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A White House COVID official offered an interview, then postponed. Here are our questions.

John Fleming.JPG

FILE - This July 25, 2014, file photo shows Rep. John Fleming, R-La., as he speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. In more than five years in Congress, Fleming recalls voting only once for emergency spending that raised the federal deficit. That was this week, on a bill to improve health care for veterans, and it helps explain the lineup of winners and losers in the hours before Congress began a five-week break from the Capitol. (AP Photo, File)

Hours before news broke that President Donald Trump tested positive for coronavirus, an aide to Dr. John Fleming, a member of the White House coronavirus task force since April, reached out to The Post and Courier to schedule an interview about the administration's response to the pandemic.

On Friday morning, that same aide called to postpone the interview.

With Trump in quarantine with first lady Melania Trump, who also tested positive, White House staff had to attend to other priorities, he said. The White House, he said, would be in touch about rescheduling next week.

Fleming, currently deputy chief of staff and a staunch supporter of Trump since the president's 2016 campaign, has made appearances with multiple local media in recent weeks, emphasizing how much the White House has done to limit spread of COVID-19 and support development of a vaccine and therapeutics.

For South Carolina readers, the interview could have offered key insight into a top-level official's thoughts as the White House responds to the president's illness, news that first broke with a tweet from Trump at about 1 a.m. Friday. Most Americans went to bed Thursday already knowing presidential advisor Hope Hicks was sick with the virus and that the president and his wife were quarantining as a precaution. 

A Post and Courier reporter was first called about speaking with Fleming shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday. An aide offered a chance to interview Fleming for 15 minutes by phone the following morning.

The Post and Courier covered a visit to the Upstate last week by another member of the White House coronavirus task force: Dr. Deborah Birx. In that visit, Birx praised Clemson University's monitoring of wastewater for signs of coronavirus spread and charged the university to muster the full strength of its scientific community to combat the disease with more research into how it is spread in classrooms and among young adults. Birx wore a mask and underlined the importance of keeping one on indoors and outdoors to limit spread of the virus.

On Thursday afternoon, White House staff asked The Post and Courier to provide them with questions so that they could prepare answers for the 11:05 a.m. Friday interview. Reporters do not typically provide questions in advance of an interview, but given Fleming's short availability and the news value, the reporter agreed. 

The call to postpone the interview came at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

The Post and Courier will report Fleming's answers when the interview is rescheduled. What follows is a list of questions that were submitted for the interview, prior to the announcement of the president's positive test.

Questions submitted to Dr. John Fleming, deputy chief of staff to President Donald Trump

  • Our governor announced Thursday that he would restore restaurants to 100 percent capacity after they've operated for two months at 50 percent. Does this concern you in light of the efficacy of social distancing? I understand that good ventilation is key to removing aerosols that carry the virus. That seems difficult in crowded restaurants.
  • Our two-week positive rate is 11.4 percent in Greenville County. Statewide it ranges from 5.4 to 32 percent, so none of our counties is below the ideal 5 percent threshold. Everyone I talk to wants kids back in school — and I agree. But given the risks, what is your position on in-person school attendance and what statistics do you look at? 
  • What is your position on statewide mask mandates? The state of South Carolina reported on Sept. 18 that where mask mandates were in place locally, infection dropped significantly (66.5 percent the first week)
  • With cold weather approaching and people headed back indoors, are you concerned that numbers could rise?
  • Wastewater testing in Clemson and Greenville has given policymakers a powerful tool for informing decisions. Dr. Birx last week was particularly impressed. Still, many South Carolina facilities analyzing wastewater are not making results public.  It seems like data transparency is critical under the circumstances. Do you think all of this data should be made available to the public?
  • I wanted to talk to you about case trends in SC, but the numbers are unclear this week. We have had low case counts because the state health agency's electronic reporting system is down for an upgrade. The only cases we know about are the ones reported by email or fax.  We also learned in recent days of two labs sitting on all results for 4 months and 6 months respectively. With good data a cornerstone of infectious disease response and mitigation, can you talk to me about the role that the federal government plays in assuring that accurate, timely reporting is taking place nationwide? Is there more that can be done? Are these kinds of problems unique to SC?
  • A local paper reported last year that more than 11,000 students had received religious waivers against vaccinations. Does that worry you as the nation rushes to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus?
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Follow Anna B. Mitchell on Twitter at @AnnaBard2U.

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