Trump aide: ‘We’re not going to control the pandemic’

A Reuters analysis of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has found an alarming acceleration.

LONDONDERRY, N.H. — The coronavirus has reached the upper echelons of the White House again, with an outbreak among aides to Vice President Mike Pence just more than a week before Election Day. A top White House official declared: “We’re not going to control the pandemic.”

Officials on Sunday also scoffed at the notion of Pence dialing back in-person campaigning despite positive tests among several people in his office. Pence, who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, was back out on the road Sunday and has an aggressive travel schedule planned for the final days of the campaign.

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White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, pressed to explain why the pandemic cannot be reined in, said, “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” He told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the government was focused on getting effective therapeutics and vaccines to market.

Pence, who tested negative Sunday according to his office, held a rain-soaked early evening rally in Kinston, North Carolina, a state that President Donald Trump won in 2016 and is crucial to his reelection hopes.

The vice president had a shout-out for supporters who braved what he called “this night of tempest, to stand in the rain and stand firm” for Trump. He gave no nod to the coronavirus infection rippling through his staff and dismissed Democrat Joe Biden’s description of the COVID-19 threat as an unwarranted dose of gloom and doom.

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On Monday, Meadows tried to do some cleanup. He said, “The only person waving a white flag along with his white mask is Joe Biden.”

Meadows said Trump won’t give up until all Americans are safe and the virus is defeated. He said, “We are going to defeat the virus. We are not going to control it. We will try to contain it as best we can.”

Meadows spoke to reporters at the White House on Monday before the Republican president traveled to campaign events in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania.

The president, for his part, rallied backers in New Hampshire and visited an orchard in Levant, Maine, where he signed autographs and assured a crush of mostly unmasked supporters that a “red wave” was coming on Nov. 3. He and first lady Melania Trump wrapped up the busy weekend by hosting costumed children for a socially distanced Halloween trick-or-treating on the White House grounds.

Biden attended church and participated in a virtual get-out-the-vote concert. He said in a statement that Meadows was effectively waving “the white flag of defeat” and “a candid acknowledgement of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis.”

In a brief exchange with reporters before the orchard visit, Trump demurred when asked if Pence should step off the campaign trail as a precaution. “You’d have to ask him,” Trump said.

The White House said none of the staff traveling with Trump on Sunday had been in close contact with any individuals in the vice president’s office who had tested positive. But public health experts said Pence’s decision to keep up in-person campaigning was flouting common sense.

Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University’s law school, said Pence in his decision to forgo quarantine was violating his own task force’s recommendations.

“It’s one standard for the vice president and another for all the rest of us,” Gostin said.

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The U.S. set a daily record Friday for new confirmed coronavirus infections and nearly matched it Saturday with 83,178, data published by Johns Hopkins University showed. Close to 8.6 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and about 225,000 have died; both totals are the world’s highest. About half the states have seen their highest daily infection numbers so far at some point in October.

Trump, campaigning in Londonderry, said the rising rate of infections was nothing to be concerned about. “You know why we have cases so much?”′ Trump asked a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. “Because all we do is test.”

Entering the final full week before the Nov. 3 election, it’s clear the Trump team remains committed to full-throttle campaigning. Trump himself has resumed a hectic schedule since recovering from his own recent coronavirus case and planned to campaign Monday in Pennsylvania. Pence will campaign Monday in Minnesota and return to North Carolina on Tuesday.

Despite the rising virus numbers, the White House said the U.S. economy needs to fully reopen, and it has tried to counter Biden’s criticism that Trump is not doing enough to contain the worst U.S. public health crisis in more than a century.

Trump and his aides again on Sunday lashed out at Biden, falsely asserting Biden was determined to lock down the economy, while the president is centering his attention on getting therapies and vaccines to market.

“We want normal life to resume,” Trump said. “We just want normal life.”

Biden, in fact, has said he would only shut down the country if that is what government scientists advise. He has said that if elected he would make the case for why a national mask mandate might be necessary and would go to the governors to help increase Americans' mask-wearing.

Pence’s office said there are no plans to curtail campaigning. In addition to chief of staff Marc Short, who tested positive Saturday, a “couple” other aides also have also contracted the disease, Meadows said.

Meadows said Pence will wear a mask — “because the doctors have advised him to do that” — but take it off when he gives a speech, as the vice president did Sunday in North Carolina.

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