Jan 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration of President Elect Joe Biden in a single bubble in a sheet of bubble wrap.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

  • Besides protecting Biden, he and his team want to model best practices and are insisting that West Wing officials abide by the highest standards. Biden is asking the nation to "mask up" for the first 100 days of his administration.

The big picture: The guidance was sent to incoming staffers who will have “proximity” to any White House “principals,” generally defined as heads of departments like the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.

  • The email also holds out the prospect that some West Wing aides will soon be eligible for a vaccine. “For those of you who have not yet received your first vaccine,” the guidance reads, “we will follow up in the coming days with information on how to do so.”
  • The guidance will have its biggest impact in the West Wing, where staffers gladly accept tight quarters for proximity to the Oval Office. The email instructs staffers to remain 6 feet apart at all times. In reality, that means that lone employees will work in offices that usually have bullpen seating.
  • Fifteen-minute rapid antigen tests will be conducted in the White House medical office, and aides who need to be at the White House regularly will be asked to sign-up on a testing schedule.

"The Biden White House will follow public health guidelines that ensure that we are keeping all staff safe during the pandemic," a transition official told Axios.

The bottom line: The White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building will start at a diminished capacity, as many Biden aides work from home in the administration's opening days.

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