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New Scrutiny On Trump's Gold Star Family Event After COVID-19 Outbreak

A growing list of attendees to a reception last month for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett have tested positive for coronavirus.

But the next day, the annual Gold Star Mother's Day event was held indoors at the White House, and official photos from the reception show very few people wearing masks.

Gold Star Mother's Day has been around since the 1930s, but was highlighted recently by Presidents Obama and Trump with White House receptions. Despite this year's event landing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the White House decided not to cancel it. President Trump says when he met these family members and heard their stories, he couldn't bear to keep them at arms-length.

"They come within an inch of my face sometimes, they want to hug me, and they want to kiss me. And they do. And, frankly, I'm not telling them to back up. I'm not doing it. But I did say it's like, it's obviously dangerous, it's a dangerous thing I guess if you go by the COVID thing," Trump told Fox Business on Thursday.

The family of United States Marine Capt. Jesse Melton III poses for a photo with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during the reception.
Andrea Hanks / White House
White House
The family of United States Marine Capt. Jesse Melton III poses for a photo with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during the reception.

Days after the event, the president and first lady tested positive. Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Charles Ray was also at the Gold Star reception. Later he too had a positive test. Now, more than a week later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in quarantine. One more of them is known to have tested positive, Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas.

About 20 Gold star families were in attendance from all over the country. They were given rapid COVID tests before entering the event, but there is some controversy around the accuracy of those tests.

The White House later clarified that the president wasn't blaming anyone present for him getting the virus. He has been at many events, talking to many people, according to spokeswoman Alyssa Farah who said there is no evidence that anyone became sick from that event.

"We did take a lot of precautions for that event," Farah said. "So based on contact tracing, the data we have, we don't think it arose from that event."

On Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said the White House only traces contacts of people who are diagnosed by the White House Medical Unit, he said, and then under a specific guideline.

"They look back 48 hours to find people who may have been within 6-feet for at least 15 minutes," he explained. "It's the CDC guideline. And the purpose is to mitigate further transmission of the virus. It's not to go back and identify Patient Zero."

The White House defended holding these events indoors, saying the president needs to continue the business of government.

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Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.