WASHINGTON – A White House official and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tested positive for the coronavirus after attending an event together, a White House official confirmed.
At least one of the cases may be linked to a group of Texas Democrats who came to Washington last week amid a battle in the state Legislature over voting rights. Six of the Texas lawmakers have tested positive for the coronavirus, including a former nurse who announced her test result Tuesday.
Both the White House official and Pelosi staffer who tested positive were fully vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, but a small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated can still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus that causes it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Yesterday, a fully vaccinated White House official tested positive for COVID-19 off-campus,” an anonymous White House official said in a statement. The staffer is self-isolating, according to “rigorous COVID-19 protocols,” the official said.
“The White House Medical Unit has conducted contact tracing interviews and determined no close contacts among White House principals and staff. The individual has mild symptoms,” the official said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the official’s positive test during a news briefing Tuesday.
“This individual was out of the office when they were tested yesterday, and they’ve stayed out of the office,” Psaki said.
She said there have been other previously undisclosed breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among White House staff but declined to say how many. None of those who tested positive were in high-level positions, Psaki said.
Vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections are much less likely to get severely sick or die.
Psaki declined to say where the staffer may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Pelosi’s office confirmed that an aide to the speaker tested positive for COVID-19 after meeting with the group of nearly 60 Texas Democrats.
“Yesterday, a fully-vaccinated senior spokesperson in the speaker’s press office tested positive for COVID after contact with members of the Texas state legislature last week,” Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said in a statement.
The Texas Democrats fled the state to deny quorum to Republicans who are pushing a measure that would enact voting restrictions. State Rep. Donna Howard of Austin said Tuesday that she tested positive for the coronavirus – becoming the sixth member of the group to do so.
“Despite following CDC guidelines and being fully vaccinated, I tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday,” Howard said in a statement. “The delta variant seems to be much more contagious, even for those vaccinated, than initially thought. Thankfully, I’m vaccinated and feeling well.”
The Texas lawmakers lobbied for a federal voting rights bill, an effort that included a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris.
The vice president’s office said she has since tested negative for the coronavirus and is being monitored.
“We take these precautions incredibly seriously and abide by the health – the guidance of our health and medical experts,” Psaki said Monday when asked whether the administration is taking any new precautions to protect President Joe Biden’s health after Harris’ meeting with Texas Democrats.
The news site Axios first reported the story.
On Capitol Hill, Brian Monahan, the attending physician for Congress, released a memo Tuesday warning about the “severe threat” of the delta variant of COVID-19 for unvaccinated people. He didn’t recommend a return to requiring masks, as several counties nationwide have done.
“I urge unvaccinated individuals to come for vaccination at any time,” he said.
The Biden administration has not disclosed how many White House staffers are vaccinated.
“We know that there will be breakthrough cases, but as this instance shows, cases in vaccinated individuals are typically mild,” the White House official said. “The White House is prepared for breakthrough cases with regular testing. This is another reminder of the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalization. We wish our colleague a speedy recovery.”
Coronavirus cases are rising, and the more contagious delta variant accounts for a majority of new virus cases.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.