A U.S. military service member who works at the White House campus and serves as a valet to the president has tested positive for coronavirus, but President Donald Trump has since tested negative, a White House official said.
The valet is part of a team that serves the president his lunch and Diet Cokes among other service items.
The development comes after Trump reversed course on winding down the White House coronavirus task force, saying he had “no idea” how “popular” and “respected” it had become, and teased that his administration will adding a few more members to the panel next week, whom he suggested will bring economic expertise on “opening our country.”
The announcement came ahead of another dire jobless claims report Thursday morning. More than 33 million Americans who had now filed for unemployment since the deadly pandemic shuttered doors to businesses and forced most Americans to stay home.
As more states begin to ease restrictions, even as the country’s infection rate continues to climb, many Americans grapple with uncertainty, faced with the fearful choice between life and livelihood.
While Trump pushes for a quick economic revival and paints a rosy picture of the administration’s response to COVID-19, which has now claimed over 73,000 lives on U.S. soil, the public is hearing much less from some of the task force’s key health experts, and more from the White House press secretary.
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Here are Thursday’s most significant developments in Washington:
The Trump administration decides against issuing further formal, detailed guidance for states and business owners on reopening Trump meets with the GOP Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas in the Oval Office Trump, Pence and the first lady deliver remarks at the White House National Day of Prayer Service in the Rose Garden Pelosi calls Trump vain for not following CDC guidance to wear a mask in public, Trump says he wore one ‘backstage’ White House press secretary Kaleigh McEnany says mask usage is ‘the choice of the individual,’ calls prospect of testing all Americans ‘nonsensical’ Trump valet tests positive for coronavirus
Senior administration sources have confirmed to ABC News that a valet who worked in the West Wing frequently serving President Trump tested positive for coronavirus, after the White House said earlier a U.S. service member who works at the White House campus had tested positive.
The valet is part of a team that serves the president his lunch and Diet Cokes among other service items.
It is unclear from sources when this individual last had contact with Trump but was part of a regular rotation working around the president.
In his first reaction to reporting in an Oval Office photo op, Trump said he’s had “very little contact” with the infected individual but confirmed he knows him and added that he’s a “good person.”
Vice President Mike Pence said he and the president will be tested “every day” moving forward, as will the people they come in contact with, though the president soon after downplayed testing, calling it “somewhat overrated.”
“So we test once a week, now we’re gonna go testing once a day,” Trump said. “But even when you test once a day, somebody could — something happens where they catch something.”
Asked if he’s spooked by the positive test, the president conceded that “yeah it’s a little bit strange” before he returned to comparing the American people to “warriors together” amid the virus.
The president and vice president have both tested negative for the virus, White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement earlier Thursday.
“We were recently notified by the White House Medical Unit that a member of the United States Military, who works on the White House campus, has tested positive for Coronavirus,” Gidley said. “The President and the Vice President have since tested negative for the virus and they remain in great health.”
CNN, which first reported the news, said that the person was a U.S. Navy member who serves as one of Trump’s personal valets, part of a unit that often works very close to the president and first family.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson, Jordyn Phelps, Katherine Faulders and John Santucci
Trump talks reopening with Texas governor, though the state doesn’t meet WH guidelines, Birx says she doesn’t understand ‘the nail salon piece’
Like several states easing restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, despite not meeting the “gating criteria” of the White House’s guidelines for “Opening Up America Again,” Texas is moving into phase one, with President Trump cheering on the state.
“The governor’s working along with us, and [our] relationship with Texas has been phenomenal,” Trump said. “Texas is opening up and a lot of places are opening up, and we want to do it. And I’m not sure that we even have a choice. I think we have to do it. You know, we — this country can’t stay closed and locked down for years.”
GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, a close ally of Trump, met with the president this afternoon in the Oval Office to discuss how Texas might be a leader in the country’s reopening.
“Texas will once again reclaim its position as being the number one economy in the United States,” Abbott said, as it currently ranks second behind California.
Asked about the roughly 20 states with plans to reopen completely or partially without meeting the White House guidelines, and even as the country’s infection rate and death toll continues to climb, President Trump gestured to Abbott while emphasizing the “leeway” he has given to governors.
“These are governors that have done a good job in, I think, all cases. I have some that I don’t think are doing a particularly good job,” Trump said. “They have to do what they’re doing like Governor Abbott. When you look at the job he’s done in Texas, I rely on his judgment.”
In the White House guidelines for reopening released April 16, the “gating criteria” presented says, in part, that a downward trajectory of COVID-19-like cases and of “positive tests as a percent of total tests” within a 14-day period is suggested before entering phase one of reopening — a criteria that the state of Texas does not currently meet.
“You have parts of Texas, vast parts of Texas where there is no problem whatsoever. I mean, there’s like literally nothing that it would be a shame to keep that closed,” Trump continued, before Abbott backed him, saying half of Texas counties have five cases of fewer.
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Although Trump has praised the governor for moving quickly, some health officials worry it may be too much too soon.
The Texas Department of Health’s latest reporting says roughly 35,000 tests have come up positive for coronavirus. Of the 973 reported fatalities from the deadly pathogen in Texas, 42 of them occurred on Wednesday alone.
Abbott’s meeting with the president also comes on the same day the governor announced that he will eliminate jail time for violations to his own stay-at-home order, retroactive to April 2, the day his order took effect.
Abbott called for the release of a Dallas salon owner earlier Thursday who was jailed for repeatedly defying his executive order to shut down her business.
“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said in a statement. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order.”
When coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx was asked if she approves of the Texas plan, Birx wouldn’t go so far to call it a “model state,” explaining that all states are different, but she largely applauded the governor’s efforts — other than the reopening of nail salons.
“I think many people know I don’t understand the nail salon piece, because I’ve never had my nails done. So I couldn’t understand,” Birx said. “So, we talked about, you know, not having them in the first opening wave, because you can’t really physically distance, and we had that discussion. And we agreed. And we’ve moved forward together.”
The first phase of Abbott’s plan to reopen the state went into effect last Friday with many businesses, including restaurants, malls and movie theaters, allowed to operate at 25% capacity. On Tuesday of this week, Abbot said that nail and hair salons, barbershops and swimming pools could reopen on Friday.
Moments before the meeting, the White House tweeted a list of personal protective equipment it has provided to Texas. Administration decides against issuing further formal, detailed guidance for states and business owners on reopening
The Trump administration has decided against issuing additional formal guidelines for states and business owners on best practices for reopening, according to multiple officials.
The Associated Press first reported the story.
“It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance ‘would never see the light of day,'” a CDC official told The AP, according to its report.
A task force official defended the decision to ABC News, saying that “overly specific instructions” beyond the already-issued guidelines on a phased reopening would be unhelpful and noting that the onus is on the states to make case-by-case decisions as best for their community.
This decision comes after President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recently told governors about draft guidelines in the works, but even as these guidelines have been under recent consideration, a task force official had said there was always a possibility that they would not ultimately be issued.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed her disapproval with the decision at her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill.
“I think that the way this has been handled is most unfortunate, because first of all, they had guidelines, which were weak, but nonetheless guidelines, and then the president said you don’t even have to honor them. And then we find out now that there was a CDC report that had much more comprehensive guidelines, and they buried it in the White House,” Pelosi said.
Many of the states that are now moving to begin reopening haven’t met phase one of the “gating criteria” for reopening but are still being cheered on by President Trump, who has grown increasingly eager to move forward with the reopening process.
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps and Katherine Faulders
Senator demands more information on hydroxychloroquine distribution from Azar, after Trump administration officials pushed the unproven drug on COVID-19 patients
A top Senate Democrat is demanding information from the Trump administration on efforts to distribute an anti-malarial drug to help states fight the coronavirus before it was rigorously vetted as a potential treatment.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Health and Human Services, asked Secretary Alex Azar to provide details to Congress on the distribution of hydroxychloroquine, according to a new letter obtained exclusively by ABC News.
Throughout March and April, President Trump and top administration officials touted the potential benefits of the anti-malarial drug, prompting a surge in demand for the drug. Some Republican and Democratic governors across the country also promoted its potential efficacy in treating COVID-19, despite a lack of clear scientific evidence.
In late April, the Food and Drug Administration warned of potentially serious side effects, and a preliminary study of the drug’s use in early stages found a higher rate of death among patients using hydroxychloroquine compared to those who did not. (The study, funded by grants from the University of Virginia and the National Institutes of Health had yet to be reviewed by other scientists at the time of its release.)
“It has become clear that the process was driven mainly — if not solely — by politics, and may have placed some COVID-19 patients in danger,” Murray wrote.
Murray, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, asked HHS for information on how the drug was distributed from the national stockpile, and whether the FDA plans to change its emergency use policy.
The Washington Democrat isn’t alone in raising concerns, Dr. Rick Bright, a former senior health official in the administration, alleged in a new complaint that he was removed from his post at the agency responsible for vaccine development after resisting efforts from political leaders at HHS to promote hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment.
ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel What to know about Coronavirus: How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptomsTracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: Coronavirus map
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