Four days after President Trump announced he had been infected with the coronavirus, there reportedly has been little effort from the White House to do extensive contact tracing, a key element in containing outbreaks of COVID-19.
Contact tracing is the practice of contacting each individual that had been physically close to a person infected by the coronavirus. It’s meant to slow down the infection rate by informing others of that person’s positive test and to keep in contact with those who then might continue spreading the virus.
But even though Trump tested positive—along with a variety of aides and three Republican senators who could have been infected during a superspreader event in the White House’s Rose Garden in late September—the administration apparently hasn’t been rushing to contact others.
New York Times reporter Michael Shear, one of three White House reporters to test positive in the aftermath, told CNN on Oct. 5 that “nobody from the White House has said boo and asked anything about where I was or who I talked to or who else I might have infected. That just shows you they’re not taking it seriously, as least at it pertains to themselves.” Shear said he was one of the reporters who spoke with a mask-less Trump in an off-the-record session on Air Force One before Trump was diagnosed. That might have been where Shear was infected.
CNN reported that contact tracing has been in place for White House staff who were near Trump, first lady Melania Trump, or Hicks. As the news network noted, “The absence of a robust contact tracing effort is emblematic of the White House’s relaxed approach to preventing the spread of the virus among its ranks. Until this week, masks were worn only infrequently by staffers and social distancing was absent at Trump’s events and within the corridors of the West Wing.” The Washington Post had a similar take, writing that the lack of contact tracing continued the administration’s “casual and chaotic approach to the viral threat.”
Though the timeline is unclear, Trump was likely already infected on Oct. 1 when he traveled to New Jersey for a fundraiser, and it took longer than expected for the Republican National Committee to release the names of the more than 200 donors who attended the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster to meet the president. According to Northjersey.com, though, the list of names was insufficient for contact tracing because phone numbers for the attendees were missing. The RNC also reportedly did not provide a list of those people who were working at the country club at the time.
“The outlying issue here is the transparency of the medical unit at the White House,” a source in the administration of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told the website. “They need to provide information to every state so that they know how many people at the VIP reception got on a plane and came home, and just reading some of the national stories, it looks like folks [in other states] are having similar transparency issues to what we’re experiencing with the feds.”
Other Trump allies who had helped him to prepare for the first presidential debate—Rudy Giuliani, who tested negative, and Chris Christie, who tested positive—also said they weren’t contacted by the White House for tracing efforts.
Officials in other states that Trump recently had visited—Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Virginia— told Time that the Trump administration had not been in contact with them either.
In response, a Trump administration official said on Oct. 3, “A full contact tracing consistent with CDC guidelines was completed for the Minnesota trip. The president did not have any interactions that would be considered close based on CDC guidelines, which is more than 15 minutes within six feet. During the fundraiser and rally, the president was more than six feet away from all participants. All White House staff considered to be in close contact during this trip have been identified, contacted, and recommended to quarantine.” The official said the same was true of Trump’s trips to Pennsylvania and Virginia.
But one set of people not contacted after Trump’s diagnosis was the team for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who shared a debate stage with the president on Sept. 29. During that debate, Biden called Trump a “fool” for his lackadaisical approach to recommending masks. After Trump’s positive test, Biden reportedly has continued to test negative.