PANDEMIC

Interior Secretary Bernhardt tests positive for COVID-19

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has tested positive for COVID-19.

Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin confirmed, "Secretary Bernhardt did test positive for COVID-19 today. He is currently asymptomatic and will continue to work on behalf of the American people while in quarantine."

Bernhardt's positive test results became public late tonight, the same day as a Trump administration Cabinet meeting scheduled for 11:30 a.m. at the White House. The White House typically tests visitors.

Bernhardt, 51, was not present at the meeting, which, according to the White House, was attended by just eight of 15 Cabinet secretaries, along with some other top officials.

Neither White House nor Interior Department officials said whether Bernhardt was at the White House today or if he tested positive there.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also absent from the Cabinet meeting and is in quarantine after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, the State Department said in a statement today.

"For reasons of privacy we can't identify that individual," the statement said, adding that "the Secretary has been tested and is negative."

As of yesterday, Washington reported 25,602 total positive test results and 720 lives lost to the disease.

Bernhardt's test results also came as Interior was preparing vaccination plans for department employees, though it's not been made clear whether he and other top officials were to be included.

"Interior is working with [the Office of Management and Budget] and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to develop a list of high-priority occupational categories for our employees, such as those working in health care and emergency response," Ben Goldey, Interior press secretary, told E&E News this week.

Bernhardt tested positive just over a week after attending a crowded, indoor and largely maskless portrait unveiling ceremony for former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, his predecessor (Greenwire, Dec. 9).

The CDC says people can develop COVID-19 up to 14 days after being exposed to the virus.

Throughout the pandemic, Interior has declined to say how many of its approximately 70,000 employees have tested positive, gotten sick or died from the contagious disease that has killed an estimated 300,000-plus U.S. residents.

But one Interior agency, the National Park Service, reported last week that at the National Mall in Washington, at least four NPS employees had tested positive in recent days. At Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, officials said they've had 28 confirmed cases within the park.

Bernhardt's COVID-19 diagnosis comes several months after the secretary personally challenged House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) to appear in person for an oversight hearing on the confrontation with police and Black Lives Matter protesters outside the White House, which Grijalva had initially wanted to convene remotely.

The hearing ultimately resulted in Grijalva testing positive for the virus at some point during the trip from Arizona to Washington, where a member of the committee, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), participated at length without a mask while he was actively contagious.

Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10Email: mdoyle@eenews.net

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