Vice President Mike Pence will head to Salt Lake City on Monday afternoon as he prepares for the one and only vice presidential debate with California Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday night.
Which, well, odd, right? Because Pence was a part of the now-infamous Rose Garden announcement of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett last Saturday that now appears to have helped spread the coronavirus through the highest levels of government, with at least eight people who attended the event now positive for coronavirus – including President Donald Trump.
Pence physician Jesse Schonau released a memo on Friday insisting that “Vice President Mike Pence remains in good health and is free to go about his normal activities,” and maintaining that he was not considered a close contact for anyone who tested positive.
That seems to be a bit of a judgment call – and runs very close to contrary to the CDC’s guidance on when a person should self-quarantine. Those rules suggest that a person should quarantine if (among other things): “You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more (or) they sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.”
Now, I suppose that Schonau, with input from Pence, feels like he can say definitively that Pence was never within six feet of someone for more than 15 minutes – either in the Rose Garden last Saturday or in several meetings with Trump over the past week.
But is that truly possible? Like, can Schonau (or Pence) be certain that he was never around anyone who had the virus (even if they weren’t showing symptoms) over the last 10 days?
Yes, Pence has tested negative four times for the virus in recent days – including on Monday. But given the time the virus can take to incubate (two to 14 days, according to the CDC) does it really make sense for Pence to be going about his normal activities at the moment?
It would seem that an abundance of caution is warranted – and maybe even necessary – when you consider that Pence is second in line to be president. And that the current president, at least as of this writing, is hospitalized with a virus that has killed more than 209,000 Americans and sickened more than 7 million.
“The fact that VP Mike Pence is not isolating is a continuity of government nightmare,” tweeted Reid Wilson, who wrote a recent book on the Ebola outbreak and virus policy, on Saturday.
Why is Pence, at best, stretching CDC guidelines when he is, quite literally, one step away from the presidency? While it is quite likely that Pence will remain negative for Covid-19, why take the risk?
The answer, of course, is politics. The election is in 29 days. Trump is not only sidelined at the moment due to the virus but, judging from a series of polls released over the weekend, falling even further behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Simply put: If Pence wants to remain as vice president for the next four years (and in so doing position himself as the early front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination) he badly needs to be out on the campaign trail and, his side hopes, convincingly winning Wednesday night’s debate against Harris.
Trump’s diagnosis doesn’t seem to have changed his campaign’s understanding of the risks their events have posed to their supporters. Jason Miller, a senior campaign adviser to Trump, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera Sunday on “Newsroom” that the campaign will continue to take temperatures and give out hand sanitizer and masks as supporters enter rallies, but he did not detail any other changes like requiring attendees to wear those masks. “We’re not going to hide in fear,” Miller said.
“We’re in a campaign,” Miller said in an appearance Sunday on “Meet The Press.” “We have a month to go. We see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris out there campaigning. Certainly they’re not asking for a remote debate. Vice President Pence is following the debate, for the vice presidential candidates, on Wednesday. He will be hitting the trail … and he’s going to have a very full aggressive schedule as will the first family … (we have) no concerns at all.”
Which, from a political perspective, makes all the sense in the world. But from a public health perspective – and a continuity of government perspective – seems decidedly fraught.
CNN’s Maeve Reston contributed to this analysis.