Coronavirus US: White House chief of staff says ‘We’re not going to control the pandemic’

Robert Delaney
·4-min read

One of President Donald Trump’s top White House officials said on Sunday that the US government will not bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control, comments underscored by an outbreak among aides to Vice-President Mike Pence, who continues to attend election campaign events even as cases surge across the country.

“We‘re not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines therapeutics, and other mitigation areas,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in a CNN interview, adding that the Trump administration will not be able to contain the illness “because it is a contagious virus just like the flu”.

“When we look at the number of cases increasing, what we have to do is make sure that we fight it with therapeutics and vaccines, take proper mitigation factors in terms of social distancing and masks when we can. And when we, when we look at this ... we’re going to defeat it because what we are, we’re Americans and we do that.”

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Asked why Pence is attending rallies and not quarantining after the vice-president’s chief of staff Marc Short and at least four more aides or advisers to Trump’s deputy tested positive, Meadows argued that as an “essential” worker Pence is allowed to attend public events as long as he practices social distancing and wears a mask.

US President Donald Trump ata campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Londonderry, New Hampshire on Sunday. Photo: AFP
US President Donald Trump ata campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Londonderry, New Hampshire on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Guidelines set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s call for essential workers who have had close contact with an infected person to wear a mask for 14 days “at all times while in the workplace”. Pence, who continues to fly on Air Force Two for more campaign events in US swing states, did not wear a mask at an outdoor rally he held in Tallahassee, Florida, on Saturday.

Pence’s spokesman Devin O’Malley told White House reporters on Sunday that both the vice-president and second lady Karen Pence had tested negative.

US reports 88,973 new virus infections, another daily record

Short’s diagnosis was confirmed on Saturday and Meadows had sought to keep news of the outbreak from becoming public, The New York Times reported, citing sources familiar with the situation.

Meadows defended limitations on information about infections among those in Pence’s orbit, saying in the CNN interview that “sharing personal information is not something that we should do, not something that we do actually 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”.

The US recorded 84,000 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the second-highest daily count, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country set a single-day record of more than 85,000 confirmed cases on Friday. As of Sunday, US health authorities have reported at least 8.5 million total cases and a minimum of 224,800 deaths from the virus.

US presidential challenger Joe Biden immediately seized on Meadows’ comment as he again hammered the administration over the virus.

“It was a candid acknowledgement 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,” the former vice president said in a statement. “It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

The outbreak among those in close contact with Pence, also including Marty Obst, a campaign adviser who is not an administration employee, comes just weeks after an earlier outbreak that infected Trump himself and more that two dozen White House aides and staff members including senior advisers Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks.

The first White House outbreak was tied to a September 26 introduction ceremony for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, where few of those present wore masks. Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, called that function, held in the White House rose garden, a “superspreader event”.

Pence was expected to hold a rally on Sunday afternoon in North Carolina and to travel to Minnesota on Monday and then back to North Carolina oagain on Tuesday.

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