White House NSC tells staff wear masks in common areas; avoid West Wing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House National Security Council on Friday ordered all staff to begin wearing masks in White House common areas and to “avoid unnecessary visits” to the West Wing, according to an internal email.

The directive was issued after President Donald Trump, who has played down the threat of the coronavirus pandemic from the outset, was diagnosed with the coronavirus, prompting his doctors to send him to a military hospital for treatment.

Mask use on the White House grounds has mostly been lax, with Trump often having questioned and sometimes ridiculed their use despite medical experts’ insistence the practice saves lives.

The authenticity of the NSC email, first reported by CNN, was confirmed by a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Effective October 2, 2020, all National Security Council (NSC) staff reporting to the Executive Office of the President campus are required to wear a mask in all common areas, including security screening facilities, elevators, hallways and restrooms,” the email states.

“”In addition, masks are required where social distancing guidelines cannot be consistently observed which may include personal workspaces and conference rooms,” the email says. “”Unless your duties require in-person business in the West Wing we respectfully ask you to avoid unnecessary visits.”

The NSC, which is charged with coordinating foreign policy among government agencies, makes up one of the largest staff segments housed in the White House complex.

Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, who heads the agency, tested positive for Covid-19 in late July and returned to work in early August following his recovery.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Makini Brice; editing by Diane Craft and David Gregorio