Pence to continue campaigning after ‘close contact’ staff contract coronavirus
Multiple senior aides to the vice president have recently tested positive for COVID-19
While a number of people in Mike Pence‘s inner circle recently tested positive for COVID-19, the vice president reportedly has no plans to cancel his scheduled campaign events with the General Election drawing within a week away.
Pence apparently does not plan to self-quarantine to be sure not to spread coronavirus under the guise of being an essential worker, should he have unknowingly contracted the virus from one of his staff members. He and his wife, Karen Pence, tested negative on Saturday and Sunday, as reported by The New York Times.
According to spokesman Devin O’Malley, Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short tested positive for the disease on Saturday. In addition to Short, four other members of his staff have also contracted the virus that has caused a global pandemic. Marty Obst, one of Pence’s advisors, also tested positive earlier this week, a person familiar with the matter said.
“While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the vice president will maintain his schedule in accordance with the C.D.C. guidelines for essential personnel,” O’Malley stated.
Pence, under his role as second in command to President Donald Trump, is in charge of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Despite these positive tests affecting people so near to him, Pence is choosing to continue traveling around the nation under his separate capacity as a vice presidential candidate and surrogate for the Trump reelection campaign, less than 10 days out from the Nov. 3 election. This comes weeks after Trump and First Lady Melania Trump contracted coronavirus earlier this month. The disease hospitalized the president for days.
Since the President’s diagnosis, it was reported that several other members of the Administration had contracted COVID-19. This includes former political advisor Kellyanne Conway, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, policy advisor Stephen Miller and campaign manager Bill Stepien.
Questions surrounding the safety protocols at the White House concerning coronavirus have been raised heavily since it penetrated to heavily weeks ago. President Trump has also returned to holding public campaign rallies, and the Washington Post reported that during the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden, guests of Trump opted not to wear masks during the broadcast.
Pence plans to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week despite an apparent outbreak of the coronavirus among his senior aides, the White House says. O’Malley said the vice president and his wife “remain in good health.”
Trump commented on Short early Sunday after his plane landed at Joint Base Andrews, outside Washington.
“I did hear about it just now,” he said. “And I think he’s quarantining. Yeah. I did hear about it. He’s going to be fine. But he’s quarantining.”
Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, called Pence’s decision to travel “grossly negligent” regardless of the stated justification that Pence is an essential worker.
“It’s just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response,” she said. “I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally” and the people on Pence’s own staff who will accompany him.
“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” she added. “Campaign events are not essential.”
After a day of campaigning in Florida on Saturday, Pence was seen wearing a mask as he returned to Washington aboard Air Force Two shortly after the news of Short’s diagnosis was made public. He is scheduled to hold a rally on Sunday afternoon in Kinston, NC.
Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force since late February, has repeatedly found himself in an uncomfortable position balancing political concerns with the administration’s handling the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans. The vice president has advocated mask-wearing and social distancing, but often does not wear one himself and holds large political events where many people do not wear face-coverings.
By virtue of his position as vice president, Pence is considered an essential worker. The White House did not address how Pence’s political activities amounted to essential work.
Pence’s handling of his exposure to a confirmed positive case stands in contrast to how Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris responded when a close aide and a member of her campaign plane’s charter crew tested positive for the virus earlier this month. She took several days off the campaign trail citing her desire to act out of an abundance of caution.
— The Associated Press’ Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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