The White House says it has issued no formal guidance to staff about limiting in-person meetings due to coronavirus, but certain offices are making their own decisions and taking “common-sense steps” to prevent the spread, Fox News is told.
A senior administration official, who works closely with the defense and national security community, told Fox News earlier Monday that the White House and State Department are discouraging foreign officials from coming to visit and instead are opting for phone calls and video conferences when possible.
Another White House source familiar with the decisions told Fox News this is “nothing formal.”
“But I think, like most of the guidance out there, these are just common-sense decisions to make,” the source said.
After Fox News first reported the developments, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied there was any formal policy speaking to this.
“Reports that the White House has issued formal guidelines to staff instructing them to limit in-person interactions and meetings are completely false. While we have asked all Americans to exercise common-sense hygiene measures, we are conducting business as usual. I want to remind the media once again to be responsible with all reporting,” she said in a statement.
Fox News, however, has not reported that any formal guidelines were sent to staff.
Rather, the White House source addressed adjustments that align with what many companies across America are doing.
The source told Fox News that major foreign visits with other heads of state are still on as scheduled, but are subject to review in the coming days and weeks.
The source explained that inter-agency meetings would be scaled back — with State Department and Defense Department officials who typically would attend meetings at the White House being told, instead, to stay in their offices for conference calls or secure video chats.
The source noted that it is not an ideal situation, but more people coming through the White House means more exposure to coronavirus, or COVID-19. The source only discussed staff and senior staff meetings and did not address meetings that specifically involve President Trump.
Fox News has learned these steps were taken even before the news broke over the weekend that an attendee of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) tested positive for the illness.
Both the president and Vice President Mike Pence attended and spoke at CPAC. The White House was made aware of the CPAC attendee’s diagnosis but said that there is no indication that Trump or Pence were in close proximity to the stricken attendee.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union which puts on CPAC, said he had brief and “incidental contact” with the patient.
“I can verify that he had no contact with either the president or the vice president,” Schlapp said. “I can tell you, when the president was on site at CPAC, he lives by what he tells us because I saw him scrub down his hands and clean his hands more than once while he was on the premises, and I did the same, by the way.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, the attending physician for the U.S. Capitol put out a statement revealing that the coronavirus patient who attended CPAC, which was held outside of Washington, D.C. from Feb. 26 through Feb. 29, had contact with “several” members of Congress.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., were among them and have both gone into self-quarantine until the full 14 days have passed since their interaction. Three senior Gosar staff members are also officially under self-quarantine.
Trump signed an $8.3 billion spending bill last week aimed at fighting the coronavirus outbreak, after a bipartisan congressional effort to provide funds to federal agencies as well as state and local governments to battle the disease.
The president also tasked Pence with leading the coronavirus efforts for the Trump administration, and touted his work thus far early Monday.
“Great job being done by the @VP and the CoronaVirus Task Force. Thank you!” Trump tweeted Monday morning.
“The BEST decision made was the toughest of them all – which saved many lives. Our VERY early decision to stop travel to and from certain parts of the world!” Trump added.
Fox News’ Matt Leach and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.