Since the onset of the pandemic, the WHCA has made it its primary mission to facilitatethe safest possible working environment for journalists at the White House. From reducing seating in the briefing room and workspaces to enforcing a face-covering requirement, we have acted to reflect the latest CDC and local government guidance. Since March, we have advocated publicly, but also privately, for measures to protect journalists and their ability to do their work in these uncertain times.
The events of the past week have understandably raised concerns and sparked frustrations about working conditions at the White House. We share them. We bring you this update in hopes that it will help you all prepare for the days and weeks ahead.
First off, our thoughts are with our three colleagues who are dealing with the coronavirus. We wish them a quick and complete recovery.
Since Friday, dozens and dozens of tests have been conducted on members of our press corps who were potentially exposed. At this moment, we do not have any additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 among White House journalists nor any indications of journalist-to-journalist spread. While we are awaiting additional test results for some members, it appears clear that our safe behavior has helped contain this virus. We haven’t just been lucky, we have followed science and we have been vigilant.
The WHCA has repeatedly pressed the White House at all levels to take steps to improve the safety conditions for journalists working there — and specifically to avoid knowingly putting in unnecessary jeopardy those serving in the pool who must be present as the eyes and ears of the American public. At a bare minimum, that should entail following the administration’s own guidelines on protecting people from the spread of the virus.
We are alarmedthat multiplestaffers in the White House press office have tested positive in recent days. We are informed that the latest positive cases in the press office have not been on the complex since Friday, and as such no journalists were deemed to be “close contacts” under CDC guidelines, which look back 48 hours from a positive test sample collection or the onset of symptoms.
We have communicated to the White House that, as a press corps, we would like more information to evaluate our own potential exposure. We have pressed for them to provide updates on known and suspected infections so that reporters can as soon as possible know if they and their families have been put at risk. The administration, citing privacy concerns, has not provided additional details.
In the immediate days ahead, we continue to insist that journalists who are not in the pool and do not have an enclosed workspace refrain from entering the indoor press areas of the White House. We would also strongly encourage all journalists to avoid working from the White House grounds entirely if it can be avoided.
For those who must work at the White House, a mask continues to be required in any shared indoor press areas and we strongly suggest working outdoors as much as possible.
We again encourage journalists who have been at the White House since 9/26 to avail themselves of other testing options, through their local health department, personal physician, employer or other accommodation before returning to the White House complex.
We expect daily testing for the in-town, and eventually out-of-town, pools to continue. But as we all know, and as recent events have shown, frequent testing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for containing the virus.
Still, despite everything we’ve experienced in recent days, it would be foolish of us to assume that the situation at the White House or on the campaign trail will improve dramatically over the coming four weeks.
That means that we as a press corps, and each of us individually, must be clear-eyed about the potential risks of COVID-exposure on the job, taking every precaution we can to fulfill our coverage obligations while being prepared for situations with which we may not be comfortable. For instance, if you’re going to want an N95-type mask or goggles in a crowded room, don’t show up to pool duty without them.
We are an association of individuals with different risk tolerances, health statuses, family obligations, and corporate policies, and it is critical that we consider all of those before embarking on a pool assignment. If you have specific concerns, please reach out to us.
We are also all committed professionals who have worked under challenging circumstances to sustain the pool for the last seven months. Being there to ask the important questions is vital to the American public that relies on us for information.
Thank you for your cooperation and professionalism during these challenging times. And please don’t hesitate to reach out to Zeke (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the rest of the board if you have specific questions or concerns.
—The WHCA BoardMore News