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White House official: 'We're not going to control' pandemic

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gestures

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gestures as he responds to reporters questions outside the West Wing on the North Lawn of the White House on Sunday. Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Sunday said "we’re not going to control the pandemic," amid a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide.

Meadows, appearing on CNN’s "State of the Union" said the administration was focused on developing vaccines and therapeutics rather than containment strategies, such as wearing masks that have been advocated by public health officials.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," Meadows said.

Asked why the U.S. isn’t going to get the pandemic under control, Meadows said because the virus is "a contagious virus."

"What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it's therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don't die from this," Meadows said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a Sunday news conference, said Meadows is "fundamentally wrong" because New York has exemplified that the virus can be controlled.

"New York proved definitively, you can control the virus. When you go from the highest infection rate in the country to one of the lowest, it means you control the virus," Cuomo said speaking to reporters in a conference call from Albany.

Cuomo said Trump pre-emptively capitulated to the virus.

"They surrendered. They surrendered without firing a shot. That is the great American surrender," Cuomo said. "And what we learned in New York was, if you put up a fight, you would have won. Because New York won."

Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb pushed back on Meadows’ assertion that it was not possible to control the virus, noting on CBS’ "Face the Nation" that even if a vaccine becomes available this year, it will take several months for the first wave of patients to develop "protective immunity."

"There's things that we can do to slow the spread," Gottlieb said. "I mean, a national mask mandate can be put into place. It doesn't need to be backed up with fines or ... or stringent enforcement. We have other requirements that we expect of a civil society that we enforce ... we give people warnings at first."

Meadows’ remarks came amid reports that five top aides to Vice President Mike Pence, who have been in proximity to Pence, have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Meadows only confirmed that Pence’s chief of ctaff Marc Short had tested positive for the virus. CNN and The New York Times on Sunday reported that at least four other Pence aides have been infected with the coronavirus, including Marty Obst, a political adviser.

Despite the outbreak among Pence staffers, the vice president will not self-quarantine as recommended by health experts, and will resume his aggressive campaign schedule in the final week before Election Day. Meadows defended Pence’s travels as the work of "essential personnel."

"I'm not saying he is not campaigning, I'm saying that is only part of what he is doing and as we look at that, 'essential personnel,' whether it's the vice president of the United States or anyone else, has to continue on," Meadows said.

Meadows said Pence tested negative for the virus as of Sunday and will wear a mask when traveling to campaign events.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign aides sought to draw a contrast between Biden’s socially distant campaign events and Trump’s recent blitz of crowded campaign rallies.

"We have been very aggressively campaigning but here's the difference between what we're doing and what Donald Trump is doing, we're doing it safely. We're taking into account the safety of these communities that we're visiting," said Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield in an interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a Biden supporter, told "Meet the Press" if the former vice president wins, his mandate will be to "address the COVID crisis."

"The first really big thing we do is a COVID package with infrastructure, putting millions of people back to work, helping those who are unemployed, helping open our schools safely, providing emergency rental assistance," Brown said. "It's ending this pandemic and getting the economy back on track."

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