White House chief of staff Mark Meadows: ‘We are not going to control the pandemic’

“We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas,” Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

The comments from President Donald Trump’s chief of staff come as coronavirus cases surge across the US and the administration continues to consistently disregard advice from government health experts to wear masks, social distance and avoid large gatherings as a way to curb the spread of the virus. The White House is also facing a potential second outbreak of the virus after at least five people in Pence’s inner circle have tested positive in recent days, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Pressed by Tapper on why the US isn’t going to get the pandemic under control, Meadows said: “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” He added that the Trump administration is “making efforts to contain it.”

“What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die from this,” Meadows said.

The US reported its second-highest day of new cases on Saturday, with nearly 84,000 Americans contracting the deadly virus. As of Sunday, there were at least 8,575,000 total cases of coronavirus in the US, and at least 224,800 Americans have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Pence to continue campaigning

But as concerns grow that more people surrounding the vice president could test positive in the coming days, Pence, who is the head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, does not currently plan to self-quarantine, in defiance of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and will continue campaigning as the election nears.

Pence and second lady Karen Pence each tested negative for coronavirus on Sunday, a White House official said.

“I spoke to the vice president last night at midnight and I can tell you that what he is doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing and when he goes up to speak he will take the mask off and put it back on,” Meadows said. “He is wearing a mask as it relates to this particular thing because the doctors have advised him to do that.”

Meadows also refused to disclose the extent of the Covid-19 outbreak in Pence’s orbit, saying the administration doesn’t share personal information and that such disclosures are only appropriate in the case of the President, vice president or those in their inner circle.

“Anytime there’s someone in harm’s way, we have an obligation to let people know for contract-tracing,” he said.

Meadows argued that Pence would continue with travel plans because he is “essential personnel.”

“I’m not saying he is not campaigning, I’m saying that is only part of what he is doing and as we look at that, ‘essential personnel,’ whether it’s the vice president of the United States or anyone else, has to continue on,” he said.

Pence, who is known to rarely wear a mask while flying on Air Force Two, traveled on Saturday to Florida for campaign rallies in Lakeland and Tallahassee. The vice president walked across the tarmac from Marine Two in a mask and boarded Air Force Two about an hour behind schedule.

Pence emerged maskless from Air Force Two in Florida, running down the steps and jogging across the tarmac, fist pumping as he approached the podium.

An official told CNN’s Kevin Liptak on Sunday that Pence is expected to campaign every day until Election Day and those plans remain in place for now.

After visiting North Carolina later Sunday, the vice president is traveling to Minnesota on Monday and back to North and South Carolina on Tuesday. He’s also expected to return to the upper Midwest this week. The official said Pence would continue to be tested but, like Trump, still plans to be on the road every day for the next week.

‘They are admitting defeat’

California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, said Sunday that Pence “should be following the guidelines,” when asked about his decision to continue campaigning despite news of the positive tests. “We’re doing it. I think what we have modeled (is) the right and good behavior, and they just take our lead.”

Harris canceled travel a week ago “out of an abundance of caution” after two people in her orbit tested positive for the virus.

Harris, speaking shortly after arriving in Detroit, said that Meadows’ comments to Tapper on Sunday show the Trump administration is “admitting defeat.”

“We are breaking records of the number of people that are contracting, a deadly virus, and this administration fails to take personal responsibility or responsibility in terms of leading the nation through this dangerous, dangerous and deadly mass casualty event,” she said. “And that’s why they have forfeited their right to a second term in office.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Sunday.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond, Daniella Diaz, Betsy Klein, Jasmine Wright, Nicky Robertson, and Liz Turrell contributed to this report.

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