Vice President Pence sought Friday to put a positive spin on the surging coronavirus cases in the South and West that set two single-day records this week, asserting, “we did slow the spread. We did flatten the curve. We’re in a much better place.”
Pence, in the first White House coronavirus task force briefing in nearly two months, offered no new strategies to combat the rapidly spreading virus, and minimized record daily case counts in several states as “outbreaks in specific counties.” He said the increases were being driven by people under age 35, which he called “very encouraging news” because they are generally less susceptible to severe consequences.
The briefing came a day after state health departments reported a record 39,327 new coronavirus infections and several Republican governors, including Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida, froze reopening plans and imposed new restrictions on bars amid growing signs the virus was spiraling out of control. Florida reported nearly 9,000 8 new cases Friday blowing past its single-day high of 5,511 set on Wednesday.
Pence, who did not wear a mask, dismissed the idea that states reopening prematurely had contributed to recent outbreaks. He stressed that while cases had increased, the death rate had declined.
“This moment in the coronavirus pandemic is different than what we saw two months ago,” he said. “It’s almost inarguable that more testing is generating more cases. The volume of new cases is a reflection of the great success in expanding testing across the country.”
Health authorities, however, project that those younger people, many of whom show no symptoms, will likely spread infections to the more vulnerable and warn of a lag time of about three weeks between when people are first diagnosed, and subsequent hospitalizations and deaths. They also note that while the death count has declined since the first wave of cases, it is slowly inching up as cases increase.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House task force, and public health experts have said increased testing alone does not explain the recent increases.
Pence would not recommend that all Americans wear masks even when pressed, instead urging people to listen to their local health officials and pray. He also defended the Trump campaign’s decision to hold indoor rallies in Oklahoma and Arizona, both states that have seen record numbers of cases in the last two weeks.
Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, urged everyone to wear a mask.
Members of the task force, including Fauci and Birx, pleaded with younger Americans to take precautions to stem the spread of the virus. The majority of new cases have been driven by younger people, Fauci said, who have been going out and congregating without properly observing social distancing measures or consistently wearing masks, and are likely at lower risk of getting seriously ill from the virus.
Fauci stressed that the pandemic would not come under control unless everyone worked to prevent its spread. Even states that have brought their outbreaks under control, such as New York, or those that have yet to experience a serious outbreak are at risk of growing out of control as long as some people do not take proper precautions, Fauci said.
“The majority of those getting infected now are young people; many are out enjoying themselves, understandably. But realize when do that, you are part of a process: if you get infected, you will infect someone else and they infect someone else,” Fauci said. “We are all in it together and the only way we’re going to end it, is by ending it together.”
President Trump has sent mixed signals about how people should behave by refusing to wear a mask in public and holding large indoor rallies, where most people were not wearing masks. Trump told rally goers in Oklahoma on Saturday that he asked officials to “slow down the testing, please” so that the country would record fewer cases. White House officials have insisted that Trump made the comment in jest, but Trump said this week he wasn’t kidding.
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