Chris Christie still battles coronavirus as other senior Republicans try to carry on
Posted October 9, 2020 4:03 p.m. EDT
CNN — Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is being kept under close watch by doctors as he enters his second week in the hospital battling the coronavirus, making his case the most serious among senior Republicans in contact with President Donald Trump while he may have been carrying the virus.
Most senior Republicans in Trump's circle either are convalescing at home or still waiting to find out if they have been infected. Christie told CNN that doctors prescribed the anti-viral treatment remdesivir, the same drug the President authorized for emergency use and then took personally while hospitalized.
Meanwhile, others who were around Trump over the past two weeks are now scrambling to figure out if they will be the latest to get sick with the virus. At the same time, they're working -- with varying degrees of caution -- to propagate Trump's political message without spreading his illness along with it.
Vice President Mike Pence has done a test every day since Friday, issuing daily reports on the latest negative findings. Attorney General William Barr has taken six coronavirus tests, all negative. And in a bit of a panic over the possibility he could be infected, Rudy Giuliani is shuttling back and forth from his Manhattan apartment to NYU's hospital for testing. The results show no virus so far, but another test is scheduled for the weekend.
The effectiveness of these self-directed efforts is spotty. Giuliani, for instance, appeared at a fundraiser for the President this week and spoke for 20 minutes without a mask. A picture of him at the event shows people crowded very closely around him as he did so. ("Stayed way more than six feet away," Giuliani texted, contrary to what the photo showed.)
The mix of anxiety and ineptitude owes at least somewhat to insufficient organization at the White House. Despite the White House Medical Unit's claim that it ran a thorough contact tracing operation, many high-profile figures who interacted with the President around the time he likely became contagious told CNN that no contact tracers reached out in the first few days after diagnosis.
On Friday, a federal health official told CNN that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had dispatched an epidemiologist to help the White House with contact tracing efforts -- almost a full week after Trump's positive test. The public health official came on board on Wednesday, the official said, joining another CDC epidemiologist already deployed to the White House.
If done much earlier on, a proper contact-tracing call might have been a useful educational tool for Trump intimates now suffering with, or anticipating, the virus. If carriers don't quarantine themselves, the virus spreads exponentially with each passing day.
People are highly contagious 24 to 48 hours before the first showing of symptoms, and that's why swift contact tracing calls are so important, said Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University. They include informing potential infected people about the need to stay quarantined, even if they have tested negative or are not experiencing symptoms, Watson said.
"This is why it's important to involve public health professionals and contact tracers who have been trained to do this," Watson said. "(Education) is a huge part of the value that public health offers."
As it is, government and campaign officials are going through this process on their own while fielding constant requests for updates on their status. The wear and tear is starting to show. Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller, who helped with debate prep but has yet to test positive, gave voice to his own frustration over these questions after a CNN reporter asked on Thursday if he was experiencing symptoms or planned on receiving another test.
"You are exceptionally annoying," Miller texted back.
But questions about whether the spread will persist continue, particularly because the White House has not been forthcoming about details of the President's own infection, including when his last negative test occurred.
"I don't have confidence that they are reporting truthfully either on the timing of the infections, the source of this large cluster," Watson said. "It feels to me like not being truthful about this is really putting people at risk."
Several people exposed to the President have been following proper protocols. Campaign manager Bill Stepien and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany are among those positive cases who have been quarantining and working from home.
The same goes for Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who met with Trump on September 25 at a Washington fundraiser, then returned to her home in Michigan, after which she began to experience symptoms. McDaniel tested positive on September 30, the day before Trump's own positive test.
Another who attended the September 25 fundraiser was Todd Ricketts, the Chicago businessman and finance chairman of the RNC. Ricketts was also at a September 30 fundraiser Trump attended in Minnesota, according to someone close to him. Because of these interactions, Ricketts began isolating on October 2 after learning of the President's diagnosis, and he has so far tested negative for the virus.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who tested positive after attending events for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on September 26, remains under quarantine.
And GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who was also at the White House but has tested negative twice, drove back to his home state on October 2. A spokesman says Sasse plans to remain in Nebraska until October 12, when the Senate will be back in session.
But others have been much more cavalier. After last week's presidential debate in Cleveland, for instance, Giuliani flew home to New York City. Less than five days after Trump's positive test, Giuliani attended a rooftop fundraiser for the Manhattan Republican Party.
Age 76 and a cancer survivor, Giuliani is worried about having been in close proximity to Trump during his recent debate prep, as well as to advisers Hope Hicks and Christie. Christie, who is overweight and asthmatic, spent his fifth night in the hospital Thursday following his diagnosis.
"I was in a room with 6 or 7 people, including Chris and Hope, and Chris and I were right next to each other," Giuliani told CNN. "So I guess I'm just lucky."
Even the vice president has continued his campaign travel to states such as Utah and Arizona. While Pence has consistently tested negative, his own circle has been potentially compromised.
Stephen Miller, the top White House aide and husband to Pence press secretary Katie Miller, tested negative for four days in a row before announcing on Tuesday that his latest test was positive. Only hours before that Katie Miller had traveled with Pence to Salt Lake City for the vice presidential debate. Katie Miller, who previously had coronavirus, was not wearing a mask on Air Force Two, and left Salt Lake City later on Tuesday, a day before the debate.
All of this has put the remaining White House staff in some danger, although multiple sources say mask-wearing has increased in the West Wing since the President's positive test. The concern for public health experts is the false sense of security from infection that many in the public, including some around the President, still hold.
Yet even at this late stage, experts like Watson say contact tracing could still play a critical part in stopping the spread that has yet to be contained at the White House.
"If we can begin contact tracing this new generation of cases, we can definitely break new chains of transmission," Watson said.