Washington, Oct 25 (efe-epa).- The new outbreak of Covid-19 in the White House has now affected five people around Vice President Mike Pence, but his office says he is planning to maintain his election campaign travel plans, a decision that has sparked controversy around the country.
Besides Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and his political advisor, Marty Obst, whose positive coronavirus tests were confirmed Saturday evening by official sources, at least three other people in the VP’s office have tested positive for the sometimes deadly and highly transmissible disease, as reported Sunday by The New York Times and CNN.
Pence tested negative for Covid-19 on Saturday along with his wife Karen, but he is planning to continue with his campaign travels nine days before the presidential election, including a trip on Sunday to North Carolina and another on Monday to Minnesota, his office said.
That decision was made despite the fact that Pence has been in close contact with his chief of staff and last week traveled with Obst to participate on Oct. 15 in a fundraising event in Florida that was also attended by President Donald Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Sunday defended Pence’s decision to adhere to his campaign travel schedule by saying that the vice president is “essential personnel,” and – as such – exempt from the guidelines issued by the country’s health experts, and thus he must continue with his activities, including campaigning.
When CNN noted to Meadows that Pence “should quarantine for 14 days,” Meadows replied, “He’s not just campaigning. He’s working,” and thus he could continue with his activities.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say that essential workers are permitted to work after exposure to someone who tested positive for Covid-19 if they abide by guidelines such as wearing a facemask, social distancing and being regularly monitored for symptoms.
The White House chief of staff said Pence was wearing a mask and was social distancing.
Meadows went on to say that the administration was “not going to control the pandemic, we are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations,” and when asked by CNN why the government was not going to try and get control of the pandemic, the White House chief of staff responded: “Because it is a contagious virus.”
The official went on to say that the country is “making efforts to contain it,” adding that “What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die from this.”
Meadows and Pence’s office said that the White House medical unit had given the “green light” to the VP to continue with his campaign trips, but no doctor at the presidential residence so far has confirmed that assertion.
According to The New York Times, Meadows on Saturday tried to keep secret the information about the positive Covid tests in Pence’s office, and he justified his position on Sunday by saying: “When we actually have people’s health at risk, sharing personal information is not something that we should do, not something that we do actually do, unless it’s the vice president or the president or someone that’s very close to them where there’s people in harm’s way.”
Apart from Short and Obst, the other three people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in Pence’s office have not been publicly identified, and CNN reported that the rest of the vice president’s advisors are afraid of being exposed.
This is the second outbreak of Covid-19 in the White House in the past month, after in early October almost 30 people tested positive for the virus, including Trump – who received three days of treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – first lady Melania Trump, several senators and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
The White House barely made any changes to its protocols to deal with the pandemic after the incident and Trump and Pence immediately resumed their campaign rallies with hundreds, if not thousands, of people in attendance, where there was no social distancing and hardly anyone used facemasks.
According to figures compiled by The Johns Hopkins University, 83,178 confirmed Covid-19 cases were registered on Saturday and more than 85,000 have been registered within the past 24 hours, these figures breaking previous daily records while President Donald Trump continues to claim that the US is “rounding the corner” on the pandemic and that it is “stupid” to keep doing so many Covid-19 tests because it gives the media “something to talk about.”
Almost 8.6 million Americans have become infected with the disease since the start of the pandemic and on Sunday the country exceeded 225,000 deaths from the virus, more than any other country.