Editorial: Five of Mike Pence’s Aides Have COVID-19, but the Campaign Must Go On

This weekend, at least five aides and advisers to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for COVID-19. The White House tried to keep the development under wraps, since this news contradicts what Donald Trump really wishes we believed: that we’ve “rounded the turn,” and that the coronavirus is disappearing in the U.S. In support of the White House strategy of denial, Mike Pence is continuing to campaign in person, eschewing the 14-day quarantine recommended for anyone who has been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

When Mike Pence was appointed to head up the White House Coronavirus Task Force, a lot of Americans suspected he may not be the best choice. As it turns out, Pence has been little more than a “yes” man to Trump’s coronavirus agenda, downplaying and politicizing the pandemic. And as Pence, directly exposed to COVID-19 himself, ignores the public health guidelines put forth by his own task force, he confirms those doubts about his qualifications for leading a team whose job has ostensibly been to protect the American public from a deadly virus.

It is inconvenient that a second White House wave of the coronavirus should occur now —just a week from Election Day. The White House would like to distract voters’ attention from the virus, and focus it instead on the economy, which Trump insists was the best ever until the Chinese sent the virus this way. The subsequent economic crisis, he wants voters to believe, is mainly the fault of China, but also the fault of Democratic leaders who insisted on lockdowns in efforts to protect their constituents from the spread of the virus.

Nevertheless, the coronavirus remains as the issue that is topmost in voters’ minds. And many—or, according to polls, most—voters see the Trump administration as having failed at protecting Americans, or advocating for them, during this pandemic.

Trump’s response to the pain, worry, and fear that most people outside his base have been feeling this year is to continue to pretend that it’s a non-issue; barely acknowledging the widespread suffering, scoffing at those who observe safety guidelines, and downplaying the seriousness of it all.

“That’s all I hear about now,” said Trump at a rally in Lumberton, North Carolina. “Turn on the TV, ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.”

Yet Mike Pence defends his boss’s handling of the coronavirus, insisting that no one has done more to protect the American people than Donald Trump. He still touts Trump’s travel restrictions on China (which he calls a “ban,” but which was only a set of limited restrictions) early in the pandemic, as if it were the single most important thing anyone has done to stop the spread of the virus. (It wasn’t. Though Trump has claimed that but for his “travel ban,” “thousands and thousands” more people would have died, it’s not known how impactful that move really was, since the virus had already arrived in the U.S. by then.)

As if it weren’t absurd enough that Mike Pence is still keeping up his busy campaign schedule in light of the COVID-19 outbreak among his close aides and advisors, the White House is using the excuse that Pence, as a campaigner, is essential personnel.

“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 spokesperson Devin O’Malley on Saturday.

Essential personnel are medical staff and first responders; they are key transportation employees, food workers, and public works personnel—the people who are suffering, as a matter of fact, under the failure of Congress and the White House to pass a second economic stimulus bill.

“I don’t see campaigning on the list,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University and former Maryland State Health Department chief. “Anything that does not have to be done in person and anything not related to his job as vice president would not be considered essential.”

The degree of disregard for others, including trusted White House staff, when it comes to observing coronavirus safety guidelines, is breathtaking. Nothing, however, can top the apparent admission by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Sunday that the administration has essentially given up on trying to control the spread of COVID-19 until, or unless, there is a vaccine or a medical breakthrough.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows told an incredulous Jake Tapper on CNN. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Other countries, in fact, have been successful in controlling the pandemic. New Zealand, for example, had a total of 827 cases, with no recent new cases. Barbados has had a total of 227 cases, with no new recent cases, and Vietnam has had a total of 1,168 cases, with just four new recent cases.

The Trump administration is so bent on denying its failure to manage the coronavirus pandemic that it has become a panel of gaslighters. As Meadows made clear, the knowledge that they didn’t do what they needed to early on, has become the narrative that it’s not controllable, and therefore, we shouldn’t even try to control it.  We should continue crowding thousands of people together, without masks, to spread disease and spray respiratory droplets while yelling and cheering for the re-election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

Is Mark Meadows, in his statement that America can’t control the pandemic, conveying a narrative that “herd immunity” is a real solution? (It’s not. According to Dr. William Haseltine, Chair and President of ACCESS Health International, if the virus is allowed to spread freely without a vaccine, “we are looking at two to six million Americans dead – not just this year but every year… Herd immunity is another word for mass murder. That is exactly what it is.”

“Trump to America: Drop dead,” said Paul Begala, political commentator and former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Mike Pence, chair of the now-phantom White House Coronavirus Task Force, chooses to ignore the opportunities for a platform where he could support public health guidelines, set a good example, and help keep thousands of people safe from the spread of COVID-19. Instead, Mike Pence opts to enable Donald Trump, as together, they gaslight their base and continue to endanger the lives of White House staff.

Five Of Vice President Mike Pence’s Aides Test Positive For COVID-19 | TODAY [2020-10-26]

Pence continues rallies despite 5 aides testing positive for COVID-19 |
ABC News [2020-10-26]

Editorial: With the Trump Administration in Control of COVID-19 Data, Will the Virus Disappear “Like a Miracle”?

The Trump administration has seized control of hospital data related to COVID-19, prohibiting hospitals from sending their data to the CDC. Hospitals are now required to send their data directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) instead. No doubt, we can expect to see an astonishing and fast drop in the number of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19.

We should prepare to see numbers so low that schools will scramble to open, the economy will be better than ever, and churches will be packed once again. Heck, we may even see evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19, after all.

The federal government claims that it will use the data from hospitals “to inform decisions at the federal level, such as allocation of supplies, treatments, and other resources. We will no longer be sending out one-time requests for data to aid in the distribution of Remdesivir or any other treatments or supplies. This daily reporting is the only mechanism used for the distribution calculations, and the daily is needed daily to ensure accurate calculations.”

Translated, this directive means that in order for hospitals to receive federal aid, supplies or access to certain drugs used to treat COVID-19, they must comply with the Trump administration’s directive. The directive also prohibits hospitals from sending data to the CDC in addition to sending it to HHS.

Donald Trump, in his continued efforts to not only ignore science, but to bend it to his will, has now found the perfect way to make science work for him (or at least, manipulate scientific data to work for him). Now that the Trump administration will get to the data before the CDC does, the health experts will stop with their bothersome statistics, guidelines, and warnings. They’ll stop disagreeing with Trump when he says the virus is under control, that the U.S. has done the best job in the world at testing, and that the virus is disappearing “like a miracle.” They won’t be able to correct him when he makes statements like, “Ninety-nine percent of cases are harmless,” because they won’t have the latest hospital data to prove otherwise.

Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation says, “Historically, CDC has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak.”

No doubt, this is exactly what Donald Trump has hoped for.

Americans are already confused about COVID-19. There is no national plan for dealing with the virus, though the Trump administration has indicated that those pesky guidelines the CDC created are getting in the way of  holding church services and bringing students back to schools in the fall.

Various parts of the country are responding to the pandemic in various ways, and state and local responses are often governed by the dominant political party there (and where they get their news). With data coming from the White House instead of the CDC, however, perhaps all states will look to Florida (would it be surprising if Florida’s numbers soon improved sharply?) and emulate Florida’s reopening success story.

With the CDC out of the way, at least for the purposes of receiving and analyzing data so that they can create sound recommendations, maybe people will stop harping on wearing those tyrannical masks. Maybe we won’t have to worry any more that more testing will produce more cases.

One has to wonder if Donald Trump got his inspiration from another authoritarian wannabe, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s administration removed almost all COVID-19 related data from government websites, and barred researchers from access to the data. In the case of Brazil, however, its Supreme Court just two days later ordered that the public data be restored. Can we have faith that our Supreme Court might act similarly?

Michael Caputo, HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, said in a statement earlier Wednesday the new coronavirus data collection system would be “faster.”

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said, “We at CDC know that the life blood of public health is data,” he said. “Collecting, disseminating data as rapidly as possible is our priority and the reason for the policy change we’re discussing today.”

If only anything else—anything at all—about the Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic to date demonstrated that we could believe Caputo and Redfield that data collection and analysis by the same administration would be faster and more efficient. Trump downplayed the coronavirus from the beginning and now simply doesn’t speak of it, let alone lead a response in any way. He has denied that states lacked equipment. He has blamed China for the virus, though it’s preposterous to blame them for the COVID-19 tidal wave resulting from Trump’s incompetence. He has done all of this while the CDC’s data, guidelines, and warnings were staring him in the face. So, faster and more efficient response to the pandemic if the Trump administration controls the data? Not a chance.

The U.S. has more than 3.5 million reported cases of COVID-19, with more than 70,000 new reported cases per day, and more than 138,000 COVID-19 related deaths, as of July 17. The CDC, based on its data, estimates that there are 10 times the number of cases in the U.S. than reported. (But we can get those numbers down, as long as the CDC stops getting that data.) No wonder the Trump administration wants to get to the data before the CDC can.

Doctor weighs in on Trump administration stripping CDC of control of COVID-19 data | CBS News [2020-07-15]

Trump Cuts Off CDC From Coronavirus Data | HuffPost [2020-07-15]