Leading members of the White House coronavirus taskforce have placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be “teleworking for the next two weeks” after it was determined he had a “low-risk exposure” to a person at the White House, the CDC said in a statement on Saturday evening. It added that the 68-year-old felt fine and had no symptoms.
Just a few hours earlier, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Commissioner Stephen Hahn had come in contact with someone who tested positive and was in self-quarantine for the next two weeks. The 60-year-old tested negative for the virus.
Late on Saturday, US media reports quoted a spokesperson for Dr Anthony Fauci as saying the country’s top infectious disease expert would be “taking appropriate precautions” to mitigate the risk to personal contacts while still carrying out his duties.
While he will stay at home and telework, the 79-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will go to the White House if called and take every precaution.
Fauci, a high-profile member of the US taskforce, has tested negative for COVID-19, the spokesperson said. He is considered to be at relatively low risk based on the degree of his exposure but he will continue to be tested regularly.
All three men are scheduled to testify before a Senate committee on Tuesday. Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the panel, said the White House will allow Redfield and Hahn to testify by videoconference, a one-time exception to the administration’s policies on hearing testimony. The statement was issued before Fauci’s quarantine was announced.
Officials have not revealed the identity of the COVID-19 positive individual who had contact with the taskforce.
A top aide to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, becoming the second person who works at the White House complex known to have contracted COVID-19 this week. White House officials had confirmed on Thursday that a member of the military serving as one of President Donald Trump’s valets had tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Trump, who publicly identified the affected Pence aide as spokeswoman Katie Miller, said he was “not worried” about the virus spreading in the White House. Nonetheless, officials said they were stepping up safety protocols for the complex.
Miller had been in recent contact with Pence but not with the president and had tested negative a day earlier. She is married to Stephen Miller, a top Trump adviser. The White House had no immediate comment on whether Stephen had been tested or if he was still working in the White House.
The coronavirus is especially dangerous to the elderly. According to the CDC, eight out of 10 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 have been people 65-years and older.
The US is the country to have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 1.3 million confirmed infections and some 78,000 related deaths.