Psaki says “incredibly stringent protocols” in place to protect Biden, WH staff from COVID-19

After several members of Congress and the Biden administration recently tested positive for COVID-19, press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that “incredibly stringent protocols” are in place at the White House to keep the president and staff safe. And as U.S. cases start to rise, in part to the BA.2 subvariant, Psaki also said the administration has plans in place to address the pandemic, but the general public can “for the most part return to our normal routines.”

Video Transcript

- I guess the president obviously tested negative today. And according to CDC guidelines--

JEN PSAKI: Yesterday.

- I'm sorry, yesterday.

JEN PSAKI: Yes.

- And Speaker Pelosi was not considered a close contact, but it seems like a very close call. I know you've said that he had a second booster, and that he's following CDC guidelines. But given the importance of his role and his age, is the White House considering any stricter measures to keep him safe, more mask wearing, fewer big-venue events, more outdoor events?

JEN PSAKI: Well, when you say it's a close call, I'm not sure what you mean by that?

- Close call in the sense that they were in two events at the White House together. Within two days, she tested positive.

JEN PSAKI: Sure, sure, OK. Well, for clarity purposes, the way a close contact is defined, it's not arbitrary. It's not something made up by the White House, it's CDC guidelines. And how they define it is being within six feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. That, they were not. All of their interactions were publicly available, I think you saw them. And that's how that assessment is made.

In terms of additional testing or anything along those lines, those assessments would be made by the president's doctor. He was tested last evening and tested negative. We have incredibly stringent protocols here at the White House that we keep in place to keep the president safe, to keep everybody safe.

Those go over and above CDC guidelines. And that includes ensuring that anyone who is going to be around the president is tested. Every member of the staff is on a regular testing protocol. If you're going to see him in person, whether you're traveling with him or you're meeting in the Oval Office, you will be tested.

We try to do socially-distanced meetings when necessary. For those employees who test positive, they are required to isolate, of course, in alignment with CDC guidance, must test negative before returning to work. That is also a step that goes over and above. But we are going to continue to follow the protocols.

And I would remind you and reiterate that we also put out a plan just a month ago that made clear that, well, COVID-19 will continue to be with us. And we will see cases rise and fall as we are seeing them rise now, to be expected given the transmissibility of the BA.2. We now have steps to go back to many of our normal routines in alignment with what the CDC continues to recommend.

- Given the fact that there has been this uptick among people who have been following CDC guidelines, are there plans to revisit those guidelines or edit them in some way given the uptick?

JEN PSAKI: That would be up to the CDC. But again, I think when they put out these guidelines, they made clear that it was about looking at data on hospitalizations and even deaths. And what we have a plan to address-- and I would note I have it with me because we really like COVID props this week, right here. We have copies for anyone who would like a copy. And this is 100-page preparedness plan that we put out, meant to protect against and treat COVID, prepare for new variants, prevent shutdowns, vaccinate the world.

We expected there to be ups and downs and increases. And with a variant that's as transmissible as BA.2, that's what we're seeing at this point in time in the White House, among the press corps, among the general public. And the most important message we're sending to the public is that we have steps in place that we can take to continue to address it. And even as we're continuing to fight COVID, we can for the most part return to our normal routines.