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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President-elect Joe Biden will likely start with a "skeleton staff" in the West Wing to keep him healthy after the Trump administration's cavalier approach to the coronavirus, a White House support staffer familiar with the transition plans told Axios.

Why it matters: The incoming president, at 78, is in a high-risk group and already careful to mask up. President Trump and numerous staffers have flouted safety protocols and caught COVID-19, meaning there will have to be some sort of deep cleaning for the White House residence and offices before the new team moves in.

The support staffer said the White House is expected to be a “ghost town” immediately after Biden’s inauguration next month. Many staffers will work remotely or next door in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

  • If tradition holds, Biden would spend at least the night before inauguration at Blair House, the presidential guest house just across Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Harry Truman lived and worked there from 1948 to 1952 while the White House was being renovated.
  • Biden spokespeople declined to comment, but aides have noted that they worked remotely throughout the campaign and during the transition.

Biden allies know coronavirus numbers are going to be much worse come January.

  • The president-elect has already said he will try to fight back by asking Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office and ordering masks be worn in federal buildings, airplanes and buses.
  • When he presented his medical team on Tuesday, Biden also announced his goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans during the same three-month period.

Between the lines: While details are still being formalized, the way the Biden-Harris team has operated thus far offers clues as to what to expect next year.

  • When Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are together for briefings and events, they remain socially distanced, wear masks, and meet with outside experts and officials virtually.
  • Most transition staffers are not working in-person at their D.C. offices, instead conducting business and meetings remotely.
  • And early inauguration plans suggest the team is organizing a pared-down event. Sources involved in the planning tell Axios Biden plans to forgo the traditional inaugural balls and parades because of the coronavirus, and instead intends to celebrate with close family and advisers.

Flashback: The coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed the election campaign, forcing Biden to skip many traditional retail events and both candidates to sharply curtail their nominating conventions.

  • Trump defiantly held large events, with his supporters defying mask requirements as a form of political protest.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
Jan 19, 2021 - Health

WHO warns of "catastrophic moral failure" over coronavirus vaccine access

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Monday the world is "on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure" because of unequal COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Why it matters: Tedros noted during an executive session that 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in 49 higher-income countries, while one lowest-income nation had "just 25 doses."

Updated 19 hours ago - Sports

2 tennis players test positive for coronavirus ahead of Australian Open

A tennis player (C) leaves hotel quarantine for a training session in Melbourne on Tuesday. The players to test positive for COVID-19 have not been publicly identified. Photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images

Two tennis players are among seven people involved in the Australian Open to test positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne, health authorities in the state of Victoria said Tuesday.

Why it matters: Some tennis stars including men's world No. 1 Novak Djokovic had sent a letter demanding Victorian authorities ease strict coronavirus quarantine rules for players ahead of the season-opening tennis major's start on Feb. 8.