White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped a question Wednesday regarding whether the Biden administration would have publicly disclosed a vaccinated staffer’s recent breakthrough COVID-19 case if it hadn’t been reported in the press.
Psaki confirmed Tuesday there have been multiple breakthrough positive COVID-19 test results among vaccinated staffers, shortly after news outlet Axios reported that an unnamed White House official and a staffer for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tested positive following an event last week.
When asked during a press gaggle Wednesday if the White House would have disclosed the case regardless of Axios’ report, Psaki did not directly respond. She said the White House will disclose cases involving individuals who were in close contact with top officials going forward.
"Because of our commitment to transparency, what we’re going to be providing moving forward are updates on any White House official who tests positive for COVID-19 that the White House medical unit deems as having close contact with the president, vice president, first lady, or second gentleman," Psaki said. "That will be up to the White House medical unit based on the criteria of the CDC."
"At no point has the president been required to change his behavior or self-quarantine due to close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID," she added.
White House staffers were informed of the new policy by email earlier in the day. Relevant details regarding positive cases will be disclosed to the press, as will the name of the infected individual if they allow it.
The White House’s COVID-19 protocols drew renewed scrutiny this week after it was revealed that Vice President Kamala Harris tested negative after meeting with several Texas House Democratic lawmakers who recently contracted the virus. Harris’ office said she was not in close contact with the infected lawmakers and did not have to self-isolate.
Psaki noted that with approximately 2,000 individuals on the White House grounds each day, breakthrough cases among vaccinated staffers "will occur, just like they occur across the country."
"They have occurred, they will continue to occur. We’re prepared for that," Psaki said. "As the instance yesterday shows, cases in vaccinated individuals are typically mild or asymptomatic. This is one more reminder of the efficacy of the covid-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalization."
The press secretary said the White House would continue to follow the CDC’s public health guidance to inform its own COVID-19 protocols.