Participants in Amy Coney Barrett's introduction were encouraged to take off their masks and mingle
A day after Donald Trump admitted to testing positive for COVID-19, the Rose Garden ceremony formally introducing Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court has emerged as a super-spreader event. In addition to Trump, at least 11 others — including former White House press secretary Kellyanne Conway, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, Republican Senator Mike Lee, and Republican Senator Thom Tillis have tested positive following Barrett's introduction. While others—including Hope Hicks, who did not appear at the event, it seems clear that this was the nexus of transmission. At that event one week ago, someone had an active case of COVID-19, and it spread.
It spread because, as The Washington Post notes, the event was treated like "a triumphal flashback to the Before Times." Though some guests—notably those who sat near the back of the affair—chose to wear masks, most of those front and center came in mask-free. There was also little effort to demonstrate any form of social distancing, with ecstatic Republicans hugging, shaking hands, and generally celebrating at close range their hunger to replace a legendary Supreme Court Justice who was at that moment still awaiting her funeral.
The Barrett introduction was certainly not the only event over the past week at which people in contact with Trump and his entourage became sick. Following the debate on Tuesday night in Cleveland, at least 11 cases of COVID-19 have been found among those involved with debate preparations. These cases appear to be either members of the prep team who were not actually present at the debate, or members of the media. It's unclear at this point where and when they became infected. If they were infected by a member of Trump's team, then the White House hotspot has generated at least 25 cases to date.
The explosion of cases associated with the Barrett appearance is serious and still expanding. And, as with Hicks and the debate workers in Cleveland, a second wave of cases may have already begun to develop from this event. As this article was being written on Saturday morning came word that Republican Senator Ron Johnson has also tested positive. Though Johnson is not on the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Lee and Tillis are.
If Lee and Tillis are unable to participate, it's possible that Barrett's nomination could fail to emerge from committee. If it reaches the floor, and both Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski stick to their refusals to vote (which is a big assumption), Barrett's nomination could actually fail before the full Senate. At this point, that failure would be by a single vote, but there were other Republican Senators who were present at the Rose Garden event, as well as potential participants in fundraisers over the last week that also reportedly failed to enforce wearing of masks or social distancing.
Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham continue to insist that the timeline for rushing Barrett's nomination through the Senate is unchanged, with a goal of having a vote no later than October 22. McConnell insists that the Senate will sit down for business on Monday, despite what appears to be a rapidly spreading contagion. McConnell is still refusing to say whether he has even been tested for COVID-19 following the Barrett event. Graham reportedly tested negative on Friday night.
The contrast between what the Post called the "carefree, cavalier attitude toward the virus on display in the Rose Garden last Saturday" and the somber roll call of test results a week later is shocking, but what happened at the White House was only one of thousands of such outbreaks that have happened across the nation. And no matter what they apparently believed, no one is immune.
The red death had long devastated the country. … But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court …
— From Edgar Allan Poe's, "Masque of the Red Death"