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White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that the Trump administration is “not going to control the pandemic” as cases surge across the country.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he said the focus is on controlling “the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”
When pressed on why the pandemic can’t be contained, Meadows said the coronavirus is “a contagious virus just like the flu.” He emphasized strategies such as vaccines, therapies and treatment to “make sure that people don’t die from this” and added that the Trump administration is “making efforts” to contain the virus.
Meadows appeared on the show after several members of Vice President Mike Pence’s inner circle tested positive for the coronavirus last week, including Marc Short, the vice president’s chief of staff.
The U.S. also reported its second-highest day of new cases on Saturday, with more than 78,000 daily cases, following a record-breaking tally of nearly 85,000 cases on Friday. As of Monday morning, the U.S. has reported more than 8.6 million cases and more than 225,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In the final week leading up to the election, public health officials have voiced concerns about Pence testing positive after being in close contact with his advisors who contracted the coronavirus.
Short received a positive result on Saturday, according to The New York Times, and other aides received their results earlier this week but didn’t share details with the public. Pence will continue his normal campaign activities, Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for Pence, told the newspaper.
“Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence both tested negative for Covid-19 today, and remain in good health,” he said. “While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the vice president will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.”
Marty Obst, a Pence adviser, tested positive earlier in the week, according to Bloomberg News. Short and Obst have developed mild symptoms of COVID-19.
“I am doing OK,” Short told CNN on Sunday evening. “Hard to know if the symptoms are COVID-related or four years of working at the White House. Symptoms are mild.”
Zach Bauer, a close aide who serves as Pence’s bodyguard, also tested positive on Saturday, CNN reported. Bauer hadn’t been in the office since Tuesday, when he decided to quarantine after coming into contact with Obst.
Two additional staff members may have tested positive, the news outlets reported, but spokespeople haven’t confirmed the details.
“Sharing personal information is not something that we should do, unless it’s the vice president or the president or someone that’s very close to them, where there’s people in harm’s way,” Meadows said on Sunday.
The development raises questions about White House policy on coronavirus safety measures, particularly since Pence is head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The administration declined to conduct contact tracing among guests at the Sept. 26 Rose Garden celebration for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, which was linked to an outbreak of two dozen cases.
Meadows said that Pence will continue his work on the campaign trail this week because he is “essential personnel.”
“He’s not just campaigning. He’s working,” Meadows said. “I’m not saying he is not campaigning. I’m saying that is only part of what he is doing and as we look at that, ‘essential personnel,’ whether it’s the vice president of the United States or anyone else, has to continue on.”
Pence traveled to Florida on Saturday and North Carolina on Sunday to participate in campaign rallies. He’s expected to campaign each day until Election Day and will make appearances in Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina and the Midwest throughout the week.
“I spoke to the vice president last night at midnight, and I can tell you that what he is doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing, and when he goes up to speak, he will take the mask off and put it back on,” Meadows said. “He is wearing a mask as it relates to this particular thing because the doctors have advised him to do that.”
After Meadows’ conversation on Sunday, public health officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle responded to the idea that the Trump administration has given up on controlling the pandemic. At campaign rallies during the weekend, Trump repeated his frequent statements that the U.S. is “rounding the corner” on the coronavirus and that “it’s going away.”
“I don’t know exactly what [Meadows] meant by that statement. I do think we have some control,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune told reporters later on Sunday, according to CNN.
He emphasized that leaders have a responsibility to take actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We all have control, and we all have responsibility as leaders to set an example that consists of doing the right thing to stop the spread,” he said. “That is encouraging wearing a mask and encouraging social distancing. We all know that stops the spread. Science proves that.”
CNN, “State of the Union transcript, October 25, 2020.”
Johns Hopkins University, “COVID-19 Dashboard.”
New York Times, “Members of Pence’s Inner Circle Test Positive for Coronavirus.”
Bloomberg News, “‘We’re Not Going to Control Pandemic’: Trump Chief of Staff.”
CNN, “White House chief of staff: ‘We are not going to control the pandemic.’ ”