Pence Touts COVID-19 Progress While Task Force Highlights Growing Number of Cases

June 26, 2020

In its first briefing in 2 months, the White House Coronavirus Task Force addressed rising cases of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) and positive test rates across states in the South, as well as the new data that show the majority of new cases are occurring in younger Americans.

For the first time in nearly 2 months, the White House Coronavirus Task Force held a briefing to discuss the latest state of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States. The focus of the discussion were the states with a growing number of cases and an increasing positive test rate, as well as the new finding that the majority of people getting infected now are younger Americans.

According to Vice President Mike Pence, who kicked off the briefing, the president had asked the task force to hold the briefing because of the surge of cases in southern states. Pence acknowledged that there has been extraordinary progress in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Orleans, all of which were struggling under the weight of the pandemic just 2 months ago, but now cases are rising in other areas of the country, particularly in the South.

However, Pence did blame the increase in cases in the increase in testing. “We want the American people to understand it’s almost inarguable that more testing in generating more cases,” he said, adding that the increasing volume of cases “is a reflection of a great success in expanding testing across the country.”

Following the vice president, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, MD, noted that the rate of positive test results is on the rise in some states. She explained how the government is identifying inflection points that indicate states with rising number of cases and rising positive test results. The 2 states with the largest positive tests are Texas and Arizona, followed by Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. Nevada and Utah have positive test rates under 10%, but they are also being watched closely, Birx said.

She used some states to delve deeper into the numbers and explained how in Florida, the data showed that the increase in cases and positive test results is not happening evenly across the state. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are all showing the highest increase in cases, and those are areas where resources and testing will be focused.

In Texas, daily tests are continuously increasing, but so is the test positivity rate. Birx showed how throughout May, after the state began reopening, the test positive rate continued to decline even as testing increased. It was only in the last 2 weeks that they are beginning to see an inflection point as test positivity rates rise.

The day before the the task force briefing, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made the decision to shut down all bars, reported the Houston Chronicle. The state is also restricting restaurants to 50% indoor capacity starting Monday, June 29, and requiring events larger than 100 people to be approved by local officials. During the briefing, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Florida’s daily cases hit 8942, which far surpassed the single-day record of 5511 set 2 days earlier. As a result of the increase, Florida also announced it was suspending alcohol consumption at bars across the state.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), struck a markedly different tone than the vice president, noting that “we have a serious problem in certain areas.”

He emphasized that while the United States is a heterogenous country, that does not mean it is not closely connected. “So, what is going on in one area of the country ultimately can have an effect on other areas of the country.”

Fauci, who has been the director of NIAID for decades, said that COVID-19 has been unlike any other infectious disease he has chased. It is unique in that 40% may have no symptoms when they contract it, but others have mild symptoms, still others have severe symptoms, some have to go into the hospital for treatment, and others may have to be intubated or ventilated.

“Depending on where you are on the spectrum, you have a different attitude” toward the virus, he acknowledged. But he added that anyone who is at risk of getting infected is “propagating the dynamic process of the outbreak.”

A risk to one person is not just a risk to the individual, because they may be innocently infecting others. Fauci highlighted that the majority of people getting infected are young people. There have been pictures of people under the age of 40 out in crowds. “Understandably,” he said, admitting he had a stage in his life when he thought he was invulnerable. “No blame there.” But he stressed that these individuals are part of the process and will undoubtedly infect someone, who will infect someone else. Ultimately, someone vulnerable will get infected.

“You have an individual responsibility to yourself, but you have a societal responsibility,” Fauci said. “Because if we want to end this outbreak—really end it and then hopefully when a vaccine comes, put a nail in the coffin—we’ve got to realize that we are part of the process.”

While there is focus on the states with rising cases, Fauci pleaded to not forget the parts of the country where cases are declining or have stayed stabled. Those parts of the country are still vulnerable to an increase in cases if the United States does not extinguish the outbreak.

“We are all in it together, and the only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together,” he said.