Oct 25, 2020 - Health

Ex-FDA chief: Pence campaigning after COVID exposure puts others at risk

Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said "the short answer is yes" when asked whether Vice President Mike Pence is putting others at risk by continuing to campaign after several aides tested positive for COVID-19, stressing that the White House needs to be "very explicit about the risks that they're taking."

Why it matters: The New York Times reports that at least five members of Pence's inner circle, including his chief of staff Marc Short and outside adviser Marty Obst, have tested positive for the virus. Pence tested negative on Sunday morning, according to the VP's office, and he'll continue to travel for the final stretch of the 2020 campaign.

  • "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 CDC guidelines for essential personnel," Pence's press secretary said Saturday.
  • White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien defended the decision to classify campaigning as "essential work" on Sunday, arguing that "free elections are the foundation of our democracy" and that "campaigning and voting are about the most essential thing we could be doing."

What he's saying: "I would understand why they wouldn't want to quarantine the vice president, but they need to be very explicit about what they're doing and the risks that they're taking," Gottlieb told CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

  • "He should be wearing a high-quality mask, an N95 mask at all times. He should be distancing wherever possible. They should be serially testing him," he continued.
  • "I think everyone right now in the White House should be wearing a mask. They have an obligation to protect the vice president and the president and not introduce the virus into that setting."

The big picture: Gottlieb warned that the U.S. is at a "dangerous tipping point" after reporting more than 80,000 new cases on two straight days, and that "there's really no backstop" at this stage of the epidemic because there is no public support for more lockdowns.

  • He said there are still targeted mitigation measures that the Trump administration could take, such as a national mask mandate.
  • Even if a vaccine becomes available this year, Gottlieb said, the recipients aren't going to have protective immunity until 2021 because it takes time for it to kick in.
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