Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: top Mike Pence aide Katie Miller confirmed as second new case in White House circles

President Donald Trump's valet was confirmed to have contracted the virus on Thursday

Katie Miller, US Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary, speaks to his chief of staff Marc Short in the Rose Garden of the White House ion March 24, 2020. AFP
Katie Miller, US Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary, speaks to his chief of staff Marc Short in the Rose Garden of the White House ion March 24, 2020. AFP

US Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary, the wife of one of President Donald Trump's senior advisers, has tested positive for the coronavirus, raising alarm about the virus' potential spread within the White House's innermost circle.

The diagnosis of Katie Miller, who is married to White House immigration adviser and speech writer Stephen Miller, was revealed by Mr Trump in a meeting with Republican legislators on Friday, a day after news that the president's personal valet had tested positive for the virus.

"Katie, she tested very good for a long period of time and then all of a sudden today she tested positive," Mr Trump said, noting that he himself had not been in contact with her but that she had spent time with the vice president. "I understand Mike has been tested ... and he tested negative."

Despite Mr Trump's comments, the two cases in quick succession heightened fears of contagion for the president and vice president, who are leading the US response to the pandemic, and who have both resumed travel and business schedules even as the national death toll from the virus has topped 75,000.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Friday defended administration efforts to protect Mr Trump and Mr Pence, pointing to new measures taken by the White House including contact tracing and putting in place all guidelines recommended for essential workers.

"We've taken every single precaution to protect the president," Ms McEnany said at a White House briefing. She also noted regular cleanings and adherence to distancing guidelines between individuals that are not always followed at crowded White House events.

"We've done every single thing that Dr [Deborah] Birx and Dr [Anthony] Fauci have asked us to do," she added, referring to physicians on the White House coronavirus task force.

West Wing staffers around Mr Trump and Mr Pence have not been wearing masks regularly.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Trump was asked in a Fox News interview whether those who serve him food would now cover their faces. "They've already started," he said on the network's Fox and Friends morning programme.

The White House has also instituted daily, as opposed to weekly, coronavirus tests for Mr Trump and Mr Pence. Both men tested negative for the virus after the valet, a military service member who works as a White House assistant, came down with the virus.

Mr Trump told Fox News he had not yet been tested for antibodies to the coronavirus but probably would be soon. Such a test could confirm previous exposure.

Mr Trump and Mr Pence maintain busy public schedules. The vice president, who has led the coronavirus task force, flew to Iowa on Friday to meet with faith leaders about holding "responsible" gatherings and to discuss the food supply at Midwestern grocery chain Hy-Vee Inc's headquarters.

News of the positive test for Mr Pence's aide prompted staff to disembark from Air Force 2 on Friday morning and briefly delayed the takeoff.

"We went back and looked into all the person's contacts most recently," a senior official told reporters. Six individuals who may have been in contact with the infected aide were removed from the flight and later tested negative. Two of them were members of Mr Pence's press office.

Mr Trump on Friday attended a public event at the Second World War memorial with elderly veterans where neither the president, first lady Melania Trump, the veterans nor military officials at the ceremony wore masks.

Mr Trump later met face-to-face with Republican members of Congress at the White House where no face masks appeared to be worn. The lawmakers were tested for the virus before the meeting.

Protective facial coverings have been a hard sell for Mr Trump and Mr Pence despite a recommendation from the Centres for Disease Control that people wear masks or alternatives. Critics say they are setting a bad example for Americans.

Mr Trump has said he would not wear a mask and has not publicly worn one to any of his events amid the pandemic, but told reporters this week he tried some on behind the scenes during his visit to a Honeywell face mask factory in Arizona.

The virus, which first surfaced in Wuhan, China late last year, has infected more than 1.2 million Americans and driven millions into unemployment as a result of lockdown measures put in place to curb a rise in infections.

Updated: May 9, 2020 11:44 AM

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