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Mike Pence. Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence sent White House staff an email Saturday afternoon recommending "social distancing" and to "avoid physical contact" to keep themselves and their colleagues safe from the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: This is the first staff-wide email Pence has sent across the complex during his time as vice president — and is the latest sign the White House is shifting its posture against the pandemic.

  • As recently as Thursday, Pence, who is leading the President Trump's task force to combat COVID-19, told CNN he was still shaking hands with people at the White House.
  • On Friday before the nation's TV cameras, Trump repeatedly shook hands with industry CEOs during a live press conference in the Rose Garden.
  • But on Saturday the president and his team began modeling different behavior — in line with public health official recommendations. Trump tweeted "SOCIAL DISTANCING!", said he'd finally been tested for the coronavirus, suggesting that people should be cautious about shaking hands.
  • Also on Saturday, for the first time a White House physician scanned journalists' foreheads with a thermometer before they could join the White House press briefing.

Details: Pence wrote in his email to White House staff that "with additional cases throughout the National Capital Region, it's imperative each one of us do our part to take the proper precautions to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe," according to a copy of the email obtained by Axios.

  • Pence repeated advice from "healthcare experts on the Task Force" to clean hands often, clean and disinfect personal work stations and "commonly touched items" and to "limit large in-person gatherings" and to "stay home if you're sick!"

Pence told White House staff that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends home-quarantine "only for those who have had close (within 6 feet) prolonged (>10 minutes) contact with a symptomatic (cough, fever, etc.) COVID-19 patient, or their respiratory droplets."

  • "This excludes casual, limited interactions such as handshakes, photographs, etc.," Pence added in the email.

Between the lines: The White House has released a memo from Trump's doctor saying that he learned of two Mar-a-Lago guests who interacted with the president and later tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • The White House physician, Sean Conley, wrote there is no reason for Trump to home-quarantine because his interactions are considered "low risk" for transmission of the virus.
  • Trump's exposure to the first individual was "extremely limited (photograph, handshake)" and his exposure to the second individual, while longer, happened when the person exhibited no symptoms of the coronavirus, according to Conley's memo.

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

10 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.