Stepien’s diagnosis means at least six in Trump’s circle, including the president and first lady Melania Trump, have tested positive in the last few days.
Stepien was diagnosed Friday and was experiencing what one source told Politico were “mild flu-like symptoms.” He reportedly plans to self-quarantine until he recovers and will continue to be in charge of Trump’s campaign.
The growing list of infected people connected to the White House appears to be largely linked to the announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court at an event in the Rose Garden last Saturday, where few people wore face masks. Attendees sat side by side, and many shook hands.
Former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has tested positive, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) — both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. All three attended the event. Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame and a member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, also contracted COVID-19 after attending the ceremony, as did Trump and his wife.
(On Saturday, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin became the third Republican senator in the past day to test positive. He was not at the Rose Garden event or at Trump’s debate preparations.)
Barrett recovered from COVID-19 earlier this year. But epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow of the Federation of American Scientists, warned that her previous bout with COVID-19 does not preclude reinfection.
Lee and others also met with Barrett inside the White House later in the day. Lee tested positive Friday, but on Thursday attended a nearly 90-minute Senate Judiciary Committee hearing without a mask for at least part of the time.
Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, also tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, but that was after suspected exposure to an ill family member, according to an RNC spokesperson. She has been home in Michigan since last Saturday, Politico reported.
An unidentified journalist covering the Barrett announcement also tested positive. Two other White House reporters, who didn’t attend the Rose Garden event, contracted the coronavirus in what may be a second stage of infections from the nomination event.
“The White House Medical Unit is beginning the process of contact tracing for these cases,” said a statement Saturday to members from the White House Correspondents’ Association.
“Given these positive cases, the president’s diagnosis and positive cases among other members of the White House staff, a number of White House journalists are self-isolating pending diagnostic testing,” the statement said. “Due to cases linked to the pools last weekend and the large number of press credentialed for the 9/26 Rose Garden event, we ask that if you were on the White House grounds or in the pools those days, that you pay extra attention to any changes in your health.”
An official of the World Health Organization sounded the alarm Friday about what he characterized as a troubling White House “cluster” — and criticized the government for its failure to effectively deal with the pandemic.