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Pence won’t isolate after chief of staff, other aides said to contract COVID

US VP won’t change campaigning schedule despite exposure to chief of staff Marc Short; reports say four other officials also have virus

In this file photo taken on March 2, 2020 US Vice President Mike Pence and his chief of staff Mark Short confer during a meeting with the White House Coronavirus Task Force and pharmaceutical executives in Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
In this file photo taken on March 2, 2020 US Vice President Mike Pence and his chief of staff Mark Short confer during a meeting with the White House Coronavirus Task Force and pharmaceutical executives in Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

US Vice President Mike Pence will continue with his aggressive campaign schedule after his chief of staff, Marc Short, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday, a spokesperson said.

Short is one of five Pence aides to test positive in recent days, according to The New York Times.

Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, both tested negative for the virus on Saturday and remain in good health.

Short is Pence’s closest aide and the vice president is considered a “close contact” under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. O’Malley said that “in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.”

Those guidelines mandate that essential workers exposed to someone with the coronavirus closely monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and wear a mask whenever around other people.

In this file photo taken on March 16, 2018 White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short attends a briefing at the White House in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

After a day of campaigning Saturday, Pence was seen wearing a mask as he returned to Washington aboard Air Force Two once the news of Short’s diagnosis was made public.

US media reports said another Pence aide, Marty Obst, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

The New York Times said three other Pence aides, who were not named, had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, based on an unnamed source briefed on the outbreak.

The other sides were not immediately confirmed by Pence’s spokesperson.

Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force since late February, has repeatedly found himself in an uncomfortable position balancing political concerns with the administration’s handling the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans. The vice president has advocated mask-wearing and social distancing, but often does not wear one himself and holds large political events where many people do not wear face-coverings.

By virtue of his position as vice president, Pence is considered an essential worker. The White House did not address how Pence’s political activities amounted to essential work.

Short’s diagnosis comes weeks after the coronavirus spread through the White House, infecting President Donald Trump, the first lady, and two dozen other aides, staffers and allies.

Short, Pence’s top aide and one of his closest confidants, did not travel with the vice president on Saturday.

US Vice President Mike Pence Mike Pence participates in the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Robyn Beck / AFP)

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, called Pence’s decision to travel “grossly negligent” regardless of the stated justification that Pence is an essential worker.

“It’s just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response,” she said. “I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally” and the people on Pence’s own staff who will accompany him.

“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” she added. “Campaign events are not essential.”

Ahead of the November 3 election, Trump at his rallies has repeatedly criticized the news media for focusing on the virus, which has killed about 224,000 people in the United States and more than 1 million across the globe.

COVID-19 cases are spiking again in the United States, days before the presidential election pitting Trump against Joe Biden, with a record of more than 89,000 infections reported on Saturday.

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