The ceremony in the White House Rose Garden last Saturday was a triumphal flashback to the Before Times — before public health guidelines restricted mass gatherings, before people were urged to wear masks and socially distance. The president and first lady welcomed more than 150 guests as he formally introduced Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee for the Supreme Court.
Spirits were high. Finally, Trump was steering the national discussion away from the coronavirus pandemic — which had already killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and was still raging — to more favorable terrain, a possible conservative realignment of the Supreme Court.
Attendees were so confident that the contagion would not invade their seemingly safe space at the White House that, according to University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, after guests tested negative that day they were instructed they no longer needed to cover their faces. The no-mask mantra applied indoors as well. Cabinet members, senators, Barrett family members and others mixed unencumbered at tightly packed, indoor receptions in the White House’s Diplomatic Room and Cabinet Room.
Five days later, that feeling of invincibility was cruelly punctured. On Thursday, counselor to the president Hope Hicks, who reported feeling symptoms during a trip with the president to Minnesota on Wednesday, tested positive for the virus. That evening, Trump announced that he and the first lady also had tested positive and began isolating inside the White House residence.
On Friday, Lee and Jenkins announced that they, too, had tested positive, as did Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who had recently spent time with the president, including at an indoor fundraiser last week. At least three journalists who had been at White House events in the past week also reported testing positive on Friday. And White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said he was bracing for additional infections among administration officials.