‘They’re scared’: New White House Covid outbreak has staff rattled

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·5-min read

Coronavirus troubles at the White House are far from over with at least five people closely linked to US Vice President Mike Pence testing positive.

The VP’s chief of staff Marc Short tested positive on Saturday (local time) as well as another senior aide and unofficial adviser.

Three staffer’s in Mr Pence’s office have reportedly tested positive for Covid-19 with concerns that others will follow in the coming days, CNN reported.

“They're scared,” an anonymous source told the network referring to White House staff, as the latest batch of cases highlights the Trump administration’s cavalier approach to the virus.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence seen at the White House.
Staff and advisors to vice president Mike Pence are the latest in the White House to test positive. Source: Getty

Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the country’s coronavirus task force, and second lady Karen Pence each tested negative for coronavirus on Sunday, according to the White House.

Despite the outbreak, the White House said the vice president would press ahead with campaigning, visiting North Carolina on Sunday and Minnesota on Monday.

With just over a week until election day, a report by The New York Times alleges that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sought to prevent news of the latest cases from being made public by urging White House doctors and staff to remain silent at the behest of the president.

The new infections offered a reminder of the way Mr Trump – who was hospitalised for three nights this month after contracting COVID-19 – and those around him have downplayed the advice of public health experts to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines.

‘We are not going to control the pandemic’

The cluster among vice presidential staff comes just weeks after what health experts described as a super-spreader event at the White House on September 26 where the president announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

When asked on CNN why Mr Pence was not following guidelines to quarantine for 14 days after such close exposure to a positive case, Mr Meadows cited the vice president’s status as “essential personnel”.

Health experts have slammed the reasoning, and questioned whether political campaigning was an essential service.

Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University’s law school, said the vice president in his decision to forgo quarantine was violating his own task force’s recommendations.

“It’s one standard for the vice president and another for all the rest of us,” he told the Associated Press.

In the same CNN interview, Mr Meadows said: “We are not going to control the pandemic”, and instead claimed the White House was focused on therapies and treatments.

The admission drew a swift response on social media and from Democratic challenger Joe Biden who accused the administration of “waving the white flag of defeat” as the pandemic surges across much of the country.

‘Shambolic’: Trump 60 Minutes interview airs

On Sunday night (local time), the much anticipated 60 Minutes interview went to air in full after the president leaked clips from the televised interview after he grew angry and cut it short.

The segment dove head first into the controversy, delving into the question of why Mr Trump abruptly ended the televised interview.

Journalist Leslie Stahl led off the broadcast saying she had hoped the interview would be “more productive.”

When Mr Trump failed to return, she asked Mr Pence: “What just happened with the president?”

“President Trump is a man who speaks his mind, it’s one of the great strengths that he’s had as president of the United States, that the American people know where they stand,” Mr Pence said in explanation.

On social media, many were critical of the president’s defensive behaviour and his inability to articulate a healthcare plan while others noted the stark comparison the segment showed between Mr Trump and his decidedly calmer opponents who were also interviewed.

“Leslie Stahl just sat back and patiently watched as Trump walked himself into his own political grave. No wonder he’s so pissed. Never seen this level of anger and petulance from anyone,” remarked American actor and comedian Josh Gad, who was among many viewers who reacted online.

with AP

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