Health experts in Massachusetts say a cluster of coronavirus cases in the White House will spark an intensive contact tracing investigation, enveloping a ring of the president’s staff, family members and associates.
“It’s a substantial task,” Dr. Davidson Hamer, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine, said Friday, describing the tedious work of finding all those who may have been exposed.
Before testing positive for the disease late this week, President Donald Trump engaged in a series of public events, including a contentious televised debate Tuesday in Ohio, a rally Wednesday in Minnesota and a political fundraiser in New Jersey Thursday night.
Both Trump and the first lady have now contracted the disease, as have Trump adviser Hope Hicks, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, former top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway and Sens. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis. Many of them attended an event Saturday at which the president announced the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Federal guidelines indicate that anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before the person began feeling sick until the time the patient is isolated may have been exposed.
Those close contacts, from aides to senior administration officials, will be encouraged to stay home and avoid others until 14 days after they last saw Trump in person.
Massachusetts has been at the forefront of efforts within the United States to ramp up contact tracing, a labor-intensive process through which public health officials attempt to identify and warn each person who had close contact with someone carrying an infectious disease.
Working with Partners in Health, the state launched an initiative in the spring to hire and train several hundred contact tracers, who got to work in April making phone calls to infected patients. They’ve supplemented work by local boards of health, who track cases within each city and town.
To date, the state’s initiative has traced 40,000 contacts and placed more than half a million phone calls to people who might have been exposed.
A spokeswoman for the Community Tracing Collaborative told the NBC10 Boston Investigators the group isn’t playing any role in tracing the president’s contacts in light of this week’s news.
Hamer, the BU professor and physician, said one asset in tracing the president’s moves is that his schedule is carefully planned, especially when he travels, making it easier to figure out who he was with.
“There’s a need to do this very quickly to try to contain what could be a potential outbreak within the White House and beyond to some of the places the president has visited,” he said.