The absence of a robust contact tracing effort is emblematic of the White House’s relaxed approach to preventing the spread of the virus among its ranks. Until this week, masks were worn only infrequently by staffers and social distancing was absent at Trump’s events and within the corridors of the West Wing.
Meanwhile, two White House officials said they had been reached by the White House Medical Unit to alert them of potential exposure, but that they were not asked to trace their own contacts.
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Working against the clock
“The White House Medical Unit, in collaboration with CDC and local state and health departments, are conducting all contact tracing per CDC guidelines,” he said.
But one person familiar with the matter conceded the scale of the potential contagion at the White House has made it difficult to mount the type of contact tracing that will be required in the coming days. The White House Medical Unit, with a staff of under 30 people, has been stretched during the coronavirus pandemic conducting the extensive testing at the White House and at events Trump is attending.
It also wasn’t clear Sunday how involved the CDC was in assisting the White House in its contact tracing efforts. While Conley suggested his unit was collaborating with the health agency, a person familiar with the matter said a full CDC contact tracing team hadn’t yet been mobilized.
The CDC referred all questions about its efforts in relation to Trump’s diagnosis to the White House.
The person said the White House seemed to be relying on the fact the events have been heavily covered in the media and hard to miss for anyone who attended them or came into contact with those who tested positive.
“People would know if they come into contact with Trump,” the person said.
David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told CNN earlier this year that contact tracing works if done properly.
“A person will typically be told, ‘You may have been exposed. We recommend that you isolate for the next 14 days. Here’s where you can get a test. What questions can I answer for you? Tell me folks that you’ve had sustained closed proximity with, and together we’ll work to notify these people,'” Harvey said.
Missing pieces in Bedminster
The White House said Saturday that contact tracing had been completed for the Oct. 1 fundraiser at the President’s Bedminster golf club, and officials say Trump didn’t have any “close’ interactions with anyone there based on CDC guidance.
“During the roundtable event and remarks, the President was more than 6 feet away from all participants,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said. “All White House staff considered to be in close contact during this trip have been identified, contacted, and recommended to quarantine.”
Three attendees told CNN that most people at the events were not wearing masks; all three said they have not been contacted by any contact tracers. Among them is Charles Kolean, a campaign donor and fundraiser from Texas who told CNN he received an email from the campaign and RNC’s joint Trump Victory Fund late on Friday morning. The email, which he shared with CNN, encouraged him to go to the doctor if he felt ill. Kolean said he has quarantined since but has not received any communication from the White House or any other officials about contact tracing.
The Bedminster event has New Jersey health officials concerned, too. As of Sunday morning, state health officials still did not have a full account of who had been at the event nor all the necessary information needed to trace their movements, a senior state official told CNN.
New Jersey state officials requested detailed information from the White House, including how many people attended and a full itinerary of the day, the official said.
The state received a spreadsheet of names and emails around 2:30 p.m. Friday and shortly after the White House indicated that its medical unit would be conducting the contact tracing, the official said. But as of Sunday morning the White House had not shared any contract tracing information it had gathered, the New Jersey official said. In addition, the list the governor’s office has received includes only invited guests, not country staff, the official said.
“We need full transparency and collaboration among local, state and federal partners on this to ensure that everybody who was at the event and needs to be contacted because of their proximity to the President, is contacted very quickly,” the official said on Saturday.
The New Jersey state health department and local health office in Somerset County are working with Trump’s Bedminster club and the White House to “get significantly more information” and undergo the state’s normal contact tracing process for New Jerseyans, the official added.
It was also not immediately clear if people who attended the event had traveled from other states.
“We don’t have that information, which again is the issue,” the official said. “What we need is exactly how many of these are New Jerseyans and their addresses and phone numbers. I would expect that every state in the country wants to know.”
The exposed are on their own
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel Bowser told CNN that the Washington DC health department would not be assisting with contact tracing for those exposed during recent events at the White House.
“The White House physician will do their own contact tracing and provide guidance to impacted individuals,” said LaToya Foster.
Yet it’s not clear who at the White House is actually conducting that tracing. Giuliani, for instance, told CNN Saturday that he missed a phone call from a White House number early Friday morning. A few hours later, Giuliani said he left a message with chief of staff Mark Meadows to inform Meadows he would be getting a test.
“I was in a room with six or seven people, including Chris and Hope, and Chris and I were right next to each other,” Giuliani told CNN Saturday. “So I guess I’m just lucky.”
Giuliani said he took it upon himself to let the 10 or so people he had interacted with since Tuesday know that he was potentially exposed and even helped arrange for some of those contacts’ own tests, all of which he says came back negative. Giuliani called Meadows back to let him know about his own unofficial contract-tracing effort, despite no one at the White House asking him to do so.
An aide to a different senator attending the Barrett event said there has been no communication from the White House even though the lawmaker may have been exposed to the virus there.
At least one person potentially exposed at the White House did receive a phone call. This person, who attended the Barrett event, told CNN that someone from the White House called to recommend a list of clinics where the person could get a test.
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue, Pete Muntean, Manu Raju, Paul P. Murphy, Nick Valencia, Alex Rogers, and Dana Bash contributed to this story.