The US government continues to grapple with a coronavirus outbreak that has sent ripples across Washington, as three staffers of the White House Press Office confirmed infections on Monday.
The news comes as President Donald Trump spent the weekend at Walter Reed Medical Center for COVID-19 treatment and as questions over his long-term health prospects loom.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced her positive COVID-19 test on Monday, saying she would go into quarantine, but would also continue to perform her duties.
Shortly after, US Broadcasters ABC News and CNN reported that Chad Gilmartin, who works in the White House press office, also tested positive over the weekend. Bloomberg News also reported that White House communications aide Karoline Leavitt, as well as other mid-level staffers, were confirmed to be infected.
While Vice-President Mike Pence has so far tested negative, Melania Trump, assistant Nicholas Luna, aides Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were among those close to the president who revealed infections shortly after he did.
Senators also infected
But the White House COVID-19 wave extended beyond its walls, complicating Republican plans for the US Senate to speedily process the nomination of Amy Coney Barret to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Trump's Rose Garden event to announce Barrett's nomination late last week appears to have been ground zero for the current White House outbreak, as attendees such as University of Notre Dame president John Jenkins, former governor Christie and Republican Senators Mike Lee, Ron Jonson and Tom Tillis, all tested positive days later.
Lee and Tillis are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and are now unable to be physically present for hearings that were originally scheduled to begin this week.
Democrats have demanded that the nomination process be postponed, to safeguard the safety of Senators and staff, as Senate rules require in-person attendance for voting.
But Republican Judiciary Committee leader and Trump ally Lindsey Graham has vowed to proceed with the hearings and could move to alter the rules to allow the quarantined senators to vote remotely. He has scheduled the committee hearings to begin October 12.
As Trump remains symptomatic, his second presidential debate, originally scheduled for October 15, against Democratic challenger Joe Biden is now up in the air.
Biden, who has tested negatively in consecutive COVID-19 tests, following Trump’s infection, told reporters that he would "do whatever the experts say" in terms of participating in a debate, but adding "I think we should be very cautious."
Read more: Opinion: A chaotic and depressing non-debate
Unable to campaign and stuck in the hospital, Trump took to Twitter on Monday to continue to make his case for the election, in a flurry of one-sentence tweets encouraging voters to turn out.
But this week, the spotlight will land on vice-president Mike Pence, should he continue to test negatively, as his debate against Democratic contender Kamala Harris is still scheduled for this Wednesday.
One opinion poll following Trump’s positive coronavirus test showed Biden extending his lead against Trump, with voters saying they would back him 51% to 39%. Though the race for the electoral college remains tight, but Biden still holds leads in several so-called battleground states, which are more decisive to win the election than the popular vote.
In the same poll, some 65% of respondents, including 9 in 10 registered Democrats and 5 in 10 registered Republicans, agreed that "if President Trump had taken coronavirus more seriously, he probably would not have been infected."
jcg/aw (AP, Reuters)