White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that the White House hosted a COVID-19 “super spreader” event as a consequence of not using face masks.
Fauci, an infectious disease expert, apparently was referring to the Sept. 26 White House Rose Garden ceremony where Trump announced his Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.
“We had a super spreader event in the White House and it was in a situation where people were crowded together, were not wearing masks. So the data speak for themselves,” Fauci told CBS News Radio host Steven Portnoy.
Fauci is the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
White House staff rarely used masks before the recent outbreak because aides close to Trump are regularly tested for COVID-19. Many outside guests at the Barrett celebration also were unmasked and there were reportedly indoor gatherings after the event.
The White House transitioned to a new rapid-results test shortly before the event.
A significant number of attendees of the Rose Garden ceremony later tested positive for COVID-19, including Trump, who is recuperating at the White House after three nights in the hospital.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who did not wear a mask, and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who did wear a mask, both revealed they had the virus, as did a third GOP senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who was not at the event.
Former White House aide Kellyanne Conway, Notre Dame University President John Jenkins, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Pastor Greg Laurie of Riverside, Calif., are among the Rose Garden attendees who tested positive.
The chain of transmission remains murky. Trump tested positive after White House aide Hope Hicks, who reportedly didn’t attend the Rose Garden event. Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, tested positive but reportedly was last near Trump the day before Barrett’s nomination event.
Although many Rose Garden attendees caught COVID-19, Trump said Thursday that he believes it’s possible he caught the virus one day later during a Sunday gathering with “gold star” families who lost relatives in war.
“They want to hug me and they want to kiss me,” Trump told Fox Business Network in an interview. “And they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up. I’m not doing it. But I did say it’s obviously dangerous.”
Fauci, who did not recommend mask-wearing early in the pandemic, defended his historical remarks to Portnoy, saying there’s an “evolving amount of knowledge that occurs when you have an evolving situation like an outbreak.”
Fauci faced criticism of his own for sitting unmasked in July between a friend and his wife in the mostly empty Nationals Park stadium in DC after he threw the opening pitch in a game against the Yankees.