WHITE HOUSE - Amid continuing concern among members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force he leads, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence emphasized the positives in the current state of the outbreak ahead of his trip Wednesday to Arizona, one of the areas with the biggest spike in infections.
“Fatalities are at the lowest level since March,” Pence told reporters Tuesday during a visit to U.S. Public Health Service headquarters. “We’re in a much better place than four months ago, even two months ago.”
Pence noted there are 12 states “with rising cases and percent positive cases” and another 28 states with either of those situations.
Pence is visiting two of the current worst-hit states this week — Arizona and Texas.
In addition to Arizona, Pence is also making a visit this week to Texas, another of the hardest-hit states.
A team of 62 disaster medical assistance personnel deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration are now on the ground in Arizona, Pence announced.
The number of coronavirus cases in Texas on Tuesday rose by 6,975 — the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic, according to the state’s health department.
All 50 states are reopening their economies, according to Pence, however 16 states have scaled back on permitting some activities — a move the vice president emphasized he fully supports.
“We’re going to slow the spread. We’re going to flatten the curve. We’re going to save lives,” he predicted.
The top U.S. infectious disease specialist told lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill he is “quite concerned” about surges of coronavirus cases in the country.
“We are now having 40,000 new cases a day,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so, I am very concerned.”
As schools prepare to reopen in August and September, Fauci said a vaccine probably will not be available by then.
“Working with the companies and the investments made by this Congress, hopefully there will be doses available by the beginning of next year, said Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force.
Committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, stressed the importance of reopening schools and called on President Donald Trump and the public to wear masks to help prevent further increases in the spread of COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, this simple lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says if you're for Trump, you don't wear a mask. If you're against Trump, you do,” Alexander said in opening remarks. "That is why I have suggested the president should occasionally wear a mask, even though there are not many occasions when it is necessary for him to do so."
Alexander added that Trump “has millions of admirers," who “would follow his lead.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about that during a Tuesday briefing.
“The president is the most tested man in America” for COVID-19, and thus does not need to wear a mask, she replied.
Pence noted that both he and Trump have worn a mask in public.
“We’re going to respect the right of Americans” and encourage them to listen to the guidance of local health authorities, added Pence.
More than 125,000 COVID-19 deaths, about one-quarter of all fatalities worldwide, have been reported in the U.S., although many experts believe the U.S. death toll is much higher.
In addition to leading the world in COVID-19 fatalities, the U.S. is also the world leader in infections, with more than 2.6 million of the over 10.3 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.
Many of the first U.S. states to reopen, mostly southern and western states, are experiencing sharp increases in coronavirus cases.
Pence characterized this as partly due to the U.S. now being able to test 500,000 to 600,000 people every day.
“Something changed about two weeks ago,” the vice president noted.
The new surges in the U.S. has triggered renewed criticism of Trump's handling of the crisis just months before the November presidential election.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden strongly criticized what he called Trump's "historic mismanagement" of the pandemic during remarks Tuesday in Delaware.
“I’m not going to be holding rallies,” Biden said, contrasting his campaign with that of the president, who has been criticized for recent indoor events in Oklahoma and Arizona.