decision not to contact trace the Rose Garden event, however.

“This is a total abdication of responsibility by the Trump administration,” Boston University public health expert Joshua Barocas told the Times. 

Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday, shortly after it was revealed his close aide Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksWhite House staffers get email saying to stay home if they experience coronavirus symptoms Trump sought to keep COVID-19 diagnosis secret Thursday as he awaited second test result: WSJ What we know and don’t know about the president’s health MORE had tested positive. In the following days, several others announced positive diagnoses. 

On Monday, Trump returned to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after three days of treatment.

Trump Is a Super-Spreader of Disinformation

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also got the coronavirus, but the story played out differently. Johnson was hospitalized. Afterward, he did seem to take the pandemic more seriously than before. He gave an emotional address, thanking the doctors and nurses who had cared for him. He adopted a more somber tone. At least temporarily, he too seemed to win some sympathy, and people were more willing to listen to his government’s rules about lockdown and quarantine. Maybe Trump’s illness will persuade him to treat the disease more seriously, and maybe it will persuade people to view him more sympathetically too.

I don’t know what direction Trump’s illness will take, I don’t know whether it will persuade him to take the disease more or less seriously, and I don’t know how it will affect his political fortunes. But in one sense, it is too late to matter, because Trump’s super-spreading of disinformation has already changed America. Just a few days ago, Cornell University published a study showing that 38 percent of media stories containing misinformation about the virus refer to the president: Trump is literally, not metaphorically, the single most important reason so many Americans distrust information they receive about the disease. He is literally, not metaphorically, the reason so many Americans distrust our electoral system too. He is literally, not metaphorically, the reason so many Americans distrust one another.

The president and everyone around him will spin and manipulate his illness too; indeed, they are already doing it. During a strangely evasive press conference today, the head of Trump’s medical team, Sean Conley, declared that the president was in “exceptionally good spirits” but also implied that Trump might have been diagnosed and received treatment before the public was informed, that he might have been put on oxygen, even that he might have attended public events knowing he was ill. Minutes later, an “anonymous administration source,” who might have been the White House chief of staff, informed pool reporters that the “president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning” and that “the next 48 hours will be critical,” a message far more serious than the one delivered in public. Another anonymous official then sought to clarify the timeline, contradicting Conley and other doctors.

And we are all … unsurprised. This kind of obfuscation, this level of confusion, is exactly what we have come to expect from our national leader. Trump has destroyed our trust with wanton abandon—trust in our political system, trust in our institutions, trust in science, trust in America itself—simply because it benefits him, personally, to do so. Whatever happens to Trump over the next few weeks, that is the legacy that will outlast his presidency. It has already distorted and changed and altered the country just as profoundly as the coronavirus itself.

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Anne Applebaum is a staff writer at The Atlantic, a senior fellow of