UNITED States (U.S.) Vice President Mike Pence planned to press ahead with campaigning, including a trip yesterday to the battleground state of North Carolina after multiple close aides tested positive for the coronavirus, as the pandemic remained front and centre in the presidential race.
With nine days to go before the Nov. 3 election in which Democrat Joe Biden is challenging Republican President Donald Trump, the White House cited Pence’s status as an “essential worker” as justification for his travel despite exposure to his chief of staff, Marc Short, who tested positive on Saturday.
Multiple other senior aides to Pence also tested positive for COVID-19, the White House chief of staff said, as new nationwide infections soared to record numbers in recent days amid a pandemic that has killed 225,000 Americans.
In addition to dominating the campaign policy debate – with Trump insisting the United States is “rounding the turn” on the crisis while Biden has blasted Trump’s disjointed response – the pandemic has changed Americans’ voting habits, with 58.7 million ballots already cast.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters that White House doctors have cleared Pence to travel after Short tested positive. Pence is scheduled to address rallies in Kinston, North Carolina, later yesterday and in Hibbing, Minnesota, today.
While Biden holds a wide lead in national opinion polls, polls show closer contests in those two key states.
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the vice president, said on Saturday that Pence and his wife both had tested negative and that Pence would maintain his schedule “in accordance with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for essential personnel.”
It was the latest reminder of the way that Trump – who was hospitalized for three nights this month after contracting COVID-19 – and those around him have downplayed the advice of public health experts to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines to stem transmission of the virus.
In an appearance on the Bioreports program “State of the Union,” Meadows yesterday cited the “essential personnel” distinction for Pence as justification for the vice president not adhering to CDC guidelines for isolation after potential exposure to an infected person.
Meadows said Pence would continue to campaign and speak at rallies.
“I spoke to the vice president last night at midnight,” Meadows told Bioreports. “And what I can tell you he’s doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing, and when he goes up to speak he will take the mask off and put it back on.”