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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.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

13 mins ago - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran "plan B"

Bennett and Biden. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel held secret talks on Iran last week to discuss a possible “plan B” if nuclear talks are not resumed, two senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is the first time a top-secret U.S.-Israel strategic working group on Iran has convened since the new Israeli government took office in June.