WASHINGTON — At least one White House journalist is believed to have been infected with the coronavirus, sending officials scrambling to further reduce the number of reporters allowed at President Trump’s daily briefings.
In an email on Monday afternoon, the White House Correspondents Association announced a member “had a suspected case of COVID-19” and encouraged reporters to stay away from the building if they were feeling unwell.
“The individual was at the White House on March 9, 11, 16 and 18,” WHCA president and ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl wrote in an email.
On at least three of those occasions, both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held briefings in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.
As a precaution, White House physicians have been checking the temperature of staff when they enter the grounds and the West Wing — anyone running a temperature being turned away amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We ask again that all members who can stay home or work remotely please do so. Please do not come to the White House if you do not have a work space or an assigned seat on that day,” Karl wrote.
Both Trump and Pence have tested negative for the virus after coming into contact with at least one infected person. On Friday, a Pence aide tested positive.
On Monday afternoon, the WHCA immediately moved to reduce the number of reporters allowed in the briefing room for a second time, something Trump had been calling for.
Before the crisis, there were 49 allocated seats in the briefing room. Last week, that was reduced to 25 and on Monday after the suspected COVID-19 outbreak, to only 14.
The president on Thursday complained reporters were still “sitting too close” after the size of the briefings was slashed as officials urged people to adhere to social distancing.
“You’re actually sitting too close,” the president said at the White House daily coronavirus task force briefing. “Really, we should probably get rise of about 75, 80 percent of you,” he added.
With multiple cases in Congress, the White House has established its own task force solely committed to preventing the president and his staff from becoming infected.
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