White House staffer describes 'a complete lack of empathy' during Trump administration for keeping residence workers safe from COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the White House residence staff.
  • A staffer said that employees were given conflicting information on how to safely return to work last year.
  • The White House’s approach to COVID-19 shifted dramatically after Biden succeeded Trump.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

While former President Donald Trump and many of his aides were battling their own bouts with COVID-19 last year, the White House residence staff never stopped toiling in the background, according to The New Yorker.

For years, residence staff lamented the infrequency of events held at the White House under Trump, which included only two state dinners, compared to the six that were hosted by former President Barack Obama in his first term.

Among “lifers,” the staff members who have served multiple US Presidents, a sense of “malaise” had spread throughout the White House, according to the report.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wore on last year, the desolation of the building only intensified. A staff member that was renamed Jason to protect his identity discussed the evolving situation under Trump.

“People stayed home,” he said. “Everything from food service to national security — if it could be done at home, it was done at home.”

But former White House chief usher Timothy Harleth said the residence staff adhered to the necessary COVID-19 health guidelines more than other Trump White House employees.

“We were the ones wearing P.P.E. [personal protective equipment], pushing to get our folks tested,” he said, but noted that “most of our folks can’t easily telework.”

According to Harleth, roughly seven or eight residence staffers contracted COVID-19.

Once the staffers recovered, they were asked to work in the place of other employees due to a presumption of immunity against the highly infectious disease.

Jason said that the “lifers” were not given consistent messaging on when they were expected at the White House or if they needed to remain at their homes.

“There was lots and lots of confusion, no direction from the top, a complete lack of empathy, sympathy,” he expressed. “The Christmas parties with maskless hordes were catered, but [the staff] would have to be there for this and that. There was not a steady message on how to keep you safe.”

When President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived at the White House on January 20, the tone in the building had shifted.

Due to social distancing measures, employees were spread out throughout the State Floor when the Bidens arrived at the White House after the inaugural ceremony.

Another residence staffer remarked at the difference between how Biden approached the pandemic and that of Trump, where staffers were all assembled in one room for goodbyes before the former president’s departure.

“It’s like night and day,” the staffer said.

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