The number of people infected by coronavirus in the White House continued to rise on Monday, as press secretary Kayleigh McEnany became the latest high profile staff member to test positive for covid.
In a statement, Ms McEnany said she had tested positive on Monday morning but had no symptoms, adding that she had tested negative every day since Thursday.
But she immediately faced criticism for her decision to continue to work and mingle with White House staff and journalists in recent days, despite knowing that aide Hope Hicks tested positive for the virus on Thursday evening. Official government advice is that anyone who has had close contact with someone infected with covid-19 should quarantine for 14 days.
In her statement, she said she “definitively” had no knowledge of Ms Hicks’ positive test when she held a press briefing on Thursday – her last formal press conference in the White House. But she has since mixed with staff and journalists, briefing members of the press pool without wearing a facemask as recently as Sunday. Footage of Ms McEnany shows her removing her mask as she approached journalists to speak informally on Sunday evening.
“With my recent positive test, I will begin the quarantine process and will continue working on behalf of the American people remotely,” she said, announcing her diagnosis.
Two of Ms McEnany’s colleagues in the press division have also tested positive for covid-19.
At least three members of the White House press pool, including at least one member who travelled with US President Donald Trump on Air Force One, have also contracted covid-19 over the last week.
The New York Times reported that two house-keepers at the White House have also been diagnosed, as well as the president’s “bodyman,” or personal attendant.
Vice-president Mike Pence left Washington for the first time on Monday for Salt Lake City ahead of Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate with Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris. The debate is expected to go ahead, despite the outbreak of covid at the highest level of the US executive branch.
Mr Pence embarked on a multi-state trip despite being in close contact with several people who have since tested positive for coronavirus at a White House event announcing Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court on September 26th.
Mr Pence has tested negative in several tests that have been taken since Mr Trump’s diagnosis last Thursday. In addition to his two-day visit to Utah, Mr Pence will hold a campaign event in Arizona in Thursday, before flying to Florida and then to his home state of Indiana on Friday according to his published schedule.
The outbreak of covid-19 in the White House comes as New York announced it was closing some schools in areas of the city that have seen a rise in cases, primarily in Brooklyn and Queens. New York reopened its public schools last week as it continued its steps towards reopening, having been the epicentre of America’s covid outbreak in the spring.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden campaigned in the key swing state of Florida on Monday with his wife Jill. His campaign has said he has tested negative in tests taken since sharing the debate stage with President Donald Trump a week ago, although they have not confirmed how often the 77 year-old former vice-president is tested.