White House tries to stem spread of COVID-19 in West Wing, nurses grapple with hard choices and Jerry Stiller dies

Vice President Mike Pence is giving others a "little distance" after staffer tests positive for COVID-19.
Image: Kristin Vlasak and her husband, Gordon Vlasak, of Walker, Minn., visit her parents, Roger and Janet Carlson, on Mother's Day, Sunday May 10, 2020 at Havenwood of Minnetonka in Minnetonka, Minn .
Families around the country celebrated Mothers' Day - from afar. Here Kristin Vlasak visits her elderly parents in Minnetonka, Minn. on Sunday. Jerry Holt / AP

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By Petra Cahill

Good morning, NBC News readers.The White House is stepping up coronavirus precautions after two staffers tested positive, nurses describe the agonizing choices they are forced to make between work they love and safety, and a comedy legend dies.

Here's what we're watching this Monday morning.


Pence is giving 'a little distance' to others after staffer tests positive for COVID-19

Vice President Mike Pence put "a little distance" between himself and others this weekend after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19, a senior administration official told NBC News.

Pence decided to isolate himself from others "out of caution," the official said, after his press secretary, Katie Miller, and one of President Donald Trump's personal valets both tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

News of the infections in the White House has highlighted the difficulty of containing the illness inside crowded workplaces.

White House senior adviser Kevin Hassett said Sunday "it is scary to go to work" in the West Wing, noting the "relatively cramped quarters" of the famous workspace.

Fears about the spread of the virus within the White House has also benched three prominent members of the coronavirus task force. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, will all be self-quarantining out of an abundance of caution.

Here are some other developments:

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With heavy hearts, some nurses have quit their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic

As COVID-19 has infected more than 1 million Americans, some nurses working on the front lines with little protective support have made the gut-wrenching decision to step away from their jobs, saying that they were ill-equipped and unable to fight the disease and that they feared for not only their own safety but also that of their families.

Many of these nurses, who have faced backlash for quitting, said new CDC protocols have made them feel expendable and have not kept their safety in mind, leaving them no choice but to walk away from a job they loved.

Kelly Stanton worked as a nurse for 28 years, but as safety protocols began to crumble when the pandemic started she she began to feel more like "a sheep sent to slaughter" than a front-line nurse.

By late March, the risks weighed too heavily, and Stanton submitted her resignation.

"It was an extremely difficult decision, but as a mother and wife, the health of my family will always come first," she said.


A breaking point': Anti-lockdown efforts during Spanish flu offer a cautionary tale for coronavirus

America was tired.

Tired of the stay-at-home orders, mandatory masks, business closures and social distancing rules.

During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, officials pushing public health mandates to stop the pandemic in its tracks were met with pushback across the country. From San Francisco to Atlanta, Denver to Cleveland, pockets of opposition sprang up to decry the effects of the restrictions on businesses, religious communities and ordinary people.

The success of anti-lockdown measures a hundred years ago offers a potential warning: Strong opposition forced cities to roll back orders too quickly.


Jerry Stiller, '60s comedy legend who found renewed fame on "Seinfeld," dies at 92.

Actor Jerry Stiller died from natural causes on Monday, but his life and legacy will continue be honored every Dec. 23.

That scores of fans actually celebrate the fictional holiday of Festivus on that date is proof of how big a legacy the 92-year-old comedy veteran left on a younger generation through his role as Frank Costanza, the creator of the "Festival for the rest of us" on the popular sitcom, "Seinfeld."

Ben Stiller's father wasn't cast as his signature character until his late sixties, decades after he had found success as one half of the comedy duo, Stiller and Meara, with his real-life wife, Anne Meara.

A whole new generation came to know and love Stiller through his inimitable performance as Frank Costanza on "Seinfeld."

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One fun thing

Alec Baldwin returned to his role as Trump to help "Saturday Night Live" close out its 45th season, taped from the homes of performers and guests as social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic kept them out of Studio 8H.

In the sketch, the president welcomes the graduates into the age of coronavirus. "Congratulations to the class of COVID-19. I'm so honored to be your validictator," says Baldwin as Trump.

"There are so many exciting new jobs out there, like grocery store bouncer, cam girl, porch pirate, amateur nurse, and coal," he says.


Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

And a belated Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there! Hope you were all spoiled with lots of love yesterday - even if from afar.

Please send me any comments or questions you have on the newsletter: petra@nbcuni.com

And if you'd like to receive this newsletter Monday to Friday, please sign-up here.

Be safe and stay healthy, Petra Cahill