The National Park Service temporarily closed the Washington Monument on Friday after a recent visit by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.
Bernhardt, a Colorado native, visited the iconic District of Columbia monument “recently,” Interior Department spokesman Nicholas Goodwin said in an email.
Employees who came into contact with the secretary had to quarantine, leaving too few to safely operate the site. Tourists normally ride an elevator to the observation deck 500 feet up, where they can enjoy views for miles.
“Out of an abundance of caution, a couple of employees have quarantined resulting in a temporary workforce reduction at the monument and its temporary closure,” Goodwin wrote.
The National Park Service posted an alert to potential visitors with a similar explanation on its website.
“Washington Monument is temporarily closed due to a reduction in its workforce resulting from a potential COVID-19 exposure,” the alert said.
The Washington Post reported that Bernhardt gave a group of appointees a tour of the site this week. The Park Service is part of Interior.
Goodwin did not immediately respond to messages seeking clarification about Bernhardt’s visit to the monument. The department has in the past published on its website a fairly detailed record of Bernhardt’s daily schedule but has not updated the page since September.
Bernhardt was continuing to work while quarantining, Goodwin said.
Theresa Pierno, the president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, a private nonprofit that advocates for national parks, said the visit was part of a pattern for Bernhardt.
“Throughout this pandemic, time and again Secretary Bernhardt has failed to protect the health and safety of national park staff and visitors,” Pierno said through a spokeswoman.
“And now, his private tours at the Washington Monument have jeopardized park staff and visitors once again. This is shameful, and it’s the American people who pay the price for his behavior.”
Several other members of the administration and allies of President Donald Trump have contracted the virus in recent months, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman; Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani; and Trump himself.
The White House and executive branch departments have continued to host events with few social distancing guidelines, even as cases of COVID-19 and related deaths have continued to climb. The U.S. first recorded more than 3,000 deaths in a day Monday.