Mike Pence's continued campaigning questioned following exposure to Covid

25 October 2020, 23:00 | Updated: 25 October 2020, 23:13

Mike Pence's decision not to self-isolate after being exposed to coronavirus has been questioned by health experts
Mike Pence's decision not to self-isolate after being exposed to coronavirus has been questioned by health experts. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Health experts have questioned the continued campaigning of Vice President Mike Pence after him being exposed to coronavirus.

A claim by White House officials that government rules on essential workers allow the politician to continue campaigning and not enter self-isolation has been queried by health policy specialists.

It comes after an aide for Mr Pence said on Sunday that the 61-year-old will continue to work and travel despite his chief of staff, Marc Short, and other close contacts testing positive for Covid-19.

The vice president tested negative for the virus on Sunday and chose to keep up campaigning after consulting White House medical personnel.

However, the health experts said campaigning is not an official duty covered by guidelines that ensure police officers, first responders and key transport and food workers can still perform jobs that cannot be done from home.

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Mr Short, who tested positive for the virus on Saturday, is quarantining, according to President Donald Trump, which usually means self-isolating for 14 days in case an infection is developing.

However, Mr Pence, who had been in contact with his chief of staff, held a rally in North Carolina on Sunday and is set to hold another in Minnesota on Monday, plus three events in North Carolina and South Carolina on Tuesday.

On Sunday, National Security adviser Robert O'Brien told reporters Mr Pence "is following all the rules" from government health officials.

He called Mr Pence "an essential worker" and said "essential workers going out and campaigning and voting are about as essential as things we can do as Americans".

But guidelines from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) do not list campaigning as a reason for an exemption from quarantining.

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The Department of Homeland Security states 16 categories of critical infrastructure workers, including those at military bases, nuclear power sites, courthouses and public works facilities like dams and water plants.

Dr Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University and a former Maryland state health department chief, said: "I don't see campaigning on the list.

"Anything that does not have to be done in person and anything not related to his job as vice-president would not be considered essential."

Dr Thomas Tsai, a health policy specialist at Harvard University, agreed, saying that helping to maintain the function of the executive branch of government could be considered critical work but "we've always historically separated campaigning from official duties".

Mr Pence also serves as president of the Senate, a largely ceremonial role outlined in the constitution but one that stands to come into focus on Monday evening.

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The Senate is expected to vote to confirm Mr Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Mr Pence's vote is unlikely to be needed to break a tie but his presence was expected for the vote.

If his official work as vice president is considered essential, the CDC guidelines say he should be closely monitored for Covid-19 symptoms, stay at least two metres from others and wear a mask "at all times while in the workplace".

Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University school of law, said the 61-year-old's intention to continue campaigning flouts the spirit of the CDC guidelines.

Mr Sharfstein said Mr Pence "could be putting people at risk" because he is at high risk of becoming infected.

"He should quarantine in order to protect other people," he added.

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