On Thursday morning, a group of about 20 security officers, including secret service agents, held a close-knit event, inspecting places at the top of Mount Rushmore Amphitheater, the press area and the stage where the president will speak. Only two members of that group wore a mask; a separate group of half a dozen uniformed officers assembling magnetometers at the entrance to the park, not wearing masks. But every agent watching at the entrance was disguised hours later.
As Trump and Pence continue their regular travel schedule after months of imprisonment caused by the pandemic, the risks posed by a large contingent of U.S. Secret Service personnel accompanying them become apparent that approximately two-tenths of agents – if not more – have shown positivity for the virus, sources said. familiar with the situation.
The health hazard has risen as a sore point for many in the agency, where sources describe heightened feelings of anxiety and anger because some consider it a pointless risk. One agency source said there was “anger and frustration” among the secret services over some they considered “unnecessary travel and exposure” because of Trump and Pence’s travel.
“Even ardent Trump supporters are boring,” said one agency source. “We signed up to take a bullet for him, we didn’t sign up to get sick because of him without any valid reason.”
In addition to the causative agents who became ill, many more are needed in quarantine after contacting others who have tested for positivity, which burdens agency numbers as Trump and Pence continue to schedule trips across the country. Each trip requires multiple teams of agents, working in shifts to ensure proper rest.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the president “understands the health and safety of all who travel in support of himself and all White House operations.”
“In preparing and conducting any voyages, White House Operations work with the Physician President and the White House Military Office to ensure that plans include current CDC guidelines and best practices to limit COVID-19 exposure to the fullest extent possible.” he said in a statement.
Within the agency, some wondered how important Trump and Pence’s travels were, especially campaign sources during the campaign that they had previously described to CNN to partially improve the president’s mood.
Pence’s recent travels have focused on the coronavirus – including states in the solar belt where cases are progressing – and associates said it’s important for the vice president to get a crisis view of the field.
The vice president’s office did not immediately return CNN’s request for comment.
“President Trump wanted me to be here to tell you and the people of Arizona that we are with you,” Pence said Wednesday as he met with the governor of the state. “We’ll make sure you have what you need, when you need it, to fill this moment.”
But Pence’s trip also results in the necessity of borrowing a pandemic response that Trump has been accused of alternately breaking in and ignoring. In the past, Pence has communicated intensively with governors via teleconference.
Duties required of agents often make it difficult to follow federal guidelines on social distancing, although the agency said it is working to protect its employees.
“The health and safety of our workforce, their families as well as security guards remains the agency’s top priority,” Secret Service Director Catherine Milhoan said in a statement. “The agency continues to operate in accordance with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the U.S. Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Protection.”
At least eight secret service agents assigned to Pence’s details ahead of his trip to Arizona this week were tested for coronavirus, before the vice president was due to travel there, a law enforcement source told CNN.
It is unclear whether there is overlap with agents from Tulsa and Phoenix.
Positive tests forced a one-day postponement of the trip so that the Secret Service could replace a healthy team – Pence was supposed to leave for Arizona on Tuesday, but instead left on Wednesday. Ahead of Pence’s trip, the state reported record results for both new daily cases and deaths since the state began releasing data publicly in mid-March.
After testing positively, quarantined agents at a hotel in Phoenix said people familiar with the issue. Some are symptomatic and are being visited by a doctor, although he has not yet requested hospitalization, sources said.
Pence’s trip originally included several other public stops, including Yuma, but the trip was reduced backwards due to the recent peak of Covid cases in Arizona. While there, Pence received notifications and updates from local officials and did not leave the airport.
It came more than a week after Trump’s rally in Oklahoma, which disappointed the president because of low turnout, but still sparked a bunch of cases among his staff and Secret Service details.
Although the number of agents who tested positivity while working on the rally in Tulsa was publicly announced, a source familiar with the topic said that the actual number was closer to 15.
Secret Service agents were tested in Tulsa on June 19, the day before the rally, and those who tested positive received results within 48 hours – meaning some or all could have been at the rally without knowing they were testing positively. All were retested in Washington six days after the rally.
To avoid the planes, those agents who tested positive results returned to their home bases – including Dallas and Houston – to enter quarantine for at least 14 days. Those agents who tested negativity from Tulsa also had to be quarantined at home for 14 days; most of them are now cleared to return to work as early as this weekend.
In addition to Secret Service staff, a number of Trump campaign employees tested for coronavirus positivity while working on a rally in Tulsa. Many campaign officials entered quarantine after the event as a precaution. All were retested days after the rally.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that not all individuals who conducted the walk before the event were Secret Service agents.
CNN’s Betsy Klein and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.
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