Positive coronavirus test for staffer upends Biden-Harris campaign travel

Sen. Kamala Harris arrives on Capitol Hill for confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris arrives on Capitol Hill for the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Two people on Kamala Harris’ campaign plane — her communications director and a flight crew member — have tested positive for the coronavirus, upending the candidate’s travel plans in the final weeks of the contest.

Campaign officials said that although Harris had tested negative and was not in close contact with either of the people who tested positive, they will cancel her in-person campaign events until Monday, including three stops she had planned in the battleground state of North Carolina, where early voting began Thursday.

Harris also canceled a planned trip Friday to Ohio, where early voting has already begun.

Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s schedule was unchanged because he has had no contact with the infected staff members, campaign officials said.

Later in the day, the campaign announced that an employee of the aviation company that charters Biden’s plane had also tested positive for the coronavirus. Medical advisors said there was no need for the former vice president to change his plans or quarantine because he “did not even have passing contact” with the person, who sat at least 50 feet away from Biden on the plane, a Boeing 737, and wore a mask at all times they were onboard.


Biden would proceed with plans to participate in a televised town hall meeting Thursday evening as planned, campaign officials said.

Harris, too, had no need to quarantine because she “was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with either of these individuals during the two days prior to their positive tests,” campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement, referring to the two positive tests on her plane. Harris was never within six feet of either of the people and that she and all staff members flying on her campaign plane wore N-95 masks, O’Malley Dillon said.

“Regardless, out of an abundance of caution and in line with our campaign’s commitment to the highest levels of precaution, we are canceling Senator Harris’ travel through Sunday,” O’Malley Dillon said. Harris “will return to in-person campaigning on Monday” and conduct virtual events in the meantime.

The campaign’s response to the news — canceling Harris’ public events, quickly announcing who had tested positive and disclosing when Harris had last received a negative test (Wednesday) and when she would be tested again (Thursday) — all seemed aimed at drawing a sharp contrast with President Trump, who came down with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, roughly two weeks ago.

The White House has consistently refused to reveal when Trump last received a negative test before his illness and has also declined to say how many of his staff members or close contacts have tested positive.

Nor have administration officials tried to contact people who may have been infected at White House or Trump campaign events. The Biden campaign announced it had begun the contact tracing process to notify anyone who had come into contact with the infected staff members.

Asked how the episode would affect the campaign, O’Malley Dillon said it illustrated a central Biden message: “This shows how seriously we take COVID.” She said Harris would continue to campaign virtually, and one of her North Carolina appearances was turned into an online event late Thursday.

The staff members in question — a flight crew member whose name was not disclosed and communications director Liz Allen — had been with Harris on a flight Oct. 8, but the campaign said they were not within six feet of her for more than 15 minutes, and all three wore N95 masks. The two staff members subsequently took time off to attend personal, noncampaign events. Their infection was detected in COVID tests they were required to take before returning from an outside event to the campaign.

In addition to Harris, her husband, Doug Emhoff, had been scheduled to travel to Minnesota on Thursday with Biden’s wife, Jill, and on his own to Iowa on Friday and Georgia on Sunday. The campaign said his Thursday events had been canceled, but he would resume campaigning on Friday as he had no contact with the people who had tested positive.


The diagnosis roiled the campaign with less than three weeks until election day, a crucial time when Biden and Harris have been hoping to advance their closing arguments, mobilize their supporters and hold on to their sizable lead in national and battleground-state polls.

Throughout the campaign, Biden has underscored the differences between the way he has taken precautions against infection and Trump’s more cavalier approach. His campaign for months conducted only online events and, once it started in-person events, sharply limited the number of people in attendance and resorted to car rallies to limit exposure. Reporters and photographers traveling with Biden and Harris have been subject to COVID testing and screening.

The campaign has been stepping up the pace of in-person events as election day nears, and as more and more states have begun early and absentee voting. Earlier this week, Biden made appearances in Michigan, to court blue-collar voters, and in Florida, where he addressed older Americans. Last week, Biden traveled to Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona, where he campaigned with Harris. Before that joint appearance, Harris was in Salt Lake City for her debate with Vice President Mike Pence.