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Second White House worker tests positive for coronavirus

US President Donald Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence are never seen wearing masks while greeting visitors in the White House
US President Donald Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence are never seen wearing masks while greeting visitors in the White House Brendan Smialowski AFP/File
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Washington (AFP)

A second White House worker this week has tested positive for coronavirus, officials said Friday, even as President Donald Trump continued to go mask-free at a World War II commemoration with veterans in their 90s.

A member of Vice President Mike Pence's staff was found to have coronavirus, a senior administration official told journalists.

As a result, six people who may have had contact and who were meant to be traveling with Pence on Air Force Two had to leave the plane before takeoff at Joint Base Andrews, near Washington, for Des Moines, Iowa.

"Out of abundance of caution we went back and looked into all the person's contacts most recently," the official, who asked not to be named, said.

"That's why we asked some of our staff to deplane. Nobody else was exhibiting any symptoms or having any feeling of sickness. We asked them to go get tested and to go home out of an abundance of caution."

On Thursday, a Trump spokesman said the president's valet, a member of the military who is in close contact with the president, had tested positive.

Trump and Pence were tested and confirmed to be negative. Both are tested daily.

The latest scare came as Trump is pressing for a quicker reopening of the US economy, which has been hammered by the fallout from mass lockdowns and social distancing.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there was no risk of a White House outbreak or threat to Trump.

"I can just tell you that we've taken every single precaution to protect the president," she told a press briefing. "We clean the facility, we social distance, we keep people six feet away from each other."

- Veterans in their 90s -

However Trump has drawn criticism for refusing to follow his own health experts' advice on wearing a mask in public. Although face covering is voluntary, it is recommended by many state authorities and the federal doctors.

Trump's latest public outing was to a ceremony early Friday marking the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

The president, who at 73 is well within the higher-risk group for COVID-19, met eight American veterans ranging in age from 96-100. Neither he nor the veterans wore masks, although he kept a few steps from them.

According to McEnany the veterans "made the choice to come here because they've chosen to put their nation first. They wanted to be with their commander in chief on this momentous day. It was their choice to come here."

McEnany said mask wearing was a purely personal issue.

"This president is regularly tested. This president will make the decision as to wear a mask or not," she said.

Earlier this week, Trump made his first long distance trip since the nation's coronavirus lockdown began, visiting a Honeywell mask-making factory in Arizona. Again, he did not wear a mask in public, even while addressing a room full of factory employees, all wearing masks in accordance with company policy.

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