The coronavirus has reached into the heart of the White House once more, less than a week before Election Day, as it scorches the nation and the president’s top aide says “we’re not going to control the pandemic.” Officials on Sunday scoffed at the notion of dialing back in-person campaigning despite positive tests from several aides to Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, pressed to explain why the pandemic cannot be reined in, said, “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” He told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the government was focused on getting effective therapeutics and vaccines to market.
The U.S. set a daily record Friday for new confirmed coronavirus infections and nearly matched it Saturday with 83,178, data published by Johns Hopkins University shows. Close to 8.6 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and about 225,000 have died; both totals are the world’s highest.
Entering the final full week before the Nov. 3 election, it’s clear the Trump team remains committed to full-throttle campaigning. Trump himself has resumed a hectic schedule since recovering from his own recent coronavirus case. Pence has trips set to Minnesota on Monday and North Carolina again on Tuesday.
Despite the rising virus numbers, the White House says the U.S. economy needs to fully reopen and it has tried to counter Biden’s criticism that Trump is not doing enough to contain the worst U.S. public health crisis in more than a century.
Biden has said he would only shut down the country if that is what government scientists advise. He has said that if elected he would make the case for why a national mask mandate might be necessary and would go to the governors to help increase Americans’ mask-wearing.
Pence’s office says there are no plans to curtail campaigning. In addition to chief of staff Marc Short, who tested positive Saturday, a “couple” other aides also have also contracted the disease, Meadows said.
Even with Pence’s latest negative test, symptoms, including fever, cough and fatigue, may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some asymptomatic individuals test positive two to three days before developing symptoms.
Meadows sidestepped questions about whether Pence’s campaigning fit into the spirit of the CDC’s guidelines for essential work. “He’s not just campaigning, he’s working,” Meadows said.