By Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — It was supposed to be a scene of celebration.
Instead, the Trump campaign’s election night watch party in the White House East Room — with few masks and no social distancing — is being eyed as a potential coronavirus super-spreading event and yet another symbol of President Donald Trump’s cavalier attitude toward a virus that is ripping across the nation and infecting more than 100,000 people a day.
Ben Carson, the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, is the latest attendee to test positive, a department spokesman confirmed. The event has been under scrutiny since another attendee, the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, contracted the virus, which has now killed more than 237,000 people in the U.S. alone.
Carson’s deputy chief of staff Coalter Baker said the secretary “is in good spirits” and “feels fortunate to have access to effective therapeutics which aid and markedly speed his recovery.”
The White House has repeatedly refused to say who else has tested positive, even as the virus continues to spread. The latest White House cluster, coming just a month after Trump’s own diagnosis and hospitalization, includes a top Trump campaign official as well as a handful of undisclosed White House staff, officials said.
The White House has been increasingly secretive about outbreaks. Many White House and campaign officials, as well as those who attended the election watch party, were kept in the dark about the diagnoses, unaware until they were disclosed by the press.
That the virus would continue to spread in the White House — even though senior staff and those who come into close contact with the president and vice president are frequently tested — has come as no surprise to public health officials who have balked at the White House’s lax approach.
And polls suggest that attitude was a serious drag on the president’s reelection bid as voters chose to deny Trump a second term in favor of his Democratic rival, now President-Elect Joe Biden.
“The administration was cavalier about the risks of the virus for themselves and for the country. And that’s one reason why we have so many cases,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University’s school of public health.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has been avoiding the White House since August “because my impression was their approach to how to handle this was different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,”
Trump had long claimed, without basis, that the virus was being hyped by Democrats to hurt his reelection chances and would miraculously “disappear” after Nov. 3.
Meadows in particular has long tried to play down the severity of the virus. He rarely wore a mask in public, except during the period immediately following Trump’s infection. At one point, he refused to speak to reporters on Capitol Hill after they requested he wear a mask.
He was again without one during Tuesday evening’s East Room event, where more than 100 of Trump’s most loyal supporters, family members and Cabinet secretaries gathered to watch the election results come in and see him deliver what they had hoped would be a victory speech.
It was a festive atmosphere, with half-empty glasses of wine and other beverages strewn across cocktail tables in front of news cameras. Meadows, who spent time with Trump’s family before-hand, was seen working the room, including giving several fist-bumps to those in attendance, before Trump took the stage early Wednesday morning.