US vice-president Mike Pence will press ahead with campaigning for Donald Trump’s re-election even after several close aides tested positive for Covid-19 at the weekend.
At least four members of the vice-president’s top team have tested positive for the virus, US media reported on Sunday morning, raising concerns about whether the White House will be grappling with another outbreak of Covid-19 cases with just over one week to go until election day. Mr Pence chairs the White House coronavirus task force.
The reports come as several states contend with rises in Covid-19 cases.
The US reported 82,668 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Several states posted record one-day increases in Covid-19 infections on Friday, including the critical swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
More than 216,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.
Mr Trump, his wife, Melania, and several White House staffers and top Trump campaign advisers tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month. Most of them, including Mr Trump, campaign manager Bill Stepien and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany have since recovered and returned to work.
But Devin O’Malley, the vice-president’s press secretary, said late on Saturday that Marc Short, the vice-president’s chief of staff, had tested positive for Covid-19 and had started quarantining. The New York Times later reported that at least three more people in the vice-president’s inner circle had tested positive for the virus. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr O’Malley said the vice-president and his wife, Karen Pence, had both tested negative for Covid-19 on Saturday, “remain in good health” and would continue with planned campaign travel. The vice-president is expected to visit North Carolina, a battleground state where Mr Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are neck-in-neck in the polls, on Sunday.
“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 CDC guidelines for essential personnel,” Mr O’Malley added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “close contact” as being within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, starting from two days before they start feeling ill. CDC guidance recommends anyone in close contact with an infected person self-isolate for two weeks “even if you test negative for Covid-19 or feel healthy”.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Sunday morning that the vice-president had been “cleared by the doctors to travel”.
When asked whether he was worried about Mr Pence getting sick, Mr Meadows replied: “Obviously, I am worried about everybody being affected, not just the VP.”
Mr Meadows told CNN: “We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”
When pressed on why the US could not control the pandemic, Mr Meadows replied: “Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu.”
With just nine days to go until election day, Mr Trump and Mr Pence both have a busy travel schedule as they try to overcome their polling deficit against Mr Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris.
Mr Biden leads Mr Trump in national opinion polls by 8.7 percentage points, according to Financial Times analysis of Real Clear Politics data. He is also polling ahead in several swing states that are key to winning the electoral college.
Mr Biden, the former vice-president, has sought to frame November’s election in part as a referendum on the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Trump on Saturday insisted the US was “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.