Mike Pence to maintain travel despite contact with infected aides
(AP): US Vice President Mike Pence plans to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week despite an apparent outbreak of COVID-19 among his senior aides, the White House says.
Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and “a couple of key staff surrounding the vice president” have tested positive for the virus, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday.
The vice president, who along with his wife, Karen, tested negative, according to his office, is considered a “close contact” of the aides under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria, but will not quarantine, his spokesman said.
Devin O’Malley said Pence decided to maintain his travel schedule “in consultation with the White House Medical Unit” and “in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.” Those guidelines require that essential workers exposed to someone with COVID-19 closely monitor for symptoms of the disease and wear a mask whenever around other people.
O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen, both tested negative yesterday “and remain in good health.”
President Donald Trump commented on Short this morning, 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 yesterday, 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.
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