President-elect Joe Biden faces a major operational challenge upon entering office — how to keep the coronavirus from infecting the White House’s cramped West Wing.
Biden’s team is looking at ways to apply his campaign’s COVID-19 safety practices to the presidency, several of his advisers told NBC News.
Transition officials are trying to determine how many White House officials can physically work out of the West Wing while abiding by social distancing and other protocols during the pandemic, the advisers said.
The strategizing comes while President Trump has refused to have his outgoing administration help Biden with the transition. Trump’s campaign is still involved in legal skirmishes to try to overturn the election result.
“The entire functionality of the White House is people crammed around desks and huddling at a meeting,” a Biden adviser told NBC. “There are going to be adjustments to accommodate for distancing. Folks are going to wear masks.”
Biden’s advisers have talked about what to do if he ever gets an invitation from Trump for the traditional White House visit before Inauguration Day.
Noting the multiple coronavirus outbreaks within Trump’s White House and inner circle, they concluded that any such meeting would have to take place outdoors.
The safety protocols have to be implemented without hindering Biden’s ready access to his staff.
“One of the big things to get done over the course of the 78 days is to take a real look at how do we operate safely in the different physical spaces that we’re going to be in post-Inauguration Day,” a senior transition adviser said.
It will be a tall order.
The West Wing is a network of narrow hallways and small, windowless rooms often with desks crammed into tight spaces.
It would be difficult to hold staff meetings in some of the spaces, such as the Cabinet Room, the Roosevelt Room and the Oval Office, NBC reports. Those venues offer no room for social distancing when filled to capacity, and they are not well ventilated.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisThe Washington Post via Getty Images
Team Trump continued to fully staff the West Wing through much of the pandemic. Very few officials wore masks, and the sizes of meetings weren’t scaled back to allow for social distancing.
The Trump White House experienced several outbreaks of the coronavirus.
More than 40 administration officials, campaign staff members and lawmakers and others connected to the White House contracted the virus since October — including the president, first lady Melania Trump and their teenage son, Barron.
Since the Nov. 3 election, at least six White House staffers became infected, including chief of staff Mark Meadows.
In contrast, the Biden campaign team stopped working in person at its Philadelphia campaign headquarters in March. Many staffers worked from home, and those who did return to offices were spaced out in large rooms with Plexiglas dividers.
Most of the Biden transition team also is working remotely.