WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday said he was the person who directed White House staff to wear masks at all times after two officials contracted the coronavirus and one top aide admitted he was scared to go to work.
At a briefing in the Rose Garden, the president said the order came from him but fended off questions from reporters when they suggested the West Wing was not a safe place to work.
“I don’t think the system broke down at all,” Trump said after one of his personal valets and the top spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence both tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
The president said there were many people who worked in the cramped West Wing quarters and suggested the fact that only two people became infected was a good result.
“Everybody coming into the president’s office gets tested, and I felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” he said.
Staff on Monday were ordered to wear masks at all times, except when at their desks, and limit unnecessary visits to the White House after the two cases rattled the West Wing.
The directive does not appear to apply to either Trump or Pence who were not wearing masks on Monday.
Senior economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CBS on Sunday it was “scary to go to work” due to the cramped conditions in the White House.
“I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing,” he said.
A number of top health officials including Dr Anthony Fauci have gone into a 14-day quarantine after coming into contact with Pence’s top aide Katie Miller, who is also the spokeswoman for the coronavirus task force.
Miller is also married to Stephen Miller, the president’s top immigration adviser and speechwriter, who has since gone into precautionary self-quarantine after testing negative.
“I think we’ve controlled it very well,” Trump said on Monday of the outbreak in his executive offices.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of people a day pouring into the White House. It’s a massive office complex … So I think we’re really doing a very good job in watching it, and I think it’s very well contained actually,” he said.
Pence was at work on Monday after coming into contact with Miller and will not be entering into self-quarantine because he is tested daily for the virus, Trump said.
Last week, Pence told reporters he believed he and the president were essential workers and would therefore keep showing up at the West Wing each day.
But in the wake of his top aide contracting the virus, Trump said he was considering social distancing from his veep.
“He tested negative, so we have to understand that, but he comes into contact with a lot of people,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden.
“It’s something probably during this quarantine period, we’ll probably talk about. I have not seen him since then but I would say that he will and I will be talking about that. We can talk on the phone,” he suggested.