New York, May 10 : The Covid-19 pandemic has crept into the White House, sidelining Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading voice on the pandemic, and posing a threat to US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The reach of the virus into the home of the nation’s leadership comes as some states have begun controversial loosening of the Covid-19 restrictions,some in defiance of the task force guidelines.
Fauci, the leading member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force who has been a reassuring figure on national TV, is on a modified quarantine since Saturday scheduled to mostly work remotely from home for 14 days after being exposed to a staffer infected by Covid-19.
Two other members of the task force, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, have also gone into self-quarantine after their exposures.
Trump and Pence have also been exposed to the virus but have so far not quarantined themselves – a difficult task as the leaders of the nation.
Trump’s personal valet has tested positive for the disease as has Pence’s Spokesperson Kate Miller.
Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi is next in the line of succession to the Presidency if both Trump and Pence become incapacitated.
Britain recently suffered through a trauma at the top after Prime Minister Boris Johnson came down with Covid-19 and was hospitalised in an intensive care unit. He nominated Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to stand in for him and has since recovered and returned to work.
Both Trump and Pence have minimised their risks and have not worn masks, but have increased the frequency of tests.
“Now we’re going to go testing once a day,” Trump said on Thursday after his valet’s infection was revealed.
He added, “But even when you test once a day, somebody could — something happens where they catch something.”
The White House has been giving the newly-available rapid tests to those who come into contact with the President, including those who attend meetings he is present in.
The self-quarantine quarantine of three persons from the task force comes as the powerful panel that steered the nation through its response to the pandemic is under a cloud of uncertainity.
On Tuesday Trump said that it would be replaced by another committee more focused on re-opening the economy, but on Thursday, he said that it would continue indefinitely.
The daily briefings of the task force, which had been a fixture on national TV in the evenings presenting the measured scientific views of doctors Fauci and coordinator Deborah Birx along with the scattershot opinions on politics, medicine and the economy by Trump, has been discontinued in recent days.
Under Fauci’s modified quarantine plan, he may attend office under strict isolation conditions, he has said.
He, along with Hahn and Redfield, is scheduled to testify before a Republican-controlled Senate committee this week, after Trump had blocked their appearance at a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives panel.
Fauci is expected to attend the Senate panel hearing on the COVID-19 response in person with precautions, while the other two are to testify remotely.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)