WASHINGTON (RNS) — At least two people in addition to President Trump who attended a ceremony last Saturday (Sept. 26) in the White House Rose Garden to present Judge Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s Supreme Court nominee have been infected with the coronavirus.
The Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame University, announced on Friday (Oct. 2) that he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, saying in a statement from the school that he took a test after “a colleague with whom he has been in regular contact tested positive for COVID-19.” Jenkins said his symptoms “are mild and I will continue work from home.”
Jenkins was criticized by students and faculty members for not wearing a mask and shaking hands at the event, spurring the school president to apologize earlier this week and initiate self-quarantine.
Barrett has also reportedly tested negative for the virus, but Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who also attended the event and stood next to Barrett unmasked, announced on Friday that he has tested positive.
The Rose Garden event was also reportedly attended by members of President Trump’s evangelical advisory board and other faith leaders. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, the Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association were spotted at the event. So too was the Rev. Paula White, a Pentecostal preacher and head of the White House Faith & Opportunity Initiative.
Those in the crowd sat in close proximity and few wore masks.
Trump announced that he and the First Lady had to have tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said it was possible that Trump could have contracted the disease as early as Saturday’s Rose Garden ceremony.
He added that the ceremony itself risked infection.
“Why are we having SCOTUS nominations in person? This doesn’t need to happen,” he told reporters on Friday. “Until we can figure out how to get the virus under control these in person (and) especially indoor events — but even outdoor events — should not be taking place, especially not from our leaders who are trying to set good examples.”
There is also growing concern regarding the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority 2020” conference that took place in Atlanta beginning Wednesday (Sept. 30), four days after the Rose Garden ceremony.
Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who was a scheduled speaker at the conference, said in a phone interview Friday with RNS contributor Maina Mwaura that he was driving home from Atlanta to quarantine after coming into contact with someone who has the virus and intended to get a test when he arrived.
Lankford did not specify who the person other than to say that it wasn’t the President or Vice President and that it was someone who he spent time with on Tuesday before the conference. Lankford said he was initially asked to quarantine in Atlanta Thursday evening, but chose to drive home.
Lankford’s office did not immediately return followup questions from RNS.
White was also slated to address the conference on Wednesday but did not do so.
Vice President Pence also spoke at the indoor event, as did Jentezen Franklin, pastor of Free Chapel in Gainesville. Both were also at the White House on Saturday.
Other speakers at the conference included the Rev. James Altman, a Catholic priest who recently produced a viral video in which he declared that one cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat, the Rev. Tony Suarez, vice-president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Suarez, who contracted COVID-19 in March but recovered, told RNS on Friday that he had not been in contact with the Vice President during the event.
Pence has since tested negative for the disease, according to published reports.
This story is developing and will be updated.