WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are holding campaign rallies Sunday, despite a new wave of COVID-19 cases hitting targets across the United States – including Pence’s own office.

Pence’s top aide, vice presidential chief of staff Marc Short, and others in his office have tested positive for the virus, but the vice president is not subject to quarantine because he is an “essential” government official, aides said.

“He’s not just campaigning, he’s working” in the vice president’s office, said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Pence campaigns Sunday in Kinston, North Carolina, in the eastern part of that key battleground state, while Trump holds events in New Hampshire and Maine.

Meadows also made news by acknowledging that the Trump administration won’t be able to do much about the spread of COVID-19, and is focusing on cures instead.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said, adding that “we are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and others say Trump has never tried to control the spread of the virus, citing actions ranging from his mocking of mask wearing to his insistence on holding campaign rallies with maskless people packed close together.

Eduardo Silva, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Meadows “just admitted out loud what has long been Trump’s strategy on the coronavirus: Wave the white flag and surrender as Americans continue to suffer.”

More: ‘COVID, COVID, COVID’: Trump complains media too focused on pandemic as US hits record cases – election updates

More: Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, has tested positive for coronavirus

Jack Pitney, author of “Un-American: the Fake Patriotism of Donald J. Trump,” said the Trump administration is “sending a message that they don’t take the pandemic seriously.”

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“Most Americans do, especially the families of the 225,000 people who have died,” added Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump debate adviser, questioned Pence’s decision to campaign so soon after the positive tests of aides. “You gotta keep yourself away from everybody, and I’m a little bit surprised,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for people to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to someone with the virus, but Meadows told CNN there are exceptions for “essential personnel” like the vice president.

While campaigning, Pence will wear a mask and practice social distancing while carrying out those duties, the Trump chief of staff said.

More: Trump’s campaign made stops nationwide. Coronavirus cases surged in his wake in at least five places.

Another Pence adviser, Marty Obst, has also tested positive, as have other vice presidential aides; Meadows declined to specify the total number.

“Sharing personal information is not something we should do unless it’s the President or the Vice President,” Meadows said.

He said Pence and Trump are tested regularly, but declined to say whether it’s daily.

“We don’t get into safety protocols,” Meadows told CNN.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley, who confirmed Short’s diagnosis, said the vice president and spouse Karen Pence both tested negative Saturday and “remain in good health.”

O’Malley added: “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.”

Trump will spend his campaign day in New Hampshire and Maine – two small states that could make a big difference if the Electoral College race with Biden is close.

Like most states, New Hampshire, with four electoral votes, awards all of those votes to the presidential candidate who wins the statewide vote.

That is not the case in Maine, which awards one electoral vote to the winner of each of the state’s two congressional districts. While Biden is a solid favorite in one district, Trump has a good chance in the district that covers northern Maine – hence his trip to Bangor.

Trump won that district four years ago, earning one of Maine’s four electoral votes. 

Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, noted that Trump and Biden both need 270 electoral votes to win the election and said New Hampshire and Maine could conceivably make the difference.

“If you play with an electoral college calculator long enough, you can come up with scenarios where New Hampshire’s four electoral votes (and one from Maine’s Second CD) put Trump over the top in a close contest,” Scala said.

On Saturday, Trump criticized the media and Democrats for focusing too much on the COVID crisis.

In complaining about news coverage of the pandemic during a stop Saturday in North Carolina, Trump said: “That’s all I hear about now. Turn on the TV, ‘Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid.”

The president and his vice president travel as nearly every U.S. states reports a new rise in COVID cases, including North Carolina, New Hampshire and Maine.

When CNN host Jake Tapper asked Meadows, “why aren’t we going to get control of the pandemic?” Meadows responded: “Because it is a contagious virus.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, Pence campaign Sunday, despite COVID-19 cases among VP’s aides

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