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US election 2020: Pence stays campaigning despite aide’s Covid diagnosis

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image captionVice-President Pence leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force

US Vice-President Mike Pence plans to maintain a busy election campaign schedule despite being exposed to a senior aide who has tested positive for Covid-19, his spokesman says.

Donald Trump’s running mate will not self-isolate, although he is a close contact of the VP chief of staff, Marc Short.

Mr Pence and his wife both tested negative on Sunday, his office said.

Covid-19 has become a key battleground ahead of the 3 November election.

About 57 million ballots have already been cast in early voting, a record figure largely spurred by the pandemic.

Mr Trump’s Democratic challenger, former Vice-President Joe Biden, holds an average eight-point lead in national polls. But the race is much closer in several important swing states.

What is happening with Mike Pence?

Mr Pence – who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force – and his wife, Karen, remained “in good health”, his spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement.

“While Vice-President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the vice-president will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines for essential personnel,” he added.

Those measures include regular monitoring for symptoms and mask-wearing. CDC guidelines also state that those who have had close contact with someone who has Covid-19 should self-isolate for 14 days.

image copyrightReuters

image captionMr Pence seen with his chief of staff Marc Short, who has tested positive for Covid-19, in November 2019

Speaking on CNN, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Mr Pence continued to perform “essential” duties as vice-president, but did not explain how his campaign activities could be classified as “essential”.

Mr Pence was seen wearing a mask as he returned to Washington DC following a day of campaigning in Florida on Saturday, and after the news of Mr Short’s diagnosis was made public, AP news agency reports.

Earlier this month, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris temporarily halted her campaign travel after two members of her staff tested positive. The campaign said it was a precautionary decision as the pair were not considered to be close contacts of the senator.

Meanwhile, media reports say Pence adviser Marty Obst and at least two other members of staff have recently tested positive. The cases have raised questions about White House Covid-19 protocol, three weeks after President Trump was admitted to hospital with the virus before making a recovery.

The vice-president is scheduled to hold a rally on Sunday afternoon in Kinston, North Carolina.

What else is happening on the campaign trail?

Addressing supporters in New Hampshire, President Trump repeated his claim that the US was turning a corner with the pandemic, despite the current spike in cases and a rise in hospital admissions.

“We’re coming around, we’re rounding the turn, we have the vaccines, we have everything. Even without the vaccines, we’re rounding the turn,” the president told supporters, many of them not wearing face masks or observing social distancing.

No vaccine has yet completed clinical trials.

President Trump – who campaigned in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin on Sunday – is scheduled to appear at two rallies in Pennsylvania on Monday, before making his way to Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska on Tuesday.

Joe Biden has no public schedule for Sunday. During an event in Bristol, Pennsylvania on Saturday, he maintained his key message that huge numbers of Americans have died from Covid-19 due to the president’s policies, adding: “It’s going to be a dark winter ahead unless we change our ways.”

Campaigning in Detroit, Michigan, on Sunday, Ms Harris criticised Mr Pence for not suspending his travel, saying: “He should be following the guidelines.”

media captionWho really decides the US election?

Most US states lean heavily towards one party or the other, so presidential candidates usually focus on a dozen or so “battleground” states that are up for grabs.

States like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina are viewed as the most influential because they have historically swung between Republican and Democrat candidates. They also have higher numbers of electoral college votes, which decide the outcome of the election.

Mr Biden only has a narrow lead over Mr Trump in key battlegrounds, with Florida and North Carolina looking particularly tight, according to polling averages.

How is coronavirus affecting the election?

More than 8.5 million infections have been reported nationwide, along with nearly 225,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The outbreak has contributed to a surge in postal and early in-person voting.

media captionUS government scientist Dr Anthony Fauci says there could be a Covid vaccine in the US before the end of 2020

Speaking to the BBC, top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said a Covid-19 vaccine could be available in the US before the end of the year if proved to be “safe and effective”, but that the first doses would go to people according to a set prioritisation, including healthcare workers.

He said it would take “several months into 2021” before the vaccine was more widely available.

In his interview on CNN, Mr Meadows was asked about why the Trump campaign was not requiring people attending rallies to wear masks. He said masks were offered to attendees, but “we live in a free society”.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas,” Mr Meadows added.

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