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Pence Should Quarantine, Not Debate, Expert Says

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Oct. 7, 2020 — Vice President Mike Pence should be self-quarantining rather than attending tonight’s debate in Salt Lake City with Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, Rochelle Walensky, MD, said during a press briefing held Wednesday by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).

Based on media reporting and TV images from last weekend’s White House event in the Rose Garden, Walensky said it appears Pence was sitting for longer than 15 minutes within 6 feet of people who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. Consequently, she said, he meets the CDC definition for being exposed to the virus.

“Based on that, I think he should follow the CDC guidance to quarantine,” she said. “To quarantine means he’d be at home and not out or about for 14 days after that event, which takes him beyond the vice presidential event tonight.”

Walensky, who is chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, added that by attending the debate, Pence is placing a number of other people at risk.

“For Vice President Pence to get to the debate tonight, there are many people he needs to be in contact with. People who will drive his car, who will fly his plane, who work in hotels — all those people will be exposed, not just Senator Harris. That’s why I find it very important that he follow CDC guidance, ” she said.

In a memo released Tuesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said that after consultation with White House doctor Jesse Schonau, MD, the agency decided that “the vice president is not a close contact of any known person with COVID-19, including the president.” Therefore, the memo said, Pence, who tested negative Tuesday for COVID-19, can safely participate in tonight’s debate.

The memo defined close contact as being “within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before illness onset.”

The mostly maskless gathering in the Rose Garden to introduce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett to about 150 attendees is suspected of being responsible for a COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Washington Post.

At last count, at least 14 or 15 people connected to the White House have become infected, Walensky said. All of these people should be in isolation for at least 10 days, she noted, and anybody who came in contact with them should be quarantined for 14 days.

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