At least five people who work with Vice President Mike Pence, including at least two close aides, have tested positive for the coronavirus recently. But that won’t change the vice president’s campaign schedule on the final stretch before Election Day. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, became the highest-ranking person within the vice president’s office to test positive for COVID-19. He reportedly received the positive result on Saturday. Short is by the vice president’s side constantly and often acts as his spokesman.
Although Pence’s office acknowledged that the vice president is a close contact of Short under infection tracing guidelines, the vice president traveled to Florida for a campaign even after learning of the diagnosis. The Centers for Disease Control says someone who has been within six feet of a person infected with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes at least two days before symptoms begin is considered a “close contact.” Short, who has been one of the biggest skeptics of coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions within the administration, was reportedly experiencing symptoms on Saturday, according to the Washington Post.
“Vice President Pence and Mrs. Pence both tested negative for Covid-19 today, and remain in good health,” Devin O’Malley, a Pence spokesman, said. “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 C.D.C. guidelines for essential personnel.” The New York Times notes the statement did not come from the White House medical unit and hears from two sources that Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, wanted to try to keep the news quiet.
The news on Short came shortly after Bloomberg News was first to report that Marty Obst, one of Pence’s closest political advisers, had tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. It is not clear when Obst, who is not a government employee, was last in close contact with Pence. Three other Pence staff members have tested positive, according to the New York Times, although their names were not made public. Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller had already tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year.
News that Pence was continuing his schedule despite the positive diagnosis of his chief of staff immediately led to criticism online from many who pointed out that the vice president’s office was apparently claiming that campaigning for political office is “essential” government work.