Harris suspends travel after staffer tests COVID-19 positive
In this October 8, 2020, photo, Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris, D-California, speaks at Carpenters Local Union 1912 in Phoenix, as Democratic presidential candidate former vice president Joe Biden listens. Biden’s presidential campaign says Harris will suspend in-person events until October 19, after two people associated with the campaign tested positive for coronavirus. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, will suspend in-person events until Monday after two people associated with the campaign tested positive for coronavirus.
Joe Biden's presidential campaign said Thursday that Biden had no exposure, though he and Harris spent several hours campaigning together in Arizona on October 8. Both have tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times since then.
It's the Biden campaign's first major coronavirus scare, after months of careful health procedures that brought mockery from President Donald Trump, even after a White House virus outbreak that included the president and first lady Melania Trump. The Democratic campaign's cautious reaction underscores again the differences in how the rival camps have approached the pandemic, both in terms of preferred government response and the candidates' personal protocols.
The travel suspension interrupts the Biden campaign's aggressive push across a wide battleground map, including North Carolina and Ohio, the next two states Harris was scheduled to visit.
The campaign sees Harris, the first Black woman on a major party presidential ticket, as a key part of their outreach in North Carolina, where increasing Black turnout is key to the Democrats' hopes of flipping the state from President Donald Trump's column. She had been scheduled to travel to the state Thursday for events encouraging voters to cast early ballots.
Her Friday trip to Cleveland would have been her first to Ohio as the vice presidential nominee and would have taken her into the metropolitan area with the state's largest concentration of Black voters.
The senator's brief hiatus from the trail comes as Trump ramps up his own travel again after he, first lady Melania Trump and several White House staffers contracted the virus.
The Biden campaign told reporters Thursday morning that Harris' communications director, Liz Allen, and a flight crew member tested positive after a recent campaign trip to the southwest.
Campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said both individuals tested negative before and after the conclusion of Harris's travels. Their positive results came in subsequent tests.
"Neither of these individuals had any contact with Vice President Biden, with Senator Harris or any other staff member since testing positive or in the 48-hour period prior to their positive test results," O'Malley Dillon said, adding that none of the candidates' exposure and contact tracing meet the CDC guidelines for quarantining. But O'Malley Dillon said Harris would suspend travel for several days "out of an abundance of caution."
The campaign also is canceling upcoming travel for Doug Emhoff, Harris's husband.
Harris followed up in a statement saying that "both the crew member and the staff member were wearing N95 masks at all points they were near me, and our doctors believe that we were not exposed under CDC guidelines."
She also pledged to be "transparent with you about any test results that I do receive. In the meantime, remember: wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands regularly. It is possible to stop the spread."
Harris will continue virtual campaigning, including fundraisers previously scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Harris and Biden spent several hours together that day through multiple campaign stops, private meetings and a joint appearance in front of reporters at an airport. They were masked at all times in public, and aides said they were masked in private, as well, including on all flights.
Harris has had two tests since October 8, most recently Wednesday, O'Malley Dillon said. Biden's last announced negative test was Tuesday.
Biden will attend an ABC News town hall airing live at 8pm EDT, and he will proceed with his planned travel Friday and through the weekend.
O'Malley Dillon said all staff campaign staff members on the flight have been tested at least twice since October 8. All tests have been negative, she said.
The campaign became aware of the positive tests Wednesday night, O'Malley Dillon said. Harris already this week had opted to attend virtually the Senate Judiciary Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, rather than in person after some of her GOP Senate colleagues tested positive for coronavirus or disclosed their exposure to others who had tested positive.
Biden's campaign has taken the coronavirus seriously, enough to draw mockery from Trump and Republicans, even as the White House deals with the fallout of its virus outbreak.
The Democratic ticket's campaign events are socially distanced and require participants to wear masks. Staff often set chairs inside white plastic circles to denote six feet of distance. During a recent indoor speech at a North Carolina event for Harris, reporters were given and asked to wear KN95 masks.
Biden and Harris typically keep their masks on when speaking indoors. Both travel on planes with a small number of staff and Secret Service. For Harris' travel, a second plan carries the rest of the staff. While for Biden, a second plane carries the traveling press corps.