In the midst of what appears to be the third coronavirus outbreak inside the White House, at least five members of Vice-President Mike Pence’s staff have tested positive for the virus in the last week. Due to the close nature of Pence’s working relationship with two of his COVID-positive aides — his body man and his chief of staff — Centers for Disease Control guidelines require him to quarantine to reduce the risk of asymptomatic spread of the virus, even though he has tested negative so far.
But the vice-president and head of the kook-hijacked White House Coronavirus Task Force has politely declined to self-isolate. On Sunday, Pence’s press secretary Dan O’Malley said that his boss would keep to his commitments “in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel,” which would require him to wear a mask in public and monitor himself closely for COVID-19 symptoms.
While federal guidelines for essential workers include those employed in food and agriculture, transportation, and health care, they do not include campaigning for the president in states in which he is trailing in the polls. Instead of quarantining, Pence traveled to North Carolina to hold a rally on Sunday, with stops planned in Minnesota on Monday and North Carolina again on Tuesday. In his Sunday appearance, he did not wear a mask while onstage making his comments. And though administration officials have publicly encouraged the vice-president’s actions, the New York Times reports that “several White House aides and officials on his campaign said privately that Mr. Pence should stay off the campaign trail, and instead host virtual events and phone calls to demonstrate that the vice president and his aides were taking the outbreak in their ranks seriously.”
“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, told the Associated Press. “Campaign events are not essential.” Popescu also called the decision to travel “grossly negligent” and “an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response.”
Considering the COVID crisis in the White House earlier this month, one might assume that administration officials who are frequently indoors with their co-workers might want to play another outbreak more conservatively. Three weeks ago, Kayleigh McEnany tested positive days after the early cases of Hope Hicks and President Trump, a period in which the press secretary did not wear a mask in public and may have been spreading the virus asymptomatically. And by touring swing states crucial to a Trump win on the hopes of an early negative test, the White House is again willfully misunderstanding how COVID tests work. “Pence’s negative test does not mean he is virus-free,” tweeted American Federation of Scientists president Dr. Ali Nouri. “Even gold standard PCR tests don’t detect the virus in early stages when levels are low.” Nouri added that treating a negative test after a known exposure as a clean bill of health can “provide a false sense of comfort and let people drop their guard.”
But mitigation of a virus that has killed over 225,000 Americans appears to no longer be a priority for the Trump administration. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on CNN’s State of the Union that “we’re not going to control the pandemic.” The callousness of his statement aside, this does not appear to be an instance in which there is value in practicing what you preach.