Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff made an unusually candid admission on Sunday – that the administration does not intend to contain the coronavirus crisis.
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“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Mark Meadows said, bluntly.
The former hard-right congressman from North Carolina made the revealing remark as confirmed cases of Covid-19 reached new peaks and hospitalisations rose rapidly in 38 states. The contagion also continues to ravage the White House itself, with the chief of staff to Mike Pence and four others in the vice-president’s inner circle having tested positive.
Meadows repeatedly sidestepped questions about the administration’s responsibility for combatting spread of the virus. Instead, in a contentious interview with CNN’s State of the Union, he highlighted what he called “mitigating” factors, including the search for a vaccine and new therapeutics that could bring down the death rate.
Even so, the number of deaths in the US is back up at about 1,000 a day.
Asked why the administration was not going to control the pandemic, Meadows replied: “Because it is a contagious virus.”
Turn on the television, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid. On 4 November you won’t hear about it anymore
Despite Pence being exposed to the disease, he planned to continue an aggressive campaign schedule in the final nine days of the race. Pence spoke at a rally in Kinston, North Carolina, on Sunday, where he did not address the positive cases in his entourage. He will be in Hibbing, Minnesota, on Monday before returning to events in North Carolina on Tuesday.
Such unbroken travel plans amounted to a breach of the recommendations of the Trump administration’s own public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They would require the vice-president to be in quarantine for 14 days and always to wear a mask around other people. Pence has frequently been seen maskless in public.
Such blatant disregard for the administration’s own health standards is doubly awkward given that Pence has led the White House coronavirus taskforce since late February. Dr Anthony Fauci, the most senior public health expert on the taskforce, said on Friday meetings had dwindled and Trump had not attended one in months.
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The White House said Pence was not required to follow the quarantine rule because he is deemed “essential personnel”. Asked why electioneering was classed “essential”, Meadows said the vice president continued to do his official work in between campaign stops.
Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University in Virginia, called Pence’s decision to travel “grossly negligent”.
“It’s just an insult to everybody who has