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Key Trump coronavirus task force must work remotely after positive COVID-19 test

The positive test for the coronavirus, announced in an email to Federal Emergency Management Agency staff Monday night, will empty the supply chain war room.
Image: Workers clean the podium before a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 1, 2020.
Workers clean the podium before a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.Oliver Contreras / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

A critical White House unit that is getting, shipping and distributing goods to fight the spread of the coronavirus has been ordered to vacate its war room and begin working remotely after a "partner" of the group tested positive for COVID-19, according to an email the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent to staff members late Monday.

"Until further notice, all personnel in the Supply Chain Resilience task force" on a particular floor of one of FEMA's buildings "and the FEMA Conference Center are required to telework," according to an email obtained by NBC News and confirmed by a FEMA official. The message was sent to FEMA headquarters staff at 11:17 p.m. ET Monday.

The "Conference Center" is a war room set up in the FEMA complex in Washington where Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk's supply chain unit, a sub-task force within Vice President Mike Pence's larger task force that has gotten particular attention from presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, works to find and allocate personal protective equipment and other materials to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Polowczyk and members of his unit were listed as recipients of the email.

It was not immediately clear what effect the new teleworking situation would have on the work of the task force, which has been highly visible thanks to Polowczyk's appearances at daily White House briefings.

It has also been highly controversial. One reason is the involvement of Kushner, who is simultaneously deeply engaged in President Donald Trump's re-election campaign. The task force has also drawn criticism for circumventing federal procedures and structures in ways that critics say have created delays, inefficiencies and cost increases in acquiring goods for the coronavirus fight.

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Before Monday night's email, the task force members were working together in the conference center war room rather than from separate locations.

A FEMA spokesperson told NBC News that after conducting "contact tracing" in recent days, FEMA concluded that "at no time" did the person who tested positive "or any other known to have contact with them, come within six feet of any other Task Force principal for a prolonged period of time."

In addition, the spokesperson said that "all areas visited by Task Force members were disinfected prior to their visits" and that "FEMA will facilitate cleaning to ensure that the potentially affected workspace meets federal health and safety standards."

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The closure of two locations within the FEMA complex indicates that the "partner" who tested positive — partner is a term used for someone who normally does not work for the agency — was in both places, according to the FEMA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.

The supply chain group is "not the first task force" to get a stay-at-home order, this person said, adding: "We've had numerous people test positive. ... Sometimes they're telling us, sometimes they're not."