Vice President Mike Pence received the COVID-19 vaccine on December 18.
WASHINGTON — Federal officials closed the Washington Monument to visitors on a temporary basis beginning Friday after U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who led a private tour of the monument this week, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Interior Department spokesman Nicholas Goodwin confirmed the closure, which the Washington Post first reported. He said “a couple” employees at the monument were forced to quarantine as as result of Bernhardt’s positive test, prompting the decision.
“As we do in all circumstances when an employee attests to having COVID-19,” he said, the department worked with public health officials to following proper guidances such as identifying close contacts and cleaning areas as appropriate.
“The Secretary was recently at the Washington Monument. In working with our public officials and out of an abundance of caution, a couple of employees have quarantined resulting in a temporary workforce reduction at the monument and its temporary closure.”
COVID Memorial Project volunteers place American flags near the Washington Monument to memorialize the 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19 Milestone on the National Mall on Sept. 21, 2020. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
Goodwin said the plan is to reopen the Washington Monument on Dec. 21. After being closed for most of the past year amid the coronavirus pandemic, the monument opened again for visitors Oct. 1.
Bernhardt, 51, a former oil and gas lobbyist appointed to his post by President Donald Trump in 2019, tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday, leading him to sit out of a Cabinet meeting held later that day.
More: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tests positive for COVID-19, goes into quarantine
The Post reported Bernardt has been giving “private, nighttime tours (of the Washington Monument) to associates,” which is operated by the National Park Service, overseen by the Secretary of the Interior. Goodwin told USA TODAY the secretary “gave one tour this week to a small group of (Interior) appointees, not multiple tours.”
The National Park Service posted a notice about the temporary closure on its website.
“Consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and in coordination with the NPS Office of Public Health, the Washington Monument is temporarily closed due to a reduction in its workforce resulting from a potential COVID-19 exposure,” the notice reads. “NPS is working to staff the Washington Monument at the appropriate levels to maintain the safety of its operations for visitors and employees.”
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020. (Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
According to The Post, Bernhardt’s positive COVID-19 test forced the cancellation of an interior department holiday party Thursday but that Deputy Secretary Katharine MacGregor is moving forward with plans to visit two national parks in Wyoming – Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks – next week.
More: ‘I didn’t feel a thing.’ Vice President Mike Pence gets COVID-19 vaccine on camera
Built to honor President George Washington and completed in 1884, the Washington Monument stands 555-feet tall and attracted 800,000 visitors in 2019.
The monument closed in March because of the the pandemic before reopening in October. It also closed from 2011 to 2014 during a three-year restoration project following a magnitude-5.8 earthquake in August 2011 that damaged the structure.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
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