WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. 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 inner most circle.
The diagnosis of Katie Miller, who is married to White House immigration adviser and speech writer Stephen Miller, was revealed by Trump in a meeting with Republican lawmakers on Friday, a day after news that Trump’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,” Trump said, noting 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 Trump’s comments, the two cases in quick succession heightened fears of contagion for the president and vice president, who are leading the U.S. response to the pandemic, and who have both resumed travel and business schedules even as the U.S. death toll from the virus has topped 75,000.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Friday sought to defend administration efforts to protect Trump and 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,” McEnany insisted to reporters at a White House briefing. She also noted regular cleanings and adherence to distancing guidelines of six feet 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 highly respected physicians on the White House coronavirus task force.
West Wing staffers around Trump and Pence have not been wearing masks regularly.
Earlier on Friday, 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 program.
The White House has also instituted daily, as opposed to weekly, coronavirus tests of Trump and Pence. Both men tested negative for the virus and were feeling well after the valet, a military service member who works as a White House assistant - came down with the virus.
Trump told Fox News he has not yet been tested for antibodies to the coronavirus but probably would be soon. Such a test could confirm previous exposure.
Trump and 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 Pence’s aide prompted staff to deplane 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, according to a pool report. Six individuals who may have been in contact with the infected aide were removed from the flight and later tested negative. Two of the individuals were members of Pence’s press office.
Trump on Friday attended a public event at the World War Two memorial with elderly veterans where neither Trump, first lady Melania Trump, the veterans nor military officials seen at the ceremony wore masks.
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 Trump and Pence despite a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control that people wear masks or alternatives.
Both Trump and Pence have drawn fire for not donning masks, with critics arguing they are setting a bad example for Americans.
Trump himself 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 a million Americans and driven millions into unemployment as a result of lockdown measures put in place to curb a rise in infections.
Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Tim Ahmann; Writing by Alexandra Alper; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman