UPDATED, with BuzzFeed withdrawing a reporter from the White House pool because of the outbreak: The White House Correspondents’ Association is telling its members that they “must be clear-eyed” about the potential risks of COVID-19 exposure, amid ongoing concerns over the outbreak of the virus at the White House complex.
So far, at least three journalists have been reported to have tested positive, including The New York Times‘ Michael Shear, who has publicly disclosed his result.
In a letter to members on Wednesday, WHCA president Zeke Miller wrote that they were “alarmed” that multiple staffers in the press office also tested positive in recent days. They have not been at the White House since Friday, and :no journalists were deemed to be ‘close contacts’ under CDC guidelines, which look back 48 hours from a positive test sample collection or the onset of symptoms.”
He said that they have reached out to the White House for more information on known and suspected infections to that reporters can trace their potential exposure, but “the administration, citing privacy concerns, has not provided additional details.”
He also wrote that “while we are awaiting additional test results for some members, it appears clear that our safe behavior has helped contain this virus. We haven’t just been lucky, we have followed science and we have been vigilant.”
He urged the White House to to “take steps to improve the safety conditions for journalists working there — and specifically to avoid knowingly putting in unnecessary jeopardy those serving in the pool who must be present as the eyes and ears of the American public.”
The outbreak has raised concerns at news organizations over the safety of their staffs. On Tuesday, BuzzFeed News decided to withdraw Kadia Goba from print pool duties. The outlet does not know if it will participate in future pool rotations. In an email to the pool on Tuesday, Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News called for volunteers to fill the slot, and wrote, “We are in uncharted territory. No one wants to take unwarranted risk. Nor do we want the pool system to collapse.” The Times first reported on BuzzFeed’s decision.
The WHCA has taken a series of steps since the onset of COVID-19 in March to try to distance reporters in the briefing room and to urge members who do not have assigned workspaces from entering the indoor press areas, which are very tight. They also have required face coverings, even as Trump administration officials have not been wearing masks at events such as the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony to introduce Amy Coney Barrett as President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Miller also encouraged journalists to try to avoid working from the White House grounds or, if they do, to try to work outside, as a number have been doing.
“For those who must work at the White House, a mask continues to be required in any shared indoor press areas and we strongly suggest working outdoors as much as possible,” he wrote.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 among President Donald Trump and some of his top aides, there have been concerns among reporters willing to fill pool shifts.
Miller wrote that “each of us individually, must be clear-eyed about the potential risks of COVID-exposure on the job, taking every precaution we can to fulfill our coverage obligations while being prepared for situations with which we may not be comfortable. For instance, if you’re going to want an N95-type mask or goggles in a crowded room, don’t show up to pool duty without them.”
“We are an association of individuals with different risk tolerances, health statuses, family obligations, and corporate policies, and it is critical that we consider all of those before embarking on a pool assignment,” he wrote.