The director of the Secret Service, James Murray, has said that the two agents who rode in the vehicle with then-president Donald Trump as he waved to supporters outside Walter Reed Hospital when he had Covid-19 last year needed to wear full medical protective gear.
Mr Murray made the statement during a budget hearing with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on Thursday.
He said that Mr Trump's eagerness to be seen and to interact with supporters outside the hospital in October “was extensively discussed” with doctors before the drive-by.
Mr Murray added that the Secret Service spoke with medical staff both at the White House and at Walter Reed Hospital beforehand and that the agents wore the kind of equipment used by frontline healthcare workers.
“The two individuals in the vehicle were fully outfitted in PPE (personal protective equipment),” he said.
While White House officials said at the time that the president was bored and wanted to show strength, the move was heavily criticized.
James Phillips, doctor of emergency medicine at George Washington University, and an attending physician at Walter Reed, wrote on Twitter: “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die.”
Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University school of medicine, tweeted on 4 October: “By taking a joy ride outside Walter Reed, the president is placing his Secret Service detail at grave risk. In the hospital when we go into close contact with a Covid patient we dress in full PPE: Gown, gloves, N95, eye protection, hat. This is the height of irresponsibility.”
The Washington Post reported in November last year that since March 2020, around 300 Secret Service agents and officers were forced to quarantine because they had been infected with coronavirus or had been exposed to somebody who had been infected.
Mr Murray added on Thursday that he would like to have a White House replica at the agency’s training grounds outside Washington DC. He said that using the facility currently at their disposal “is like having a basketball team practice outdoors in a field, instead indoors on a basketball court”.
He added that a new, taller fence around the White House has been erected on the north side of the compound and should be finished a year from now.
He said that “the new fence is a game-changer for us,” and added that the agency might have to set up a new checkpoint even further away from the White House to be able to screen people before they get close to the fence.