The day after President Trump made his dramatic return from the hospital, taking off his mask in an “Evita”-style moment outside the White House residence before walking inside, the office of first lady Melania Trump, who was also sick with the coronavirus, released an incredibly detailed statement on the precautions it had taken since March to protect the members of the staff — the butlers, housekeepers, florists, chefs — working in the executive residence.

A coronavirus quarantine was an excuse for the first lady to lay low, as seems to be her preference, and shrug off appearances for a campaign that is faltering among women and could benefit from her relatively higher popularity than the president’s. And yet, here she was, calling attention to her contrast with her husband, even as they were literally stuck together under the same roof.

Before the pandemic, “distancing” in Washington simply meant rhetorically backing away from some politically toxic figure or behavior. During the covid-19 pandemic, the first lady has made efforts to signal that she takes public-health guidelines seriously even if her husband doesn’t.

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