West Wing staffers are being directed to wear masks unless they're at their desks, White House officials confirmed to CBS News. The federal government's health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control, recommends that Americans wear masks in public and observe quarantines when they come into contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19.
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had previously largely declined to wear masks at White House events, although key staffers have become sick and other administration officials have worn masks and even observed quarantines.
When Mr. Trump visited the Honeywell facility in Arizona last week where N95 masks are being produced, he was not seen wearing a mask. He told reporters on Wednesday that he had worn a mask — a "Honeywell mask, actually" — at one point. The footage of Mr. Trump at the factory shows him without a mask. Asked how long he wore the mask, Mr. Trump replied, "Not too long."
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary Katie Miller tested positive, and Pence isn't self-quarantining even though the vice president was in close proximity with her. A valet who served the president food also tested positive, and the president has not self-quarantined.
Other officials, however, like infectious diseases expert and Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, have decided to take more precautions. Fauci is in a "modified quarantine" after coming into contact with someone at the White House who later tested positive, meaning he will severely restrict his movements and work alone as needed from the National Institutes of Health. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn is observing a stricter version of quarantine. Both Fauci and Hahn will be testifying remotely before the Senate at a hearing Tuesday on safely returning to work and school.
"After consulting with Dr. Fauci, and in an abundance of caution for our witnesses, senators, and the staff, all four Administration witnesses will appear by videoconference due to these unusual circumstances," Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said in a statement Sunday.
The CDC recommends that people who feel healthy but recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 stay home until 14 days since their last exposure, and check their temperatures twice a day.
The White House in the past has suggested that the CDC's recommendations don't really apply to some White House officials, including President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, because they are tested regularly, as are those who come into contact with them. But the rapid Abbott tests top officials take have a false positive rate of roughly 15%, according to the NIH director, meaning someone could test negative but be positive.
As for face coverings, the president has made a point of saying that masks are up to the individual, noting that the CDC guidance is only that — guidance, not a requirement — except in some states and localities. On the same day the president first said he didn't think he would be wearing a mask, the first lady tweeted about the importance of face coverings, along with a photo showing her in a mask
"Somehow sitting in the Oval Office, behind that beautiful Resolute Desk," Trump said, indicating he thought it would be uncomfortable wearing a mask as he met with "presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I don't know, somehow I don't see it for myself," the president said on the day the CDC recommended Americans wear face coverings in public.
Steven Portnoy, John Nolen and Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.