Joe Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, has cancelled all campaign travel through Sunday after two people involved with her campaign tested positive for coronavirus with less than three weeks to go until US election day.
Jen O’Malley Dillon, Mr Biden’s campaign manager, on Thursday said the campaign learnt on late Wednesday that Ms Harris’s communications director, Liz Allen, and an unnamed flight crew member had tested positive for the virus.
Later on Thursday, Ms O’Malley Dillon said a third person affiliated with the campaign, who worked for the aviation company that charters Mr Biden’s plane, had also tested positive for Covid-19.
The unnamed individual was on the same plane as the former vice-president on Monday and Tuesday. Ms O’Malley Dillon said the person was in the last row of the plane, more than 50 feet from Mr Biden, and both wore masks throughout the flights.
Both Ms Harris and Mr Biden tested negative for the virus on Wednesday evening, the campaign said. A campaign staffer later confirmed that both Ms Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, underwent testing for Covid-19 again on Thursday, and the virus was not detected.
The revelation injects further uncertainty into a presidential campaign season that has been upended by the pandemic, and comes less than two weeks after President Donald Trump and some of his closest advisers and family members tested positive for coronavirus.
In a lengthy statement, Ms O’Malley Dillon said Ms Harris, a US senator from California, was “not in close contact” with either person in the two days before their positive tests. But she said the Biden team was grounding Ms Harris through the weekend, “out of an abundance of caution and in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution”.
The campaign manager said Ms Allen and the flight crew member were last on a flight with Ms Harris one week earlier, on October 8. Ms O’Malley Dillon said the vice-presidential candidate and staffers all wore N95 masks throughout the flight, were not “within six feet for more than 15 minutes” and tested negative for Covid-19 both before and after the trip.
Ms O’Malley Dillon said the individuals had since attended “personal, non-campaign events” and therefore had been tested before returning to work, under rules set out by the Biden team.
“These protocols help protect the campaign, the staff, and anyone who they may have contact with,” she said.
“I will be transparent with you about any test results that I do receive,” tweeted Ms Harris, who has been making virtual appearances this week at the Senate judiciary committee’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
“In the meantime, remember: wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands regularly. It is possible to stop the spread.”
The announcement comes with less than three weeks to go until election day, amid a presidential contest that the Biden campaign has been keen to make a referendum on Mr Trump’s presidency and his handling of the pandemic in particular.
Mr Biden and his allies were quick to criticise Mr Trump and his campaign for not following health guidelines to protect themselves and the public from Covid-19 after the president and members of his inner circle tested positive for the virus.
At a campaign rally in North Carolina on Thursday, Mr Trump said of the cases: “We extend our best wishes, which is more than they did to me, but that’s OK.”
Mr Biden at present leads Mr Trump in the national opinion polls by a 9.5-point margin, according to a Financial Times analysis of RealClearPolitics data. He is also ahead in several key swing states, after his lead widened slightly following the first presidential debate and Mr Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis.
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Most opinion polls show the majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of both his own illness and the wider pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the US.
Both Mr Biden and Mr Trump are set to take place in duelling town hall-style broadcasts, where voters ask questions, on rival television networks on Thursday evening.
The second presidential debate had originally been set for Thursday but was scrapped after Mr Trump refused to participate in a “virtual” format. Mr Biden signed on last week for a broadcast on ABC.
On Wednesday, rival network NBC said it would air a town hall with Mr Trump at the same time, prompting outrage from critics who pointed out that the president long held a lucrative contract with the network for his reality TV show The Apprentice.