WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence plans to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week despite his exposure to a top aide who tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House said Saturday.
Pence himself tested negative, his office said. Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, the vice president is considered a “close contact” of his chief of staff, Marc Short, but will not quarantine, said spokesperson Devin O’Malley.
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 the coronavirus closely monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and wear a mask whenever around other people.
O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen, both tested negative on Saturday “and remain in good health.”
President Donald 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, North Carolina.
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 of 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.
Short’s diagnosis comes weeks after the coronavirus spread through the White House, infecting President Donald Trump, the first lady, and two dozen other aides, staffers and allies.
Short, Pence’s top aide and one of his closest confidants, did not travel with the vice president on Saturday.
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.
Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press