Mike Pence Continues Campaign Travel Despite COVID-19 Exposure & Risk of Spreading the Virus

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Minnesota on Monday for a campaign rally and planned to be available for a key Senate vote that night, despite being exposed to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in recent days.

At least five people close to the vice president — four of whom are White House aides, including his “body man” Zach Bauer and his Chief of Staff Marc Short — have tested positive for COVID-19 as recently as Saturday, while Pence, 61, has continued campaigning against federal quarantine guidelines.

A White House official previously defended Pence’s decision, telling reporters over the weekend his campaigning work was “essential.”

"The VP is following all the rules from the CDC and social distancing," said National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, who called Pence "an essential worker" and said people are going out to vote.

"Essential workers going out and campaigning and voting are about as essential as things we can do as Americans," O’Brien told reporters on Sunday.

Both the vice president and Second Lady Karen Pence have tested negative since Saturday, the White House says, though federal health officials warn symptoms may show up two to 14 days after exposure and that those exposed should quarantine. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends recently exposed individuals quarantine for upwards of 14 days, even despite negative test results.)

The outbreak in Vice President Pence’s office, which includes outside adviser Marty Obst, according to CNN, is the second major White House outbreak this month — the first of which sent President Donald Trump to the hospital for three days.

Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and a Trump adviser who was himself sickened after time in the White House, told ABC News’ This Week that the administration's ability to face the reality of the virus has “been a problem.”

“I think everybody’s got to put the health of the people they’re going to be in touch with first,” Christie, 58, said, adding, “You got to keep yourself away from everybody, and I’m a little bit surprised.”

A little more than a week until Election Day, Pence traveled to North Carolina on Sunday and continued his campaign travel across the country on Monday. A spokesperson for Pence did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment about the vice president’s travels amid his surrounding health concerns.

Pence’s staffers are “scared” they’ll be stricken with COVID-19 too, according to CNN. Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows signaled another relaxed approach to the virus in two recent interviews.

“We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it,” Meadows, 61, told reporters Monday morning, offering a conflicting message on what the Trump administration is doing to get a handle on a pandemic that has killed more than 225,000 people in the U.S. this year, according to a New York Times tracker.

“We will try to contain it as best we can,” Meadows said, adding the White House is focusing on therapeutics and pushing for a vaccine.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president, said Meadows’ statement was “an acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t,” according to the Times.

“We need leadership that is not reckless but responsible,” Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said Monday morning during an interview on The View.

Meanwhile, Meadows said Pence’s plans to show up at the Senate on Monday evening for the vote on Barrett’s nomination is “in flux.” Pence said at his campaign stop later Monday that he intended to be there if his vote was necessary. (He can vote in the Senate in the case of a tie.)

“I wouldn’t miss that vote for the world,” Pence had said at a rally on Saturday, according to The Washington Post.

The Post reported a group of Democratic senators wrote a letter advising Pence not to come, calling his potential presence a “violation of common decency and courtesy.”

“Your presence alone could be very dangerous to many people,” the senators wrote to the vice president.

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