WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration has “great confidence” in the American people to follow federal health guidelines on stopping the spread of the coronavirus despite a Rose Garden event 11 days ago that has emerged as a potential “super spreader” event.
President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, several White House and Trump campaign officials, and congressional allies tested positive for COVID-19 after attending an event to announce the president’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Debate moderator Susan Page of USA TODAY pressed the vice president about being in the “front row in a Rose Garden event 11 days ago at what seems to have been a super spreader event for senior administration officials and congressional officials. No social distancing, few masks, and now a cluster of coronavirus cases among those who were there.”
“How can you expect Americans to follow the administration’s safety guidelines to protect themselves from COVID when you at the White House have not been doing so?” Page asked.
Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, said that “many of the people” at the event were tested for COVID-19 and pointed out that the event was outdoors.
“President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health,” Pence said.
Federal guidelines from the Center of Disease Control, “recommends that people wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
Few people were spotted in masks at the White House event and were seated shoulder to shoulder. Not wearing masks increases risk of exposure to the virus, despite the fact the event was held outdoors.
The president also held an indoor reception for Barrett, where very few people were photographed wearing masks.
Trump and his associates intermingled closely with religious leaders, congressional colleagues, conservative judicial advocates, University of Notre Dame faculty, representatives from anti-abortion groups and others who traveled from around the country for the event.
Health experts said the exact extent of the spread can be difficult to measure. Models show the likelihood of someone carrying COVID-19 at an event the size of the Supreme Court announcement is more than 55%. Determining who exposed who is impossible without aggressive contact tracing.
The White House has turned down an offer from the CDC and Prevention to track down and notify those who may have been linked to the outbreak.
Mike Pence and his wife Karen tested negative for COVID-19 Wednesday, according to his spokesman.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian