Barr plans to return to Justice Dept. after negative Coronavirus test results
By Katie Benner
Attorney General William Barr did not plan to get a coronavirus test Monday after receiving negative results from four tests and was likely to return to work at the Justice Department this week, his spokeswoman said.
Barr, who had attended an event at the White House on Sept. 26 linked to the outbreak, quarantined himself over the weekend and was at home Monday with no symptoms, said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec.
She said that Barr would get tested Tuesday and was likely to return to the office Wednesday. That would be before the end of the 14-day quarantine period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as Justice Department guidelines, but Kupec said the attorney general was considered a critical worker exempt from the CDC guidelines.
Kupec said Barr, 70, “routinely wears masks and takes a variety of precautions” at the office.
Some department employees expressed anger at Barr’s decisions, saying that his leadership example indicated that he did not take the threat of the virus seriously, according to five employees who would not be named discussing Barr’s approach to the virus for fear of retribution.
Asked about the criticism, Kupec said that as the nation’s chief federal law enforcement officer, Barr was considered a critical worker under the CDC guidance. It says that essential workers “may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”
Precautions include wearing a mask at all times in the workplace, social distancing, regular temperature checks and continued testing.
“Even with this flexibility, out of an abundance of caution, he has remained home since Friday other than to get tested and attend the meeting at the Justice Department on Friday morning,” Kupec said.
In President Donald Trump’s own battle with the coronavirus, his oxygen levels have dropped, and he has taken experimental drugs and a steroid. He left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday.
After Trump revealed early Friday that he had tested positive for the virus, Barr took a rapid test each day and took an additional diagnostic test called a PCR test, and made their results public. Through the weekend, his tests came back negative, Kupec said.
Barr also decided to reduce his schedule to one meeting Friday and to self-quarantine at home over the weekend, she said.
Kupec said Monday that Barr had not had any contact with Trump for nine days, when both men attended a reception at the White House for the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Several Republican leaders and others who attended the reception have since learned they have the virus, including Trump; the first lady, Melania Trump; Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina; John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame; Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey; and Kellyanne Conway, a former counselor to the president.
Barr was photographed standing in proximity to Conway at the reception, during which neither person wore a mask.
According to the Justice Department’s coronavirus guidance, “individuals ill with, or exposed to individuals with COVID-19, should self-quarantine for 14 days.”
The event for Barrett also seemed to have violated Washington’s guidance for gatherings during the pandemic. More than 150 people attended; Mayor Muriel Bowser has stipulated that no private gatherings should exceed 50 people and that attendees must wear masks, particularly in spaces where they cannot remain 6 feet apart.
Attendees sat close together in chairs set up in the White House Rose Garden as they listened to speeches, and few wore masks. At a reception inside the White House, guests were photographed without masks, standing close together to hug or talk.
Kupec did not comment on why Barr did not comply with the city guidelines for gatherings while at the reception.