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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

White House reporters are increasingly anxious and angry about the Trump administration's handling of COVID-19 cases within its own building.

State of play: Several White House reporters have tested positive and many are trying to figure out whether they and their families need to quarantine.

"My wife has now tested positive for COVID. The collateral damage is going to be pretty significant I think."
— N.Y. Times White House correspondent Michael Shear in an interview with Axios

Driving the news: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced Monday that she tested positive for coronavirus, sending White House reporters scrambling to figure out whether they had been exposed.

  • McEnany briefed reporters without wearing a mask at the White House, a practice that speaks to the overall dismissal of White House officials around COVID-19 safety protocols.
  • On Monday, one of the reporters at the briefing confirmed to Axios that they would be quarantining for the next two weeks.
  • White House communications aides Chad Gilmartin and Karoline Leavitt tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend, Axios' Alayna Treene confirmed Monday after a report from ABC News.

What they're saying: Members of the press corps have expressed frustration that they've been directly exposed to officials with the virus without being warned.

  • They cite being on flights with Hope Hicks, as well as last week's presidential debate and the press briefing Sunday with McEnany, as events deserving more precautions.
  • "What frustrates me is that the White House could have and should have taken steps to mitigate or minimize the risk if they had just done simple things like wearing masks," said Shear, who believes he contracted the virus aboard Air Force One on September 26th, following the White House nomination event for Amy Coney Barrett.
  • "I felt safer reporting in North Korea than I currently do reporting at The White House. This is just crazy," tweeted CBS News White House Correspondent Ben Tracy.

The other side: Ben Williamson, a White House official who works in the communications department and is also an aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, tweeted Monday that McEnany "briefly removed her mask at the mic to answer questions, was there for two questions and only 58 seconds (would not constitute ‘sustained contact’ per the CDC), and was socially distanced from reporters in the area."

Critics argue that White House officials have engaged in reckless behavior by exposing members of the press corps, as well as other staffers, while knowingly carrying the virus, or having come in contact with those who test positive.

  • On Friday, White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) president Zeke Miller said in a letter to colleagues that at least three members of the White House press corps had tested positive for the virus.
  • In his note, Miller confirmed that the The White House Medical Unit is beginning the process of contact tracing for these cases, but that they do not yet have an estimated time of completion for that process.
  • The WHCA said in a statement Sunday: "We strongly encourage everyone else who was on the White House grounds from 9/26-10/2 to avail themselves of testing options, through their local health department, personal physician, employer or other accommodation before returning to the White House complex."

The big picture: Administration officials have long downplayed the seriousness of the virus.

  • "Most officials don’t wear masks," a White House reporter told Axios. "They don’t socially distance with each other."
  • Shear said that as of Monday evening, he still hadn't heard from the White House at all about any sort of contact tracing efforts, but that the WHCA has been good about implementing their own contract tracing procedure.
  • In response to the news about McEnany, the WHCA said, “We wish Kayleigh, the president and everyone else struggling with the virus a swift recovery."

The bottom line: The situation also puts in jeopardy coverage of the White House at a time when facts and accurate information have never been more muddled.

  • CBS News digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson tweeted: "Even though there isn't a high likelihood of contracting the virus outside at a bit of a distance, some reporters will have to quarantine. It upends the entire workflow of the White House press corps at a time when coverage has never been more critical."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2021 - Health

WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins

Health workers at a cordoned-off section of the international airport in Wuhan, China, as the World Health Organization team arrives on Thursday. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

A World Health Organization team of researchers arrived in Wuhan, China, Thursday ahead of their investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driving the news: Dominic Dwyer, a Sydney virologist based who's among the scientists on the visit, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation they don't expect to find a "patient zero." "But we may have a much better indication of whether the virus truly started in Wuhan," he said.

Members of Congress must pass through metal detectors to access House floor

U.S. Capitol Police installing a metal detector outside the doors of the House of Representatives on Jan. 12. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Members of the House of Representatives must now pass through metal detectors before entering the chamber, according to a memo from acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett.

Why it matters: Previously, members were able to enter the chamber without any security screening. The unprecedented measures comes less than a week after the violent assault on the Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob and as some GOP House freshmen have inquired about carrying guns into the Capitol.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jan 14, 2021 - Health

The flu season that isn't

Data: CDC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Thanks largely to social distancing and mask-wearing — as well as higher uptake of the flu vaccine — influenza deaths this season are almost nonexistent.

Why it matters: The drastic drop in infections of influenza and other circulating respiratory viruses has given the U.S. health care system a welcome respite at a time when COVID-19 is rampaging.