Mike Pence's chief of staff Short and political adviser Obst have coronavirus, adding to White House tally

Marc Short (right) is US Vice-President Mike Pence's top aide.
Marc Short (right) is US Vice-President Mike Pence's top aide.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Mr Mike Pence's chief of staff, Mr Marc Short, has tested positive for coronavirus infection this week, bringing the pandemic into the Vice-President's inner circle.

Earlier on Saturday (Oct 24) , Bloomberg News reported that one of Mr Pence's closest political advisers, Mr Marty Obst, had also been infected by the virus, adding further to the cases in and around the White House.

Mr Short is Mr Pence's top aide, a constant presence in his company who frequently acts as a public spokesman for the Vice-President. Mr Pence, who delivered a campaign speech in Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday evening, has not reported a positive test. Mr Pence's office confirmed his diagnosis in a statement late on Saturday.

“Vice-President Pence and Mrs Pence both tested negative for Covid-19 today, and remain in good health,” said Mr Devin O'Malley, spokesman for the Vice-President, adding that Mr Pence would maintain his schedule “in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel”.

Mr Short was not seen aboard Mr Pence's plane, according to the pool reporter travelling with the Vice-President, Ms Megan Pratz.

It wasn't immediately clear if Mr Obst or Mr Short had developed symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Mr Obst tested positive last Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr Short was diagnosed on Saturday, according to a statement Mr Pence's office provided to the Times.

Mr Obst is not a government employee, but is frequently in contact with Mr Pence and his staff and often visits the White House grounds. He was last around Mr Pence about a week ago but wasn't in close proximity to the him, two of the people said.

Mr Obst was quiet on Twitter the day of his diagnosis, with just one retweet, but has since been active on the social media platform, posting criticism of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Mr Obst declined to comment. Mr Short and spokesmen for Mr Pence and the White House didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The coronavirus has swept through the White House since September, infecting President Donald Trump, his wife and youngest son, and a number of top aides, including his campaign manager, his press secretary, and the chairman of the Republican National Committee. The outbreak has served as a punctuation mark on Mr Trump's handling of the pandemic, which polls show has been widely panned by voters.

Another Trump ally, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was hospitalised with Covid-19 after helping the President prepare for his first debate with Mr Biden last month. Since recovering, Mr Christie has issued a public mea culpa, declaring he was wrong not to wear a mask at the White House and urging Americans to follow the guidance of public health authorities.

Mr Trump has seldom worn a mask before or after his illness, and discourages it among his aides and people around him. The President wore a mask on Saturday when he voted in Florida.

On Saturday, Mr Pence was photographed wearing a mask as he walked from Marine Two and boarded Air Force Two in Washington. He didn't wear a mask during events in Lakeland or Tallahassee but was alone on stage, a distance from other people. US Secret Service agents around him wore masks.

Mr Pence's press secretary Ms Katie Miller contracted Covid-19 in May.

The virus has infected about 8.6 million Americans so far and more than 225,000 have died. The US is in the midst of yet another surge of infections, with new cases exceeding 83,000 on Friday, a record.