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Infection of Pence Aides Raises New Questions About Trump’s Virus Response

WASHINGTON — “Covid, Covid. Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” President Trump groused at a rally in North Carolina on Saturday, expressing dismay that the lethal coronavirus pandemic had come to dominate the ultimate days of his struggling re-election marketing campaign. He made up a state of affairs: “A plane goes down, 500 people dead, they don’t talk about it. ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.’”

But simply seven hours later, the White House made its personal Covid headlines when officers acknowledged that one other coronavirus outbreak had struck the White House, infecting Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and four other top aides — and elevating new questions concerning the Trump administration’s cavalier strategy to the worst well being disaster in a century.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of employees, stated on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, basically providing a verbal shrug in response to any effort to stop an outbreak within the prime echelon of the nation’s leaders. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations, because it is a contagious virus — just like the flu.”

Mr. Trump made no reference to the brand new instances throughout marketing campaign rallies in New Hampshire and Maine on Sunday. But for voters, the brand new wave of infections on the White House simply over every week earlier than Election Day was a visceral reminder of the president’s dismissive and erratic dealing with of the virus, even in one of the crucial safe areas within the nation. And it comes simply because the United States suffers its third surge in infections throughout the nation, with a record number of daily new cases on Friday and a death toll that has risen to almost 225,000.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, stated Sunday that the assertion by Mr. Meadows was “an acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

“It’s sadly no surprise then that this virus continues to rage unchecked across the country and even in the White House itself,” stated the previous vice chairman, who has sought to make the administration’s dealing with of the coronavirus the centerpiece of his marketing campaign.

From the start, Mr. Trump has downplayed the specter of the virus, initially insisting that it will simply “go away” and failing to ramp up testing which may have helped sluggish its unfold. Mr. Trump clashed along with his personal scientists, pressuring officers on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to vary their restrictive suggestions about how and when to reopen companies and faculties.

The president organized his pandemic response round his political ideology, warring with “blue state” governors whereas praising the hands-off strategy of Republican leaders. And he publicly sided with folks annoyed with restrictions and shutdowns, demanding on Twitter that the governor of Michigan, amongst others, “liberate” her state.

Mr. Trump turned masks carrying and different preventive measures into political loyalty checks, dismissing the essential significance of social distancing and pinning his hopes on Operation Warp Speed, a plan to speed up growth and distribution of a vaccine that has proven promise, however that scientists have insisted was by no means going to be fast or straightforward.

The president and his aides have taken the identical strategy contained in the White House. They have declined to comply with quarantine tips, ignored warnings from medical doctors, largely refused to put on masks and, within the case of the president, mocked reporters who did as not too long ago as Friday within the Oval Office.

Keep up with Election 2020

“The White House has had very loose rules about protecting the workers and leadership,” stated Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “They’ve had one large outbreak, and it was very clear that they didn’t learn from that outbreak and so these are going to continue.”

The president and vice chairman have largely stayed in messaging lock step because the pandemic unfolded. Mr. Trump has minimized it from the start, and used his personal an infection and hospitalization as a means of doubling down, telling Americans after his therapy with experimental medication, “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” and urging them to not “let it dominate your life.” He stated throughout his second debate with Mr. Biden final week that the nation was “learning to live” with it.

As the chief of the White House virus activity drive, Mr. Pence has parroted the president’s rosy outlook, even mimicking Mr. Trump’s aversion to masks by refusing to put on one throughout a go to to a hospital in April.

Over the previous a number of months, Mr. Pence stood by because the White House sidelined Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s prime infectious illness specialist, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the duty drive coordinator, and as an alternative embraced Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a radiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, who has advocated a largely hands-off strategy by the federal authorities to stopping the pandemic.

Mr. Pence examined destructive for the virus on Sunday, and stated he wouldn’t quarantine after his publicity to contaminated aides, who embrace Marc Short, his chief of employees, and Marty Obst, a senior adviser. His spokesman wouldn’t say whether or not Mr. Pence was receiving a number of the medication Mr. Trump was given, together with an experimental cocktail of antibodies by the pharmaceutical firm Regeneron, as a safety measure.

In an announcement, the White House deemed the vice chairman “essential” and stated he would follow his marketing campaign schedule. That included an handle on Sunday night to supporters in Kinston, N.C., the place Mr. Pence made no reference to the instances that had infiltrated his employees and as an alternative defended the administration’s coronavirus response because the “greatest national mobilization since World War II.”

But a number of White House aides and officers on his marketing campaign stated privately that Mr. Pence ought to keep off the marketing campaign path, and as an alternative host digital occasions and cellphone calls to show that the vice chairman and his aides had been taking the outbreak of their ranks severely.

Others stated that the most recent outbreak can be within the information both means, and that deploying Mr. Pence to a state like North Carolina, the place marketing campaign aides suppose the race will come right down to fewer than 100,000 votes, was essential within the closing days.

But the choice to proceed Mr. Pence’s schedule risked making the outbreak in his ranks a much bigger story than if he pulled again from the marketing campaign path.

Robert C. O’Brien, the president’s nationwide safety adviser, defended Mr. Pence’s resolution to take care of his marketing campaign schedule, whilst he acknowledged that the virus was “ripping through this country.” He cited the C.D.C.’s tips that permit important personnel to proceed working.

“Essential workers going out and campaigning and voting are about as essential as things we can do as Americans,” Mr. O’Brien stated.

Those guidelines, issued in April and up to date in September, had been developed to make sure that “people who are helping us keep the lights on and the water running can do their jobs,” stated one federal well being official who participated in drafting them. And whereas Mr. Pence has so far examined destructive, well being specialists denounced his resolution to proceed touring to marketing campaign stops across the nation.

“The idea that you can just be declared an essential worker without being quarantined undermines the whole concept of quarantine,” stated Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the C.D.C. below President Barack Obama.

On the marketing campaign path, blaming the information media for masking the virus incessantly has develop into a inventory a part of Mr. Trump’s rally efficiency — an indication he’s interesting to voters by leaning into the nation’s common virus fatigue. The president has repeatedly stated the nation is “rounding the corner” within the battle in opposition to the virus — whilst all proof is on the contrary.

The president’s evaluation stood in stark distinction to extra aggressive steerage from Dr. Fauci, who stated in an interview Sunday that the nation ought to think about mandating using masks — one thing Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to contemplate — as a result of “the universal wearing of masks” is crucial to curbing the unfold of the lethal virus.

“It would be optimal if this could be accomplished without resorting to a mask mandate,” Dr. Fauci stated, repeating feedback he first made late final week. “However, if the situation continues to deteriorate regarding numbers of cases, hospitalizations and likely deaths while many people still refuse to wear masks, we should seriously consider mask mandates.”

The outbreak within the vice chairman’s workplace is the third to strike the White House, following a small outbreak in May that included Mr. Pence’s spokeswoman and a bigger explosion of infection in late September after a Rose Garden ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

The newest one started late final week, when Mr. Obst fell ailing. Once that occurred, individuals who had been involved with him went into quarantine and speak to tracing measures had been employed, in line with a senior administration official. But throughout that interval, two different prime aides to Mr. Pence examined constructive for the virus. Officials within the vice chairman’s workplace didn’t make it public on the time.

Then on Saturday, each Mr. Short and Zach Bauer, Mr. Pence’s private aide, examined constructive, two senior administration officers stated. Two officers conversant in the occasions stated Mr. Short needed White House medical doctors to difficulty an announcement about his prognosis, including that Mr. Pence had examined destructive.

But Mr. Meadows didn’t need the knowledge changing into public on Saturday, the officers stated. He pressed the White House medical workplace to not launch an announcement, and urged the vice chairman’s employees to not publicly reveal the diagnoses, the officers stated. Several folks stated they believed Mr. Meadows was making an attempt to maintain the state of affairs from changing into public so near Election Day. Mr. Meadows has indicated to folks that he was doing what the president needed.

A senior administration official stated that Mr. Meadows was not making an attempt to stop the outbreak from changing into public, however as an alternative that he thought the White House medical workplace mustn’t difficulty the assertion and needed the vice chairman’s workplace to have interaction involved tracing earlier than placing out an announcement. After the Rose Garden ceremony final month, the White House made little effort to trace the unfold of the virus.

Across the White House complicated, there was a mix of hysteria about what the outbreak means for the election, and intense frustration with Mr. Short, who has been among the many leaders within the administration in arguing the dangers of the virus have been overblown.

Mr. Short has additionally performed down the worth of masks carrying, administration officers stated. Mr. Short was anticipated to remain residence for at the very least 10 days.

Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, stated he gave the vice chairman’s workplace credit score for acknowledging that Mr. Short was sick, and took no difficulty with Mr. Pence being out on the path.

“I don’t think they should overdramatize this,” Mr. Cole stated. “It is near the end of a campaign. I’m sure all these things are weighed carefully by a presidential campaign. I guess you could call it either way, but if I were in a similar situation I’d be doing a similar thing to what Vice President Pence is doing.”

Asked by reporters on Sunday whether or not Mr. Pence ought to come off the marketing campaign path, Mr. Trump stated that “you’ll have to ask him” and bragged concerning the measurement of the vice chairman’s rally crowds, saying that they had been socially distanced.

The solely individual within the president’s orbit whose personal expertise with the virus appeared to have altered his pondering is Chris Christie, the previous New Jersey governor, who was hospitalized after testing constructive and now urges Americans to put on masks and apply social distancing.

“These minor inconveniences can save your life, your neighbors and the economy,” he wrote final week in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. “Seldom has so little been requested for a lot profit. Yet the message can be broadly heeded solely whether it is persistently and actually delivered by the media, spiritual leaders, sports activities figures and public servants.

“Those in positions of authority,” he stated — with out immediately mentioning Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence — “have a duty to get the message out.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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