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CDC director says it's safe for Pence to take part in debate

CDC director says it's safe for Pence to take part in debate
© AP/Pool

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a memo Tuesday evening stating that it is safe for Vice President Pence to take part in Wednesday's vice presidential debate despite several positive COVID-19 tests across the White House.

The memo was released by Pence's office.

CDC Director Robert Redfield signed off on a memo in which he affirmed that, after speaking with the vice president's doctor, Pence does not pose a risk from a public health standpoint to take part in the debate with Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Biden can rebuild trust in our justice system by prioritizing prosecutorial reform Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence MORE (D-Calif.).

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Redfield's involvement is the latest in a string of back-and-forths between the two campaigns about safety protocols ahead of Wednesday's event.

"The CDC had a consultation with White House physician, Dr. Jesse Shonau, regarding the Vice President’s possible exposure to persons with COVID-19. Based on the description of the movements of the Vice President from Dr. Shonau, the Vice President is not a close contact of any known persons with COVID-19, including the President," Redfield wrote.

Redfield cited CDC guidance that states a close contact is considered someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting two days from the onset of an illness.

Pence attended the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony at the White House where President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE announced the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Since then, numerous attendees have tested positive for COVID-19, including Trump, first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony MORE, Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (R-Utah) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNorth Carolina — still purple but up for grabs Team Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (N.C.), Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Lara Trump mulling 2022 Senate run in North Carolina: report Press: Where is Jim Baker when we need him? MORE, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).

Lee and Tillis were seated directly behind Pence for the ceremony, but they did not test positive until several days after. Trump and Pence did not have many other interactions between the Sept. 26 event and when the president tested positive, as both were traveling.

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“After a detailed discussion with Dr. Shonau about his investigation and the serial negative testing results of the Vice President, the CDC concludes from a public health standpoint, it is safe for the Vice President to participate in the upcoming Vice-Presidential debate," Redfield wrote.

Pence is tested daily for the coronavirus and has continued to test negative. He arrived in Utah on Monday ahead of the debate.

The vice president's camp and Harris's team have been at odds over additional safety measures being implemented given the increased concern about exposure to COVID-19. The Commission on Presidential Debates said the two candidates would be separated by a plexiglass barrier, something Pence's campaign scoffed at.

But the decision to involve the CDC may raise eyebrows among critics who have lamented that the public health agency has already been politicized during the pandemic. Trump has regularly undercut Redfield, including as recently as last month when he dismissed the doctor's assessment that masks were guaranteed to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus where a vaccine may not be.