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Pence staffer tests positive for coronavirus, Trump says W.House staffers wearing masks

by Reuters
Friday, 8 May 2020 15:57 GMT

(Adds Pence staffer testing positive with virus)

WASHINGTON, May 8 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said certain White House staff members have started wearing face masks, one day after the White House said his personal valet had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

But on Friday, a staffer for Pence tested positive for the virus, briefly delaying the vice president's planned flight to Iowa and raising the specter of contagion for top officials leading the U.S. response to the coronavirus.

Trump, asked whether those who serve him food would now cover their faces, told Fox News in an interview that such White House staff had made that change.

"They've already started," he said on the network's "Fox and Friends" morning program.

The White House on Thursday said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus and were feeling well after the staffer - a U.S. military service member who works at the White House as a valet - came down with the virus. It also said the two leaders would now be tested daily, versus weekly.

Trump has said he would not wear a mask and has not publicly worn a mask to any of his events so far amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but told reporters this week that he tried some on behind the scenes during his visit to a Honeywell face mask factory in Arizona.

"As I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens ... I don't see it for myself, I just don't," Trump said in early April when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending widespread mask use to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The virus, which first surfaced in Wuhan, China late last year, has killed more than 75,000 Americans and driven millions into unemployment as a result of lockdown measures to curb a rise in infections. Those measures are being eased in some states, but many are still requiring mask use.

Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have drawn fire for not donning face masks, with critics arguing they are setting a bad example for Americans.

Pence did not wear a mask while visiting coronavirus patients during a recent visit to Minnesota's famed Mayo Clinic, noting that he was tested frequently for the disease. But he later said he should have worn one, pointing out that it carries a symbolic weight as well.

The vice president, who has led the White House coronavirus task force that Trump this week said he was going to wind down before reversing course to keep it, flew to Iowa on Friday to meet with faith leaders about holding "responsible" gatherings and to discuss the food supply at the headquarters for Midwestern grocery chain Hy-Vee Inc.

According to a White House official, a Pence staffer tested positive for the virus prompting officials to deplane Air Force 2 on Friday morning and briefly delay the planned takeoff. It was not immediately clear whether the staffer with the virus had been on board the plane.

Trump attended a public event at the World War Two memorial later on Friday. He was scheduled to meet with Republican members of Congress at the White House, according to the White House.

The Republican president also told Fox News that he has not yet been tested for antibodies to the novel coronavirus but probably would be soon. Such a test could confirm previous exposure to the virus. (Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Writing by Susan Heavey and Alexandra Alper; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

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