Even the White House.
At least 11 people have tested positive for the virus since attending a Rose Garden ceremony on Sept. 26, including President Trump, who was hospitalized for three nights and released Monday evening. The first lady was also infected but not hospitalized.
So far, about 20 people in and around the Trump White House have caught the virus. What should be one of the safest places in the country has become a house haunted by infection and dread.
Of course, the two residences practically defy comparison. But the behaviors that tend to put people at risk for infection with the novel coronavirus are essentially the same whatever the venue.
“Our patient population is mostly chronic drug users who are homeless or involved with the criminal justice system — not always the clearest-thinking individuals when they come to us,” said Michael Pickering, director of RAP, the Regional Addiction Program in Northeast Washington. “At the beginning of the pandemic, some of the ones who saw themselves survivors, capable of controlling their own destinies, decided to leave the facility against medical advice. They didn’t think that messages about hygiene, sanitation, wearing masks and social distancing applied to them.”
Trump has certainly shown a similar disregard for wearing masks and social distancing. And he ended up just like some of those defiant homeless addicts: infected and roaming around unprotected while most likely infecting others.
Following his example, few of the 150 or so people congregated in the Rose Garden took the appropriate safety precautions.
Not always the clearest thinking individuals there, either.
But let’s look at how RAP responded in comparison with the White House.
In April, a spike in covid-19 cases along with an explosive jump in opioid-related overdoses caused a surge of new patients at RAP and other area rehabs.
“I’ll be honest with you: We didn’t know what the hell was going on,” Pickering said. “We had staff on the front lines doing intake assessments, which involves sitting face to face with a patient for two hours. And we couldn’t get masks or hand sanitizers to say nothing of covid-19 tests.”
The following month, the test kits arrived and were administered. When 24 came back positive, the facility was shut down for three weeks. Employees quarantined at home. Some continued their work using email and Zoom. Patients were sent to a D.C. government-run “quarantine hotel” where they were tested and monitored until they could safely return to the rehab.
“I was very concerned,” Pickering recalled. “We have people on our staff who are above middle age and more vulnerable to the worst effects of the disease. Nearly all of our patients have comorbidities besides chronic substance abuse — such as heart and kidney disease and diabetes. They are most at risk.”
Fortunately, everyone eventually returned to the rehab for work or treatment. No one became seriously ill. One employee was hospitalized, but only for a day.
“The crisis made a lot of people come together and say, ‘we have to do better,’ ” Pickering said. He was referring to D.C. officials and representatives of the substance abuse treatment community. “Now that we know what we’re dealing with, we have to make sure this kind of outbreak doesn’t happen again.”
RAP implemented a strict safety protocol. More space was found for 24 extra beds so that patients can be quarantined before starting the treatment program.
“If you show up at the intake office, we’re going to test you and if you test positive you go into quarantine,” Pickering said. “We take everyone’s temperature. Masks are mandatory; so is hand hygiene.”
“We’ve had only two patients test positive since we put the new protocols in place,” Pickering added. “Anxiety has gone down tremendously. The walkout rate among patients is much lower. The patients in isolation continue to receive information about recovery through telehealth and participate in treatment programs through Zoom until they are ready to join the group.”
And what did the White House do? It flouted nearly every rule that health professionals have recommended for controlling the spread of the virus.
We know that Trump’s guests at last Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland did not wear masks once seated. We know that Trump routinely mocked staffers in the White House who wore masks. We know one of the first things Trump did as soon as he returned from the hospital where he was treated for the deadly coronavirus was take off his mask.
The staff at RAP would gladly have taken those masks off the hands of the White House. Pickering said for all the talk of being essential workers, the people at the treatment facility were unable to get protective gear from the federal government. They ended up getting hand sanitizer from Cotton & Reed distillery in the District. Their masks came from friends who volunteered to make them.
Pickering said members of the recovery group have come to appreciate wearing masks as a means of promoting community health.
“It’s a sign of respect for one’s self and for one another,” he said, adding, “I especially want my staff to be safe because that’s who keeps the patients safe.”
If only the president felt that way about himself and his staff — not to mention the citizens they are charged with keeping safe.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.