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For journalists covering Trump, the new reality at the White House

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WASHINGTON — There was a knock on our NBC News workspace door at the White House. I first assumed it was a colleague or a press aide coming by with an update. Instead, it was a White House official I’d never seen before with a forehead thermometer in his hand.

He had come to take my temperature before I could go into the White House briefing. The first reading he took was high; I’d been sitting by a heater at my desk for the past hour, but still my heart started to race. Several panic-inducing seconds later, I passed and was given a round, orange sticker to wear indicating I was allowed into the briefing room.

It was the third time my temperature was taken that day, the earlier two in a makeshift white tent set up outside the gate to the White House grounds.

It was all just part of the strange new reality of covering the White House amid a pandemic that officials have predicted could kill 100,000 to 240,000 Americans.

A few minutes later, I headed to the briefing room. Back in the days before the daily briefings ended over a year ago, the events were standing-room-only and the space would start to fill up an hour before it was scheduled to begin. People lacking designated seats clogged the aisles. Getting to my assigned seat was like trying to squeeze to the front row of a rock concert. I’d often go out early just to avoid the crush.

But today I waited until the very last moment.

I wanted to spend as little time as possible outside NBC’s enclosed workspace. And there would be no fighting for space, because the White House Correspondents’ Association has limited the number of reporters who can attend the briefing to follow social distancing guidelines.

There is no standing in the aisles allowed and every two seats are empty, with reporters on a rotation of when they can attend. A reporter from One America News, a conservative-leaning television network, was banned from future briefings by the White House Correspondents’ Association because she twice violated the policy by standing in the back of the room.

News organizations also have cut back on the number of reporters coming to the White House. The press area adjacent to the West Wing, usually filled with camera operators hauling around equipment and reporters working from the briefing room chairs, was empty until the briefing was about to begin.

The closet-sized, windowless room where the NBC News White House unit works is also starkly different. On a typical day, there would have been four reporters and producers crowded together less than a foot apart, with a fifth person sometimes perched on a stool as people rotate in and out during the day.

Now, my colleagues and I are there from 6 a.m. to after 7.p.m., leaving the space only to go to the camera on the White House North Lawn or to the bathroom (for which there is no longer ever a line). We almost obsessively sanitize our hands and wipe down every surface each time we enter and exit the workspace.

And our working conditions are not the only reflection of the new reality. There’s also the subject on which we report day in and day out.

At Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing, I sat less than a dozen feet away from President Donald Trump as he warned America we are about to go through a “very painful” few weeks. That was a turnabout after he downplayed the threat for weeks. Dr. Deborah Birx detailed how 100,000 to 240,000 Americans are expected to die within a few weeks, showing charts and graphs laying out the grim trajectory.

It was the most somber I have seen Trump in the scores of times over the past three years that I’ve been in question-and-answer sessions with him in the Oval Office, on Air Force One, from the White House North Lawn or in formal press conferences and speeches.

I have also been through a number of unprecedented moments with many of the reporters in that briefing room, and I could feel the weight of the information being presented settle over all of us, knowing how many Americans were at home watching and depending on the 14 of us in the room to get them the answers to the questions they needed.

It was a dramatic swing from the mood at the briefing the day before, which felt at times like an infomercial. The CEO of My Pillow stood at the lectern, and the president sparred with reporters, at one point displaying a new testing device like a Home Shopping Network presenter.

By the time I left at 7:30 p.m., 14 hours after arriving that day, it almost felt like my normal routine for a moment — the White House glowing in the night, a reporter doing a television hit and the regular rhythm of Secret Service agents moving about.

But as a man wearing a mask rode past me on his bike on Pennsylvania Avenue and I embarked on a 30-minute walk home to avoid taking the bus, I quickly returned to my new reality.

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Britons furious as Barnier offers Remainers two-year Brexit delay – ‘Get us out!’

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BRITONS have reacted with fury after Michel Barnier suggested a two-year Brexit delay in a letter to opposition leaders.

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Senators sound alarm over coronavirus in juvenile detention facilities

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A group of senators is pressing the Department of Justice to explain what it’s doing to protect youth in juvenile detention facilities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In a letter sent Tuesday, the senators raised concerns that parents of incarcerated youth in several states are not receiving information about their child’s health, or being told about the spread of the coronavirus in these facilities. The senators requested that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of the Justice Department, publicly disclose the measures it has taken to ensure the health and safety of youth in detention during the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 thrives in juvenile detention facilities, where communal living arrangements make it difficult or impossible to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended public health measures such as maintaining social distance, self-isolating, and using personal protective equipment,” the senators state, later adding: “Because the majority of youth in detention are black or Hispanic, the spread of COVID-19 within juvenile detention may further perpetuate the disparate impact of the virus along racial and ethnic lines.”

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The letter, organized by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., asks for a response by June 12 to a list of detailed questions. The group includes 11 other Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Physicians, epidemiologists, defense attorneys, advocates for youth and parents nationwide have issued multiple calls for the release of children held in juvenile detention facilities in recent months.

While children are generally less likely to have severe reactions to the coronavirus, the disease poses a higher risk for people with underlying health issues, and youth in detention are more likely to have those conditions. Additionally, experts warn, children can spread the virus to the adult staff who then might take it home.

As of May 26, there are at least 488 youth and 580 staff in juvenile detention facilities who have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. However, this is an incomplete accounting and is highly dependent on what state and local officials decide to release.

Juvenile detention facilities are controlled at the local level — either by city, county or state governments — and releases can be subject to approval by a judge.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is set up to help local governments improve their juvenile justice systems and provides grants to states. The group of senators wants the office to disclose how many COVID-19 cases there are among the youth and staff of these grantees.

The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Brexiteers fear 'Frost is next!' Conspiracy claims over Cummings sack demands

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DEMANDS for Dominic Cummings to be sacked have sparked concern of a Remainer plot among Brexiteers – with some even worried the UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost could be targeted next.

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