Kevin Hassett says working in White House can be risky during coronavirus pandemic

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“I knew when I was going back in that I would be taking risks, that I would be safer sitting at home in my house than going into a West Wing that with even all the testing in the world and the best medical team on Earth, is a relatively crammed place,” Kevin Hassett, a senior economic adviser to President Donald Trump, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

The comments come days after two West Wing employees — Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, and one of Trump’s personal valets — tested positive for the deadly virus. Hassett, who said he did not have close contact with Miller, told Tapper he has been tested repeatedly, with the last one being conducted Saturday, and so far has tested negative for the coronavirus.

A senior White House official said Friday that contact tracing was performed inside the White House following Miller’s positive test, and test results for all of the people she had been in contact with came back negative, including for her husband Stephen Miller, who is Trump’s senior policy adviser.

Testing and temperature checks have been boosted throughout the West Wing, and the White House is making sure staff wear masks in the residence, the official said, while the entire West Wing is being sanitized on an even more frequent basis.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN on Saturday that he will begin a “modified quarantine” after making a “low risk” contact with the White House staffer who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Additionally, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, will do a full self-quarantine after coming into contact with an individual who tested positive for coronavirus, and Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will self-quarantine for two weeks after he was exposed to a person at the White House who tested positive for the virus.

Hassett, who had left a job in the White House for the private sector and became a CNN commentator, went back to work for the administration in March amid the crisis. He said Sunday that when he came back into the administration he helped set up a data operation in the basement of the White House, “interacting constantly with people who were going to and from (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).” The adviser added that some people “caught COVID at FEMA.”

“So we’ve all been exposing ourselves to risks, under the best guidance we could possibly have to keep us safe. But we’re willing to take that chance because we love our country,” Hassett said. “Yes, I absolutely have a mask in my pocket … and I practice social distancing, I wear a mask when I feel it’s appropriate and so on.”

‘No downside’ to more testing

Hassett also weighed in on the issue of coronavirus testing, saying that “there is no downside” to an increase in testing, as Trump separately touts the US’ current testing capabilities.

Tapper, pointing to how robust the White House’s testing is in the wake of the recent infections there, asked Hassett if there’s a downside to having a similar system of testing and contact tracing on a national scale — similar to what some countries have implemented.

“There is no downside. In fact we should use every single test that we can generate. And that’s something that we’re working overtime on ramping up testing. We tested about 300,000 people I think on Thursday,” Hassett said. “And there are some new tests that are being approved. And you’re exactly right, that the objective is to get as much testing as possible.”

Hassett’s tone departs from the President, who, when speaking about the need for testing, has continued to emphasize that the US has the “best testing” in the world and repeatedly claims that America conducts more tests than any other country. Trump does not note how much larger the US population is than most of the other nations he mentions when making such comments.

Last week, Trump commented that “the media likes to say we have the most cases, but we do, by far, the most testing. If we did very little testing, we wouldn’t have the most cases. So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”

This story has been updated with additional comments from White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on “State of the Union.”

CNN’s Kevin Bohn and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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