WASHINGTON: US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House confirmed on Monday, bringing the pandemic to the very doorstep of the President’s Office.
O’Brien contracted the virus at a family event and is currently working from home, Bloomberg first reported on Monday morning, jolting an administration whose response to the pandemic has been panned widely. “He has mild symptoms and has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site. There is no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice President,” the White House said soon after.
Of all the President’s principals, his NSA and chief of staff are considered closest to him, with daily physical access to the White House Oval Office, where everyone who enters is mandatorily tested beforehand. The NSA’s office is right around the corner from the Oval office. O’Brien is the highest-ranking Trump administration official to be infected.
It is not clear where and when precisely the NSA tested positive. Also not known at the moment is when he last met with Trump. Their last public appearance together was over two weeks ago during a visit to US Southern Command in Miami on July 10.
O’Brien has been meeting his foreign counterparts and diplomats routinely, both at home and abroad, having recently returned from Europe, where he and his top deputy met with officials from the UK, France, Germany and Italy.
News about the virus surfacing within a degree of the President came even as more than 150 prominent medical experts, scientists, teachers, nurses and other experts penned a letter urging leaders to shut the country down and start over to contain the rampant spread of the virus.
“The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it’s to save as many lives as possible,” they wrote in the letter sent last week to the Trump administration, leading members of Congress and state governors
“Right now, we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st. Yet, in many states people can drink in bars, get a haircut, eat inside a restaurant, get a tattoo, get a massage, and do myriad other normal, pleasant, but non-essential activities,” they added.
The letter came as the US continued to top 1000 deaths a day from Covid-19 for the fifth successive day, more than a 50 per cent drop from what it was at its peak with 2000+ deaths daily, but double the count from the 500 or so in June when the virus appeared to be petering out, following which many states and cities rushed to re-open for business.
US cases currently top 4.3 million with the death count closing in on 150,000.
After months of wishing away and waving away the virus, a chastened President Trump adopted a more somber tone last week, advocating wearing of masks and social distancing even as many from his constituent base resist such mandates, believing his initial word that the pandemic is a “hoax.”
But despite the change of tone, a mask-less Trump was at his golf course over the weekend, seemingly hewing to his belief that outdoors is safer.
The US President has also been pressing for re-opening of schools across the country, arguing that there is less danger of children contracting or transmitting the virus, amid apprehension from school teachers and school county officials who are adopting a more cautious approach.