Joe Biden and Kamala Harris flew with people who tested positive for Covid-19

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<span>Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both travelled on flights that carried someone who subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus, it emerged on Thursday.

Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, abruptly canceled her travel for the coming few days after two people associated with the Biden-Harris election campaign tested positive for coronavirus.

That news came earlier on Thursday and was followed by a later statement from the campaign that Biden, the presidential nominee, had been on a flight in which a crew member had tested positive.

The campaign stressed that Biden was “not in close contact”.

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The news came as the two men vying for the White House in the 3 November election, Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, were set to take part in separate but simultaneous town hall events to face voters’ questions on Thursday night – after their face-to-face debate was canceled when the president got coronavirus.

“Around noon on Thursday, October 15, we learned – as part of our contact tracing of the crew member on Senator Harris’ plane that tested positive for Covid last night – that an administrative member of the Aviation company that charters Vice-President Biden’s aircraft tested positive for Covid-19,” Jen O’Malley Dillon said in the statement.

Dillon said Biden “was not in close contact” with the person, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In fact, the Vice-President did not even have passing contact: this individual was over 50 feet from VP Biden at all times, entered and exited the aircraft from a rear entrance, and both the individual and the Vice-President wore masks for the entire flight,” Dillon said.

“Given these facts, we have been advised by the Vice-President’s doctor and the campaign’s medical advisers that there is no need for the Vice-President to quarantine.”

This morning it emerged that Harris had been on a flight this week with two individuals two days before their positive Covid-19 tests. The individuals were Harris’s communications director, Liz Allen, and a “non-staff flight crew member”.

Because Harris and these contacts wore medical-grade N95 face masks during the flight and the infected individuals were not within 6ft for more than 15 minutes, they do not meet the CDC definition of “close contact”.

For that reason, Harris does not meet full quarantine criteria, which would normally require an individual to be in isolation for two weeks.

But “out of an abundance of caution” the campaign canceled her normal schedule of events through Sunday, while promising a “robust and aggressive” round of online campaigning intended to reach far and wide.

The individuals who tested positive were not in contact with Biden, the campaign noted. But the uncertainty created and the hiatus in in-person events for Harris was an undoubted blow to the Democratic election campaign with less than three weeks before polling day.

The Harris campaign put out a statement saying the news of the positive tests came in late on Wednesday.

It added that the Harris intended to return to in-person campaigning on Monday.

The campaign said that Harris last tested negative for coronavirus on Wednesday and she will be tested again.

Trump, meanwhile, embarked on a frantic day of in-person campaigning on Thursday before the town hall evening event, and has fallen behind in the polls with less than three weeks to go, while Biden was set for a low-key day of online fundraising before his dueling event.

Trump has been crisscrossing the nation in a way a campaign would normally proceed in the closing stages of an election, trying to sway uncertain voters and project images of an enthusiastic loyal base and a vigorous candidate, which have been largely absent in 2020 during the pandemic.

In sharp contrast, Biden has only recently been doing events in person and has been relying heavily on online campaigning and huge spends on TV and social media advertising.

And unlike Trump’s packed campaign rallies, which flout federal public health advice and where attendees are largely maskless, in line with his infamously dismissive rhetoric on masks and social distancing, Biden events are deliberately sparse and feature ubiquitous mask use.

On Thursday, Trump was making stops en route to Miami, Florida, for his town hall, appearing at a midday rally in battleground North Carolina. Biden raised campaign cash at his virtual event.

Trump spent much of the rally downplaying the severity of the virus that has killed more than 217,000 Americans, after largely recovering himself. “It’s going to peter out. It’s going to end,” he said of the pandemic – just as he had last winter – even as cases have continued to increase nationwide in recent weeks.

And he mentioned that his own son, Barron, “recovered so fast” from the virus to bolster his argument for why schools can and should fully reopen.

He then planned to to fly to southern Florida to a fundraising event in Doral, where he has a golf resort, before completing a short journey to Miami, where he was due to be quizzed by voters in the town hall event to be broadcast on NBC and some cable stations beginning at 8pm eastern time.

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In sharp contrast, Biden’s published schedule had him taking part in online fundraising efforts, presumably from his home and campaign base in Delaware, before traveling the short distance to Philadelphia, where he will appear in a rival town hall event, taking questions from voters in a session that will be broadcast on ABC.

The two men had been due to take part in the second official presidential debate on the night. But when the Commission on Presidential debates announced that the debate needed to be held virtually, not in person, after Trump contracted coronavirus, Trump pulled out.

Reuters contributed reporting