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Harris arrives in L.A. as staffer, political leaders in D.C. test positive for coronavirus

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during an interview with the Los Angeles Times in her office.
Vice President Kamala Harris, shown in her Washington office Dec. 17, is back home in Los Angeles amid the news that a staffer has tested positive for the coronavirus.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The coronavirus is sweeping through official Washington, with staffers for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recently testing positive for the virus as a growing number of federal officials continue to disclose their own breakthrough cases.

Harris, who flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday night for a week of vacation, came in close contact on Tuesday with a staffer who tested positive for the coronavirus the next morning. The vice president, who has been vaccinated and received a booster shot, tested negative twice on Wednesday and will be retested on Friday.

Symone Sanders, Harris’ senior advisor and chief spokesperson, said in a statement Wednesday that the staffer, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, had tested negative on Tuesday, Monday and every day last week.

“As [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance does not require fully vaccinated people to quarantine after an exposure, the vice president will continue with her daily schedule,” Sanders said in her statement on Wednesday. She added that Harris and her husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, would remain in L.A. through the new year.

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Another spokeswoman for Harris declined to discuss how the potential coronavirus exposure might affect her time in Southern California.

Biden, 79, has also had close contact in recent days with a staffer who had tested positive. The half-hour of close contact occurred aboard Air Force One on Friday, the day Biden delivered a commencement address in South Carolina and then flew to Wilmington, Del., for the weekend.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the No. 3 Democratic leader, was with Biden in South Carolina, where the president addressed the graduating class at South Carolina State University. Clyburn, 81, who is fully vaccinated and received his booster shot in September, tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday night.

He said he is asymptomatic, but received an inconclusive at-home test on Sunday ahead of his granddaughter’s wedding.

More than a half-dozen other members of Congress have said they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus this week, including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland). Each member said they were fully vaccinated, and most had gotten boosters.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Thursday morning that after weeks of regular testing, “last night I got bad news — I tested positive.”

Coons said he had minimal symptoms and is optimistic he’ll recover after isolating and adhering to CDC guidelines. “Like millions of other families,” he added, “it seems we’ll also be wrestling with another holiday spent on Zoom and canceled plans for travel or gathering.”

The CDC said this week that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is more virulent than previous variants, with the health agency warning that the new variant can spread to others even if they’re vaccinated or have no symptoms. The CDC also said that “the recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and booster,” noting that despite the likelihood of breakthrough cases, vaccines should protect against severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths.

“COVID-19 breakthrough cases are going to become ubiquitous with the Omicron variant,” said Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “No one is going to escape infection in the long run. However, if you are somebody who is fully vaccinated, these cases are going to be mild and may not even prompt you to call your doctor. This is a good thing and not something to panic about because the vaccines are protecting us against what matters: severe disease, hospitalization and death.”

In a speech Tuesday, Biden cautioned that the Omicron variant is “serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.” The Biden administration also announced it was deploying 1,000 troops to hospitals, setting up additional vaccination sites and buying 500 million at-home rapid tests that will be available to Americans for free beginning next month.


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