Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff who abided by U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to play down the coronavirus throughout the summer, has contracted the virus himself, a senior administration official said Friday night.
Meadows tested positive for the virus Wednesday, the official said, and he told a small group of advisers. A Trump campaign adviser, Nick Trainer, has also learned he has the virus, a person briefed on his diagnosis said.
And four other White House officials tested positive for the virus, a person familiar with the diagnoses told The New York Times. Bloomberg News also reported on the additional cases.
One White House official, who asked for anonymity because the official was not allowed to speak publicly about internal discussions, said people were told to keep quiet about the various cases. That follows how Meadows reacted when there was an outbreak in Vice President Mike Pence’s office a few weeks ago. At the time, Meadows sought to keep those cases from becoming public.
His diagnosis came as the pandemic rampaged across the United States, which has averaged more than 100,000 new cases per day over the past week and hit another record Friday, with more than 129,000 cases in a single day.
As of Saturday morning, more than 9,830,800 people in the United States had been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 236,500 had died.
Meadows is only the latest in a string of people connected to the White House to contract the virus in the past seven weeks, including Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, a half-dozen aides to the president and five aides to Pence, including his chief of staff, Marc Short.
At least one event at the White House — a celebration of Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — is suspected of being a superspreader after more than a dozen aides, reporters and guests who attended the event or came into contact with people who were there tested positive for the virus.
That event took place in the Rose Garden and inside the White House.
Trump has spent most of the pandemic minimizing the threat of the virus, and several White House officials have nurtured his desire to treat it as a localized threat in Democratic-leaning states.
On Tuesday night, Meadows was at Trump’s election party at the White House, which featured several hundred people gathered in the East Room for several hours, many of them not wearing masks as they mingled while watching the election returns.
The president’s chief of staff was also in contact with a coterie of aides earlier in the day at the Trump campaign headquarters in Virginia, crammed into a tight space, where he was not wearing a mask as the president greeted campaign workers.
During the pandemic, Meadows has encouraged Trump’s desire to minimize the threat of the virus and focus instead on the economy. He was dismissive of mask-wearing in the White House and wore one only very sporadically as he traveled with the president or during events in the Oval Office.
Like Trump, Meadows often mocked reporters who wore masks around him, saying the face coverings muffled their voices. A video clip of Meadows refusing to give a statement to reporters at the Capitol because they asked him to wear his mask was widely shared across social media.
He has also been among the West Wing officials who have favored minimizing the public appearances of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who has issued far more dire warnings about the threat of the virus than Trump has wanted to have publicly declared.
In the waning days of the presidential campaign, Meadows made unwanted headlines when he acknowledged during a television interview that the government would not be able "control” the pandemic. Critics and Trump’s political rivals seized on the comment as evidence that the administration had given up on fighting the virus.
"We are not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows told Jake Tapper, the host of "State of the Union” on CNN. "We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”
Meadows was one of few people fully briefed on Trump’s own bout of COVID-19, which the president announced Oct. 2. He was involved in coaxing a reluctant Trump to go voluntarily to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at a time when the president was resisting such a move but his oxygen levels had dropped and he had a high fever.
But he also had a starring role in an episode that enraged Trump the day after the president was flown to the hospital. After Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, did not answer questions honestly about the president’s symptoms, Meadows approached a small group of reporters in the White House pool and gave a more candid assessment that the president was not quite out of the woods.
He gave it on the assumption he would not be identified, but a C-SPAN camera captured Meadows talking to the reporters. Trump was livid when he learned that Meadows had said something revealing about his medical condition.
A few weeks later, when Short and four other aides to Pence fell ill, The Times reported that Meadows had sought to keep the information secret.
People close to Meadows insisted he had merely wanted contact-tracing to take place before any information became public. But he all but confirmed in an interview with Tapper, who asked about The Times’ reporting, that he did not think the White House should discuss the health of anyone other than the president or the vice president.
Meadows did not respond to a request for comment Friday night. A White House spokesman also declined to comment, citing a need to maintain privacy of personnel health matters.
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