For White House staff and senior visiting officials and journalists, the coronavirus outbreak in Donald Trump’s inner circle has become like a whodunnit amid a shortage of information and mounting anxiety.
As cleaners in hazmat suits have been pictured disinfecting areas – including briefing rooms and the White House press and communications “shop” where three staff have been infected – the questions now being asked are: who caught Covid from whom and when and where? And who might be next?
From the Rose Garden – where Trump hosted an event for the supreme court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett – to the Oval Office itself and the West Wing’s tight-packed four floors of offices and cubbyholes serving everyone from the chief of staff to the vice-president and press briefing room.
It is not only about location and proximity. As Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, pointedly made clear after her own positive test she had been unaware of Hope Hicks’ illness.
And while some of Trump’s inner circle, including the vice-president, Mike Pence, and chief of staff, Mark Meadows, tested negative for coronavirus, others such as McEnany and the former senior adviser Kellyanne Conway have not been so lucky.
The announcement of Trump’s diagnosis came two days after his televised debate with his rival presidential candidate, Joe Biden. However, Biden, who has been criticised by Trump for wearing a mask, has tested negative for the disease.
All of which has led to Trump’s movements in the week leading up to his and Melania’s positive test result being closely scrutinised, including the now infamous Rose Garden event to nominate Barrett, at which 150 guests sat close together without face masks.