Contact tracing for the Trumpworld COVID-19 outbreak is still in the early stages, but eight of those who have tested positive were at a packed event in the White House Rose Garden last weekend.
The number has risen hour by hour over the last two days, with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the latest attendee to disclose that he has the virus days after gathering.
Most in the Rose Garden crowd—invited to see President Trump nominate Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court—were not wearing masks even though chairs were placed close together.
Photos showed guests milling around and chatting with no regard for the federal government’s own social distancing guidelines. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who later tested positive, was caught on video hugging and kissing guests with abandon.
While the ceremony was outside—which can help limit the spread of the virus when proper social distancing is in effect—there were also smaller, mask-free gatherings indoors, where COVID-19 can spread even more easily.
In addition to Lee and Christie, the attendees who tested positive are the president and first lady Melania Trump, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins. An unidentified journalist who was there is also infected.
In a statement earlier this week, amid a campus uproar that he did not wear a mask at the event honoring an alumna, Jenkins said he was told he didn’t need to after he and other guests tested negative at the White House. But, he said, he regrets not keeping the mask on and shaking hands with people.
“I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so,” he wrote. “I especially regret my mistake in light of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by many, particularly our students, in adjusting their lives to observe our health protocols.”
There is no confirmation that Jenkins or his fellow attendees contracted the virus in the Rose Garden, but the fact that so many tested positive within days raises questions about whether it may have been a superspreader event.
The Centers for Disease Control says coronavirus symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after symptoms appear, and the Rose Garden patients fell ill within that window.
Still, there were other opportunities for the virus to spread. And some of those infected, like Trump adviser Hope Hicks, were not at the Barrett announcement.
Hicks was on Air Force One on Tuesday to attend the debate in Cleveland, along with campaign manager Bill Stepien, who has also tested positive. And Trump’s body man, Nick Luna, who tested positive on Saturday, was on Air Force One with Hicks, Jared Kushner, Dan Scavino, and Stephen Miller, among others.
Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel tested positive but has reportedly been quarantining at home since last weekend after a family member fell ill. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who revealed on Saturday that he tested positive, had actually been in quarantine from Sept. 14-28 after a potential exposure. He returned to Washington on Tuesday.
New York Times reporter Michael Shear, who tested positive on Friday, was not at the Rose Garden event but did travel on Air Force One for a Saturday night rally in Pennsylvania. And a third journalist who has since tested positive covered a Sunday briefing.
Shear told The Washington Post that he knew there was risk involved covering the president.
“That said, I wish the White House had taken some of the recommendations that the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has been talking about for months,” he said.
A growing list of people who attended the Rose Garden event or had other contact with Trump have issued statements saying they have since tested negative. But as health officials have often stressed, carriers can spread the virus before they have symptoms and before they test positive.
The Rose Garden guest of honor, Amy Coney Barrett, also tested negative Friday. But she tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer and could still have some measure of immunity.