Baldwin: Should White House testing standards apply to other workers? 

The Trump administration official did not answer the senator's question

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks during a virtual meeting of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. (Screenshot by Robin Bravender)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks during a virtual meeting of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. (Screenshot by Robin Bravender)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tammy Baldwin pressed a top Trump administration health official Tuesday on whether other “essential” workplaces should have the same testing protocols that are being used in the White House. 

At a U.S. Senate hearing, the Wisconsin Democratic lawmaker asked Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if he thinks that “the testing protocols currently in place in the White House present a model for other essential workplaces.” 

White House staffers are regularly tested for the virus, and two members of the White House staff were diagnosed with COVID-19 in recent days. 

Redfield didn’t directly answer the question, pointing instead to guidance for essential workplaces from the CDC and stressing that workers maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other and wear face coverings. “I would just say that I think each workplace has to define their own approach,” Redfield told Baldwin.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Baldwin and other lawmakers at the hearing there could be a surge of COVID-19 cases if states, cities and regions disregard the government’s “checkpoints” on when and how to pull back from mitigation measures.

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a virtual meeting of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. (Screenshot by Robin Bravender)
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a virtual meeting of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. (Screenshot by Robin Bravender)

“If that occurs, there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control, which, in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery,” he said. 

“We would almost turn the clock back, rather than going forward.”

Overall, Fauci said that some parts of the country are seeing spikes in infection, while the curve looks flat or is trending downward in other areas.

“I think we are going in the right direction, but the right direction does not mean we have, by any means, total control of this outbreak,” Fauci said. 

His remarks were markedly more guarded than the more optimistic portrait Trump outlined in remarks at a White House briefing Monday. 

Trump said the number of coronavirus cases were going down “almost everywhere,” even though many states show a steady number of new cases. An internal report obtained by NBC shows cases spiking in some communities.

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“We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” Trump told reporters at the White House briefing Monday, with tables displaying testing and treatment materials on either side of his podium. “Americans do whatever it takes to find solutions, pioneer breakthroughs, and harness the energies we need to achieve total victory.”

Fauci gave a guarded but optimistic update on the ultimate development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The process is moving faster than on any other vaccine in history, and there are at least eight vaccines in various stages of development. Researchers may know if they are successful as early as late fall or early winter. 

“We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners,” he said. 

Fauci predicted it is “more likely than not” that one or more of them will work well enough to provide herd immunity from the virus, while admitting there are still significant research hurdles to overcome in ensuring the vaccines are safe for wide distribution. 

Fauci admitted “there is no guarantee that the vaccine is actually going to be effective,” but said he is “cautiously optimistic.”

Allison Winter
Allison Winter is a Washington D.C. correspondent for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes the Wisconsin Examiner.
Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.