White House press corps confirms 'suspected case' of coronavirus in the briefing room

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
A reporter wearing a latex glove raises his hand to ask President Trump a question during a coronavirus briefing at the White House. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A member of the White House press corps who has been in the briefing room several times with President Trump has come down with a suspected case of coronavirus. White House Correspondents Association president Jon Karl announced the situation in an email to the group’s membership on Monday afternoon. 

“We have been informed that one of our colleagues has a suspected case of COVID-19. The individual was at the White House on March 9, 11, 16 and 18,” Karl wrote. “We encourage all journalists who were at the White House during this time period to review public health guidance, consult their medical professionals and take the appropriate next steps.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the White House press briefing room was rarely used by the Trump administration, which had eliminated the daily briefings that were a staple of prior presidential administrations. Trump came into the briefing room himself on Feb. 27 as the virus crisis mounted. Since then, the president and his coronavirus task force headed by Vice President Mike Pence have conducted near daily briefings with reporters. 

On Sunday, Science magazine published an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in which he was asked specifically about the situation in the briefing room. Fauci, a key member of the coronavirus task force, indicated he was aware the situation was problematic. 

“I know that. I’m trying my best,” Fauci replied. ”I cannot do the impossible.”

Immediately following the announcement of the suspected case, the White House Correspondents Association announced a new setup for the briefing room that would have reporters seated farther apart. 

These press briefings thus far have not included safety measures in line with expert recommendations to practice social distancing to avoid spreading the virus. On March 15, the White House Correspondents Association implemented a new seating chart that had reporters keeping one empty seat between them. 

Multiple members of the White House staff have been exposed to coronavirus. The president and vice president have both said they tested negative for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. At his briefings, Trump has been joined at the podium by multiple officials who stand closely clustered around him. 

On March 14, White House doctors began checking the temperature of reporters in the briefing room prior to Trump’s arrival. However, temperature checks would not identify everyone who could spread the virus since there are asymptomatic carriers. On March 16, one of the days the reporter with the suspected COVID-19 case was at the White House, a journalist asked Trump and the task force about the lax practices in the briefing room.

“Shouldn’t you guys be spread out a bit more?” the journalist shouted as the group left the room.

Trump did not answer the question.  

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