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Sen. Harris suspends travel after campaign staffers test positive for COVID-19

In this June 27, 2019, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens to questions after the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art in Miami Photo: Brynn Anderson/Associated Press . In this June 27, 2019, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens to questions after the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art in Miami

The Associated Press/ABC News
Updated: October 15, 2020 10:29 AM
Created: October 15, 2020 08:54 AM

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 Oct. 8. Both have tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times since then.

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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 Sen. 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 Oct. 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 8 p.m. 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 Oct. 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.

ABC News reports, in a statement provided by the campaign:

Late on the night of Wednesday, October 14th, we learned that two individuals involved in the campaign tested positive for COVID-19: a non-staff flight crew member and Liz Allen, communications director to Senator Harris.

Senator Harris was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with either of these individuals during the two days prior to their positive tests; as such, there is no requirement for quarantine.

Regardless, out of an abundance of caution and in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution, we are canceling Senator Harris’s travel through Sunday, October 18th, but she will keep a robust and aggressive schedule of virtual campaign activities to reach voters all across the country during this time.

She will return to in-person campaigning on Monday, October 19th. This is the sort of conduct we have continuously modeled in this campaign.  

Neither of these people have had contact with Vice President Biden, Senator Harris or any other staffers since testing positive or in the 48 hours prior to their positive test results.

After being with Senator Harris, both individuals attended personal, non-campaign events in the past week. Under our campaign’s strict health protocols, both individuals had to be tested before returning to their work with the campaign from these personal events. These protocols help protect the campaign, the staff, and anyone who they may have contact with; the importance of having such protocols -- which include testing before resuming duties, regular testing while working in-person, isolation after time off, and masking and distancing while on campaign duties -- have been illustrated once again.  

Prior to their time off, both individuals were on a flight with Senator Harris on October 8th. During the flight, Senator Harris wore an N95 mask, as did both individuals. She was not within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes with either of them. As such, she does not meet the CDC definition of “close contact” for exposure.

In addition, both before and after the flight both individuals tested negative. In the course of our campaign’s routine testing protocols, Senator Harris has taken 2 PCR tests since October 8th, and the tests all have been negative, most recently on Wednesday, October 14th.

All other members of our staff on the flight have also taken routine tests since October 8th (two to three PCRs each); all of these tests have also been negative.  

We are also canceling Doug Emhoff’s travel for Thursday, October 15th. He has also taken 3 PCR tests since October 8th and all have been negative. Given that he had no contact at any time with the two individuals, and given both his and Senator Harris’s negative testing, he has not been exposed. He will return to in-person campaigning on Friday, October 16th.

The campaign has begun the contact tracing process to notify everyone who came into contact with the individuals during the potential infection window. The laboratory which conducts tests on our behalf has reported these results, as they do all of our test results, to local officials as required by law.

We are also communicating with our campaign staff. From the outset of this pandemic, the Biden-Harris campaign has taken every precaution to limit the spread of COVID-19. Today’s exceedingly cautious steps are part of that commitment. 

Stay with 5 EYEWITNESS News and KSTP.com as we follow this story. Refresh your page to make sure you are seeing the most current information.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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