For once, Stelter makes a fair point.
How can the VP debate possibly go forward on Wednesday?pic.twitter.com/3kYKPdxC11
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) October 5, 2020
A few days ago Pence’s White House doctor issued this statement, which I continue to find baffling:
That didn’t make sense at the time. The CDC’s guidelines on quarantine recommend that you “[s]tay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19.” Pence obviously had some sort of contact with Trump in the days before the president’s diagnosis on Thursday. Under the guidelines, even if Trump were the only person in the White House who was infected, Pence should be out of commission all this week.
But it makes less sense now. We can’t tell at the moment whether Pence has recently been a “close contact” of someone who’s been infected because there’s a still-developing outbreak inside the building of undetermined size. Kayleigh McEnany probably got infected days ago and didn’t test positive until this morning. “There are reports that COVID is spreading like wildfire through the White House,” said one senior official to New York magazine this past weekend. The White House contact-tracing operation was late to begin and seems to have been done in a half-assed manner because, well, it’s the White House. Thus it’s possible that Pence will make contact today with a staffer who’s momentarily infected but asymptomatic, that he’ll incubate the virus for the next 48 hours while still testing negative, and then he’ll be breathing COVID germs onstage with Kamala Harris on Wednesday night.
Lay the debate aside, though. Given that Trump has had concerning symptoms of the disease, Pence might be called on to assume presidential duties sometime soon. If he were to get infected, we could have the two heads of the executive branch dead or incapacitated at the same time. Eighty-year-old Nancy Pelosi would have to step in as acting president. “Pandemonium” doesn’t scratch the surface.
For the sake of the country, Pence should be isolated right now from everyone except his family. Instead, not only is he doing the debate, he’s doing a campaign event on Thursday.
Despite pressure to stay put, Pence allies insist he was made for a moment like this given his soothing temperament, grasp of the virus and unfailing loyalty to Trump. But other people close to Pence bemoaned his decision to fly halfway across the country while the commander in chief remains hospitalized and administration officials are given limited updates on his status, noting the protocols used to protect the vice president on the campaign trail are the same ones that failed to shield Trump from exposure to the virus.
“You can no longer say, ‘There’s no way he’s going to catch this,’ because that’s what we told ourselves about the president and it still happened,” said one White House official…
Despite the ongoing risks of exposure, the Trump campaign is eager to deploy Pence as it carries out what it’s calling “Operation MAGA,” a quickly assembled effort to keep the president’s reelection operation afloat for the next 30 days by dispatching the vice president, members of the first family and key allies to virtual and in-person events across the country.
As I write this, news is trickling in that more people who attended the Amy Coney Barrett announcement ceremony at the White House last Thursday are testing positive:
NEWS: @NYMag has confirmed that Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California has tested POSITIVE for COVID-19. Pastor Laurie was at the Prayer March on the Mall with Mike Pence and Franklin Graham and the ACB Rose Garden event later that day.
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) October 5, 2020
Here’s a photo from the event with VIPs and infected people highlighted. There’s Pence in the front row, a few feet away from our COVID+ president, right across the aisle from our COVID+ First Lady, and right in front of COVID+ Sen. Mike Lee. COVID+ Thom Tillis and Kellyanne Conway are within about six feet of him.
Kellyanne was seated almost at the exact center of the triangle formed by Sen. Mike Lee, Melania Trump and Rev. Jenkins — all of whom tested positive earlier today. https://t.co/m3u88qDyPQ https://t.co/wm2SesZ4if pic.twitter.com/RLOfrIhGj0
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) October 3, 2020
Precautions are being taken at the debate to lower the risk of transmission, starting with the two candidates being placed further apart. Initially Pence and Harris were supposed to sit seven feet away from each other. Now it’ll be 12 feet, which is nice. But there’s breaking news today from the CDC:
BREAKING @CDC acknowledges #SARS-CoV-2 spread thru air beyond 6 feet is possible, under certain conditions, especially indoors, poor ventilation, crowding, & longer exposure time. @CDC says close contact remains main transmission mode, & current recommendations should protect you
— Jonathan LaPook, M.D (@DrLaPook) October 5, 2020
Again, Mike Pence has never been more important to the United States than he is at this very moment. Even if he doesn’t infect Harris at the debate, we should all worry that she — or one of the various other people he’ll make contact with during his swing through Utah and later Arizona — will infect him. Why can’t they do a virtual debate? Put Harris in a room with a camera and Pence in a room with a camera and let them converse that way. It’s ludicrous for him to take even the slightest risk when continuity in government depends upon him staying uninfected. Exit quotation from Harvard doctor Rochelle Walensky, weighing the prospects of Pence participating in this debate: “He was sitting in a sea of people with Covid. There is no way he should go anywhere.”
Update: This’ll help, although it doesn’t solve the problem of Pence making contact with people during his trip before and after the debate:
The Commission on Presidential Debates has approved plans for plexiglass to be used in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate amid mounting concerns about coronavirus transmission, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
Plexiglass is expected to be used as a barrier between Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, as well as between the two candidates and moderator Susan Page. The plans have the support of the Cleveland Clinic, which is helping to set health protocols for the forums amid the pandemic.
Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, brought his own plexiglass partition to their debate last week to shield himself from Graham. It was a clever stage prop to highlight the outbreak that’s infected Graham’s Republican colleagues, Mike Lee, Thom Tillis, and Ron Johnson. I would have guessed that Team Pence signed off on “official” plexiglass for this debate in order to deny Harris the chance to pull the same stunt. But no, according to Politico they opposed the idea. “If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it,” sneered Pence spokesman Katie Miller, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the White House where Pence works is the most notorious COVID hot spot on planet Earth right now.
Should Harris pull the plug?
I don’t think it would be crazy—from a purely strategic standpoint, notwithstanding the health risk—for Harris to put her foot down and say leaders need to take COVID seriously and she won’t debate in person until Pence is out of the quarantine period.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 5, 2020
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