'Grossly negligent': Critics pile on Pence decision to keep campaigning despite COVID exposure

'Grossly negligent': Critics pile on Pence decision to keep campaigning despite COVID exposure
Photo via Gage Skidmore.

Despite being considered a close contact with a top aide who tested positive for Covid-19 and began quarantining on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence is still planning to maintain his travel and campaign schedule with the November election just over a week away—a decision medical experts denounced as potentially dangerous for Pence, those accompanying him, and the public.

The White House announced Saturday that Pence Chief of Staff Marc Short and at least three additional members of the vice president's staff have tested positive for Covid-19, another outbreak within the Trump administration that comes weeks after the president, one of his top aides, and his press secretary contracted the virus. Two unnamed officials briefed on the matter told the New York Times that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows attempted to keep news of the latest outbreak from going public.

Pence spokesperson Devin O'Malley said that both the vice president and his wife tested negative for Covid-19 on Saturday and "remain in good health."

"I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally. He needs to be staying home 14 days. Campaign events are not essential."
—Saskia Popescu, George Mason University

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend that those who come into close contact with someone infected by the coronavirus "should stay home for 14 days... even if you test negative for Covid-19 or feel healthy."

To justify keeping up the vice president's travel plans—which are set to take him to North Carolina and Minnesota on Sunday following two stops in Florida on Saturday—Pence's communications team pointed to the CDC's guidelines for essential personnel.

"Critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to Covid-19," the guidelines state, "provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community."

But public health experts rejected the notion that Pence's campaigning amounts to essential activity. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, called Pence's decision to maintain his aggressive travel schedule "grossly negligent."

"It's just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response," Popescu told the Associated Press. "I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally... He needs to be staying home 14 days. Campaign events are not essential."

Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, also voiced alarm at Pence's decision to keep campaigning despite close exposure to a virus that has killed nearly 225,000 people in the U.S. and continues to spread nationwide.

"Pence tested negative but that doesn't immediately mean anything," Feigl-Ding noted. "Both [Stephen] Miller and [Kayleigh] McEnany tested negative for 4-5 consecutive days before testing Covid-19 positive on the final day. Early infection [is] not always detectable, but it's still maybe infectious."

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