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White House Defies Public Health Orders and Ends COVID Screening for Visitors

Those who work close to the president and vice president will continue to be asked to answer screening questions.

President Donald J. Trump departs after speaking about "the national security and humanitarian crisis on our southern border," in the Rose Garden at the White House on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019.

Even though half a dozen of President Donald Trump’s campaign staffers tested positive for coronavirus while setting up for his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last weekend, the White House began ending its mandatory screening process for every visitor who entered the grounds.

Tents, where staffers were running temperature checks and asking visitors questions over possible symptoms, were seen being brought down on Monday, NBC News reported.

Though not every visitor will need to go through such checks any longer, those who will be in close proximity to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will still have their temperatures taken and be asked a number of questions about symptoms. Other measures, such as wearing masks, will remain a voluntary option, left up to the visitors to decide for themselves.

Such screenings were initially set up after two White House staffers close to the president — one of his valets as well as a close aide to Pence — tested positive for coronavirus earlier in May.

The lack of any action to protect the president or White House staff in response to the six staffers testing positive for coronavirus may seem, at first glance, to be inconsistent with the administration’s moves in the past. It may also indicate a change in attitude toward COVID-19 on Trump’s part.

Hosting the campaign event in Tulsa itself was risky behavior when it came to COVID-19, as the county in which it was located had seen dramatic rises in cases over the past several weeks.

Trump also quipped at the campaign rally that he had been frustrated with testing results consistently showing high numbers of coronavirus in the U.S. “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please,'” Trump said.

According to Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser, that statement was meant to be a joke, a “tongue-in-cheek” remark that shouldn’t be taken seriously. But when asked on Monday to explain the remark, the president would not deny that he meant what he said.

“We’ve done too good a job, because every time we go up — with 25 million tests, you’re going to find more people,” Trump explained to Scripps’ Joe St. George. “So then they say, ‘oh we have more cases in the United States.’ The reason we have more cases is because we do more testing than any other country by far.”

Experts, evaluating similar comments from Trump weeks ago, have demonstrated more testing isn’t the problem. In fact, early on during the pandemic, rigorous testing in other countries (such as Iceland, for example) helped to curtail spread of COVID-19, allowing businesses to reopen without high fears of people getting sick. Instead, the higher numbers Trump complains about are more likely due to infections spreading after a number of states reopened in the U.S. without sufficient testing or preventative measures being put in place prior to reopening.

As St. George noted on his Twitter account, the president didn’t directly answer the question on whether he ordered slowing down testing or not. After Trump stated that he had done so, two Democratic senators slammed the administration after they discovered that $14 billion dedicated toward increasing testing rates had not been spent.

Trump’s comments on slowing testing down, as well as the White House’s moves to reduce screening, come as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the highest single-day record of new cases of coronavirus being identified across the world over the weekend. The United States contributed more than 36,000 of those new cases, WHO said, second only to Brazil in terms of countries with highest reported numbers.

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