Friday, July 10, 2020

Dozens of Secret Service officers and agents told to self-quarantine after Trump's Tulsa rally

Jun 25. 2020
 President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Okla./File photo
President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Okla./File photo
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By The Washington Post · Carol D. Leonnig, Joshua Partlow · NATIONAL, HEALTH, POLITICS, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT, NATIONAL-SECURITY 

WASHINGTON - Dozens of Secret Service officers and agents who were on site for President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Okla., last week were ordered to self-quarantine after two of their colleagues tested positive for the novel coronavirus, part of the fallout from Trump's insistence on holding the mass gathering over the objections of public health officials. 

The Secret Service instructed employees who worked the Tulsa event to stay at home for 14 days when they returned from the weekend trip, according to two people familiar with the agency's decision. 

The order came in the wake of the discovery - hours before the president's Saturday evening rally - that at least six advance staffers who helped organize the trip had tested positive for the virus, including two Secret Service employees. Another two advance staffers tested positive after Trump returned to Washington on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the Secret Service field office in Tulsa arranged for a special testing session at a hospital to determine if local agents had contracted the virus while assisting with the rally, according to two other people with knowledge of the testing. As part of the arrangement, doctors administered the test to both agents and some local officials in parked cars outside the hospital. 

Among those who got tested was U.S. Attorney Trent Shores of the Northern District of Oklahoma, who had attended both pre-planning meetings with advance staff and the rally in case any legal issues arose, according to spokeswoman Lennea Montandon. Shores tested negative, she said.

It is still unknown how the rally may have impacted Tulsa's count of coronavirus cases, which are rising swiftly. Tulsa County hit a record Wednesday, with 259 new confirmed cases, part of "steep upward trends" seen across Oklahoma, said Bruce Dart, the director of Tulsa's health department, at a news conference Wednesday.

The move by the Secret Service to try to limit the spread of the infection shows how Trump's decision to go forward with the rally increased the health risks and burden on the people who protect the president, former agents said. 

A Secret Service spokeswoman declined to comment on how many of its employees have tested positive or were quarantined, but said that the Tulsa event has not affected the agency's ability to do its job.

"The U.S. Secret Service remains prepared and staffed to fulfill all of the various duties as required," agency spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan said in a statement.

"To protect the privacy of our employees' health information and for operational security, the Secret Service is not releasing how many of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, nor how many of its employees were, or currently are, quarantined," she added. 

White House spokesman Judd Deere did not directly answer questions about whether the president regretted the trip or if it increased the exposure risks for the agency, White House staff or himself. 

"The President takes the health and safety of everyone traveling in support of himself and all White House operations very seriously," Deere said in a statement. "When preparing for and carrying out any travel, White House Operations collaborates with the Physician to the President and the White House Military Office, to ensure plans incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible."

The Trump campaign hoped the Tulsa trip would rally supporters in the heavily red state of Oklahoma amid polls showing an increasing number of voters concerned about the president's handling of the pandemic, a stall in the economy and racial unrest over police violence against black Americans. 

Before Trump and his son Eric Trump were scheduled to take to the stage in the BOK Center in Tulsa, the campaign learned that six staffers helping organize the event had tested positive for the coronavirus, including an advance agent and a Secret Service officer assigned to help screen attendees.

The two Secret Service employees had both attended a Friday afternoon planning meeting, where dozens of Secret Service staff gathered to review the logistics and their duties for the Saturday rally, according to people familiar with the situation.

Though the Secret Service employees who tested positive did not attend the rally, other Secret Service staff who were at the Friday meeting with them continued to perform their duties, including agents who work closely with the president, according to two people briefed on the arrangements. 

"The entire team should have been switched out," said one person familiar with the Friday meeting. "They were all exposed." 

The Secret Service declined to comment.

At the time the positive cases were announced on Saturday, campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said, "No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today's rally or near attendees and elected officials." 

Murtaugh declined this week to discuss the safety repercussions of the trip or steps the campaign took to protect the president and staff, referring questions to the Secret Service. 

A former Secret Service supervisor said the president's choice to hold a closed-stadium rally in Tulsa - where many members of the public were following the president's lead and not wearing masks - displayed a lack of concern about the safety of his own staff.

"Here the law-and-order president is putting his law enforcement team at risk - and it's something they can't see," said the former supervisor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the risk of criticizing the president. 

Quarantining so many Secret Service agents in the wake of the trip also puts a strain on the agency, requiring other agents and officers to fill their shoes while they are off duty, several former agents said. 

Trump's rally in Tulsa came as Oklahoma had seen in a spike in coronavirus cases.

Dart, the city's top health official, had said before Saturday's gathering that he was worried it could become a "super spreader" event and recommended it be postponed.

On Wednesday, Dart said the number of confirmed cases rose 92 percent in the week leading up to the event. Hospitalizations rose 133 percent among people ages 18 to 35. 

Dart did not say if any new confirmed cases were directly linked to Trump's rally or the street protests the event drew. But the Tulsa Health Department is recommending anyone who attended Trump's rally or the protests that day to get tested and monitor themselves for symptoms of the virus. 

"It's still too soon to know the outcome from these events," Dart said. 

Dart said that over the past month, the spread of coronavirus in Tulsa is exceeding the Health Department's modeling. 

"We're finding that the reality's actually worse than what the models were showing us could possibly happen," he said. 

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, a Republican, said city officials are discussing imposing new restrictions on gatherings and rules about wearing masks. 

"What we've been doing to date, the numbers are showing, just isn't working," Bynum told reporters Wednesday. 

But he downplayed the risk of Trump's rally, even though health officials said it is too early to know how many people may have contracted the virus from exposure there.

"It's not from people going to protests or to rallies, it's from people going to weddings and funerals and family gatherings and bars and other things like that, that are causing this uptick," Bynum said. 

 

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