Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie missed a key Veterans Day event this year due to another coronavirus outbreak among administration officials, and may be forced to skip more.
Wilkie has not contracted the illness, and was tested midday Monday to confirm he was negative for the virus. However, he did meet face-to-face last week with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who announced his own positive diagnosis on Monday.
VA press secretary Christina Noel said that Wilkie’s planned annual “State of the VA” speech, scheduled for Tuesday morning, was cancelled “out of an abundance of caution.” The event was set to focus on major successes and challenges in the department over the last year, including VA’s response to the ongoing pandemic.
Wilkie was also scheduled to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday as part of larger Veterans Day commemoration events. That event is usually open to the public, but not this year, because of pandemic concerns.
When asked about Wilkie’s schedule for Wednesday, Noel said Wilkie “is following guidance to continue working, while wearing a mask. The Secretary will continue to follow the science.”
In an interview with Military Times on Monday morning, Wilkie said he was looking forward to the events and had not had any recent health issues.
“I get tested constantly,” he said. “In two years I’ve [traveled to] 39 states. Last week I was in Florida and South Carolina, and so I was tested twice. And I’ll be tested again tomorrow.”
Carson’s infection is the latest in a series of coronavirus cases connected to the White House in recent weeks, including President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short.
Carson was at the White House on Election Night, but has said he is not sure where he may have caught the illness.
About 10 million Americans have been infected by the virus in the last eight months. Nearly 240,000 have died from complications related to the illness.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.