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White House Coronavirus Task Force Press Conference. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired June 26, 2020 - 13:30   ET



DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: As I've said before, we're not defenseless. These are, in fact, very powerful weapons. And it's our collective responsibility to recommit ourselves to put them into routine practice.

Again, to stay six feet apart from each other as much as possible, to wear face coverings when we're in public, and to practice vigorous hand hygiene -- and to commit to do so as we've heard today to do our part to protect the vulnerable.

I also want to appeal to the Millennials and those that are under 40. It's really important that this group really commit themselves to these practices to protect those at risk and it's not just the elderly that are at risk.

Many of us may have friends and colleagues that are younger that may not advertise their underlying comorbidities. As the case would be with say, type 1 diabetes, or an underlying immunodeficiency. So again, asking this team of Millennials and younger people in this country to come and commit themselves.

I agree with Ambassador Birx, we're very thankful that the group is now coming forward to get tested, but I also want this group to put individual in (ph) practice the importance of our social distancing.

The one thing that I wanted to stress though is that there are differences in what we're experiencing today than what we all experienced in March, and April, and May -- and one of the things I want us to focus on is not the cases, per se, but the consequences, the impact of those cases. It wasn't long ago, probably within two months ago -- it's hard to believe, I don't think many people realize -- that 27 percent of all deaths that occurred in the United States actually died of pneumonia.

There was a pneumonia. Could have been influenza, could have been COVID. Twenty-seven percent, one in four of all the deaths in the United States, just two months ago, was caused by pneumonia.

I'm happy to say, today, the deaths due to pneumonia in this nation's back to baseline, it's about 7 percent. It's a big difference. A lot of those pneumonias that were dying were actually COVID-infected individuals that were the elderly, nursing homes, and individuals with comorbidities. We are seeing, despite these increased cases, we have seen a progressive decline in deaths. The last, say, two-week average, deaths in the United States now is around 650. And as you heard the vice president, it wasn't long ago that, sadly, we were losing 25,000 individuals a day. So I think it's critical that we continue to focus on -- on that, the consequences.

And as part of that, why it's important that we continue also to look forward to how we deal with and contain and control the COVID infection. But as we also change the consequences of the impact it's had on education in this country, or as on our economy and business.

So again, as I close, I want to just re-re-re-emphasize how important, for now, for individuals to really think seriously, as Tony said, about the responsibility to others that we have. Because this infection pathogen really does have the capacity to cause quite serious illness in individuals at high risk. And embrace our nation's recommendations that the vice president put up again, that we have for all phases of reopening in America.

Again, I also want to thank the younger groups for stepping forward and getting tested. Clearly, what we're seeing now is this age group is much more likely to be asymptomatic. And, again, to make that commitment to do their part to protect those of us that, whether we're young or old, have a comorbidity and would be more vulnerable to serious illness from this virus. Thank you very much.



Yes, please.

QUESTION: All the experts (inaudible) task force are stressing the importance of social distancing and also the threat (ph) of crowds. Yet your campaign has held two mass rallies, no social distancing, no masks. Could you tell me -- even Dr. Fauci has talked about not gathering in large crowds.

Can you tell me how -- why you continue to do this, why (inaudible) continues to hold these rallies?

PENCE: Well, the -- the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. And we have an election coming up this fall, and President Trump and I believe that taking proper steps, as we've created screening at recent events and -- and giving people the very best counsel that we have, we still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process. And we respect that.


I was -- I was pleased to see that now, the better part of a week since we were in Oklahoma, I think their positivity rate has actually declined as of today. And that's a great testament to the fact that people are using common sense, they're being responsible. They know and understand what's happening in the community in which they live.

And our emphasis today is really to say that we think it's most helpful if -- if the American people understand that what we're seeing across the South today is really outbreaks. They're outbreaks that are in specific counties. In some cases, they're outbreaks that are in specific communities. And we've surged CDC personnel, HHS personnel.

I didn't mentioned before, but three weeks ago, when we were seeing similar activity in North Carolina and Alabama, we sent personnel into those states, and we've actually seen declining numbers beginning in both of those states.

So the important thing is that not -- not one-size-fits-all. The overall guidance to every American to practice good hygiene, to practice the measures that we recommended at home and at work, stand. But -- but our focus today is to make sure that in those areas of the country where we're seeing a significant -- not only increase in cases, but an increase in positivity level, that the American people know just how important it is to listen to what their state and local health officials are directing them to do.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President?

PENCE: Please?

QUESTION: (inaudible), it seems the like the wearing of masks has kind of become a political statement, or I guess the decision not to wear a mask. Are you concerned about that? And is there a message that you would like to send to people about the importance of wearing masks?

PENCE: Well, we -- we think that where -- the first principle is that people ought to listen to their state and local authorities. I mean, I have to tell you, President Trump and I couldn't be more grateful for the partnership we forged with governors around the country.

I spoke to the governor of Florida, of Arizona, of Texas, just within the last 12 hours. And I told them that from this podium today, we would remind their citizens to -- to heed the guidance and the direction of state and local officials. In some cases, there's statewide guidance with regard to facial coverings and with regard to events and gatherings. In other cases, there are specific county-wide of city-wide directives.

And we just believe that what's most important here is that people listen to the leadership in their state and the leadership in their local community, and adhere to that guidance, whether that have to do with facial coverings, whether it have to do with the size of gatherings. And we'll continue to reinforce that message.


PENCE: Please?

QUESTION: Two questions, actually. You just mentioned that (inaudible) state and local authorities. What is the correlation between the spike in cases that we're seeing in states like Texas and Florida, and the way those states handled their reopening? Was it too much, too soon?

And secondly, I wanted to ask Dr. Fauci, you said in an interview that, quote, "Something is not working." What isn't working? And did you all, in your meeting today, come up with a plan to fix whatever isn't working?

PENCE: Well, let me respond first and then I'll let Dr. Fauci address it as well. And Dr. Birx may as well.

I think there will be a temptation for people to look at these Sun Belt states that have been reopening and putting people back to work, and -- and suggest that the reopening has to do with what we're seeing in the last week or so. But frankly, in the case of each of these states, they reopened, in some cases, almost two months ago. And -- and their test cases, their new cases from testing was low and steady, their positivity rate was low.

What -- what we're observing today -- and I've heard this from Florida, I've heard this from Texas and some other states along the Sun Belt -- is that we're seeing more and more young people under the age of 35 who are testing positive. In many cases, they have no symptoms, but they're coming forward and confirming that they -- that they have contracted the coronavirus.

We're working with the states -- and you speak about our plan. We've got -- we've got CDC personnel embedded in every state in the union. We're surging more CDC personnel as requested to each of these states to help them unpack what the data is suggesting.


I know the governor of Texas announced some new measures this morning, which we fully support. But what we're going to continue to do is give -- give our state leadership the very best information, the very best counsel that we have.

And -- and -- and if there's one message that comes through today, I hope it is -- it is saying to younger Americans in these states, and in these counties in particular, that they are -- are a big part of the numbers that we are seeing in new cases. And while there may not be a significant threat of a serious health outcome to them, I -- I know of no young person -- and I've got -- I've got three 20- somethings in my immediate family -- no young person would ever want to inadvertently expose a mom, a dad, a grandmother or grandfather or someone who's vulnerable to a serious result.

And so alerting them that there's been spread among that age group, urging them to take countermeasures and heed what their governors and -- and local officials are directing will be our -- our continued strategy.

Dr. Fauci, did you want to respond?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Yeah, sure. So what I meant by what is not working -- and this is not anybody's fault or any institution's fault -- is that what we're dealing with right now is community spread in the context of -- of a substantial proportion of the people who are getting infected do not know they're infected. They're not symptomatic. They're asymptomatic individuals.

The classic paradigm of identification, isolation and contact tracing to actually contain that is very difficult to make that work under those circumstances.

You superimpose upon that the fact that even with identification, isolation and contact tracing, often the dots are not connected. If you get on the phone and talk to people who are in some of these communities, you find a lot of it is done by phone. And when it's done by phone, maybe half of the people don't even want to talk to one who they think is a government representative. If you live in a community that is mostly brown or black, you're in a different situation that maybe 70 percent of them don't really want to talk to you. You can identify a contact, but you don't isolate them because you don't have the facility to isolate them. That is what's not working.

So what we're going to do -- and we are doing, and you're going to be hearing about this -- you know, flooding the -- flooding the area of a community to get a feel for what's out there, particularly among the asymptomatics.

So in other words, it's a paradigm shift. because we're dealing with young people, people who are going to be asymptomatic and people who are getting infected in a community setting, not an outbreak setting where you know who to identify, isolate and contact trace. That's what I meant.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Could I just -- I just want to finish -- expand his thought for just a second.

About three months ago we talked about how important it was to have community at the center. And I think when you talk about what's going to be different -- and part of the reason why the president and vice president have asked me to go out to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona is to not only meet with the state and local health officials, but to meet with the community groups so that the community groups can help us support community-specific messaging.

Public health messaging -- when you just keep saying the same thing over and over again and the people get tone-deaf to it, it's because it's not tailored to their specific circumstances and they don't see that message resonating in their lives. We've had to do this across the world. I've done this over and over again for HIV, TB and malaria.

At the center of this has to be the community. And the community will help us identify who needs to be tested, they'll help us identify which households have the most vulnerability in them, and how we can really go into those communities and support that response at a very local and ground level.

When we started this, we were very much facility-based, and we know facilities carry us a long way. But if we want to change the transmission rates in these metros, in specific communities and in specific parts of those metros, we've got to walk -- walk side by side with our community leaders and our community groups that know how to translate our scientific dogma and information down to a lever -- level where people will understand it, hear it and act on it. I know when they hear it and understand it, they will act on it.

And so that's how -- when you asked what's going to be different, that has already started and it's already going to be different.


FAUCI: You know, just -- just let me add to that. That's exactly what we did with HIV 30 years ago. We got the community involved in helping us to outreach. And I think that's very important to underscore what Dr. Birx said. And that's exactly what's being planned to do: to get people who know the community, who live in the community, who the community trusts.



PENCE: Right, right. Let's go. How about right here?

QUESTION: Mr. President (sic), do you expect the death rate to go up in the next three or four weeks, just like we're seeing the rate of infection go up now?

PENCE: Well, our -- our hope and our prayers is it's not the case.

We've seen, as you -- as you noted, we've seen a precipitous decline in fatalities. And again, I -- I -- one is too many. We grieve the loss of every American life.

But the fact that two months ago we had lost 2,500 Americans in a single day, and two days this week we lost less than 300 Americans is -- is a testament to our health care workers, to all of the medicines that Secretary Azar just described being -- being available in all 50 states. It's a testament to the efforts of the American people.

And we hope, as we continue to engage, that we'll continue to see those numbers decline.

The other reason we're encouraged is because at this point, when we look at our losses, roughly 2.5 percent of all of our losses took place in people under the age of 25, I mean, younger Americans, and in each case -- or at least 90 percent of the cases, they were people with -- with pre-existing conditions, underlying conditions that contributed to the sad outcome.

So as we see that in Florida and in Texas they've reported to us that half or even more than half of the new cases that are showing up every day are people under the age of 35, or younger Americans, in most cases, asymptomatic, our -- our hope is, is that -- that those younger, healthy Americans, like most have already, will continue to go through the coronavirus, will recover.

But our message today, as we've spent so much energy in the last four months protecting the most vulnerable. I mean, we've deployed testing resources, we've supported states efforts. States across the country in the last month have answered our call to test all of the residents of their nursing homes, to set up a plan to test all of the staff on a regular basis.

We -- we need to protect the most vulnerable and we want a message going out to younger Americans, particularly those along the Sun Belt, in these counties where we see new cases on the rise, positivity on the rise to know that we -- we need them to do their part to make sure and protect the most vulnerable so that we can -- so that we don't see those losses rise.

But it's -- it's in the hands of the American people, particularly young people in this country.

STAFF: All right, guys, last question.


PENCE: Right there.

QUESTION: ... President, thank you. A question for you and then a question for the doctors on childcare.

PENCE: Sure.

QUESTION: On the campaign, it really does sound, though, like you're saying "do as we say, not as we do." You're telling people to listen to local officials but in Tulsa you defied local health officials to have an event that even though you say it didn't result in a spike, dozens of Secret Service agents, dozens of campaign staffers are now quarantined after positive tests.

And then in Arizona, one of the hardest hit states, you packed a church with young people who weren't wearing masks. So how can you say that the campaign is not part of the problem that Dr. Fauci laid out?

PENCE: Well, I -- I want to remind you again that the freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States and even in a health crisis, the American people don't forfeit our constitutional rights.

In working with state officials, as we did in Oklahoma and as -- as we did in Arizona, we're creating settings where people can choose to participate in the political process and -- and we'll continue to do that. It -- it -- I think it's -- I think it's really important that we recognize how important -- how important freedom and personal responsibility are to this entire equation and -- but allowing -- allowing younger Americans -- allowing younger Americans to understand, particularly in the counties that are most impacted, the unique challenges that we're facing in their age group we think is important.


But look, it's -- it's -- it's so important that we recognize that -- that as we issued guidance to reopen America now two months ago and now as all 50 states are opening up our country again, people are going back to work, American everyday life is being restored kind of one step, one day at a time, I -- I -- I think it's important that we remind ourselves this is not a choice between the health of the American people and a strong economy, there are profound health implications to the lockdowns through which we just passed.

I -- I heard a -- I heard a statistic not long ago at a -- at a -- at a task force briefing that, in one jurisdiction, there had been a 50 percent increase in the number of people presenting in emergency rooms having attempted suicide. I mean, there are profound mental health issues, there are profound economic issues -- people needing to be back to work.

And -- and so we're -- we're -- our objective here today is just to make sure the American people know in 34 states, the cases are largely stable and there's no combination of rising cases and rising positivity rates. That's a tribute to the American people.

And in the -- in the 16 states we're focused on today, we simply want to -- we want to equip particularly young people with the knowledge of the part that they can play in -- in stemming the rising tide of new cases, not because the coronavirus represents a significant threat to them -- in most cases, it doesn't if you're a younger American -- but because we don't -- no younger American would ever want to spread the coronavirus to someone who would have a serious outcome.

But I'm -- I'm grateful for the time today. We hope this has been helpful and we'll be back with more information as time goes on.

Thank you.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar. And you have been watching a briefing from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. This is the first we've seen in nearly two months.

The vice president spent a lot of time applauding federal efforts and emphasizing how much worst the pandemic could have been without them.

But it can't be ignored that this briefing is coming just one day after the U.S. set a new record. Nearly 40,000 new confirmed cases reported in a single day.

Even as the vice president said that testing is generating new cases. Of course, testing does not generate new cases, testing reveals cases.

I want to bring in our experts and correspondents -- we need a lot of them -- to discuss this and break down exactly what happened here. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here, our chief medical correspondent. We also have Dr. Pete Hotez, a professor and the dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. There's really two elements to this. There's a lot of politics that

happened here. But let's break down the science and the medicine on this, Sanjay.

What were the takeaways for you on this briefing, that Americans watching this should be able to use and operationalize what they have heard, especially from Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, and despite what you heard, we are in the middle of a public health disaster. I know people are going to hear different things. There's a cognizant difference out there.

But let me just start with that. And it wasn't an inevitable health disaster, to be clear. One of the first things said is all 50 states are opening safely and responsibly. That's simply not true.

I don't think there's a single state that followed the opening criteria that the task force themselves actually laid out.

They say that we have greatly expanded testing. We're still at 10 percent of the testing we should be doing at this point in this pandemic.

They say we've had 45 days to stop the spread. We haven't stopped the spread.

You see what's happened here. We've had our highest number of infections since this pandemic began. The highest just happened over the last 24 hours there.

You know, this is a problem. We can spin it in different ways. But the reality, not only are things bad, they're as bad as they've been with regard to daily new infections.

I think the question is, is this an unmitigated problem right now. I think what Dr. Fauci was trying to say, and says in an artful way is, is it becoming a containable process.

Are there too many cases, too many new cases where we're not going to be able to contain this to isolate, to contract trace and do all the things we should have been doing in the beginning.


So I think they may be trying to put a happy and brave face on things there but we're in the middle of a real problem.

KEILAR: And it was interesting to hear, over and over, it was stressed, young people need to not be going out and behaving, though, of course, everyone has been cooped up for so long. They can't go out and behave like everything is back to normal.

We heard that from Dr. Fauci. We heard the vice president stress that as well. We heard Dr. Birx say we need to get them tested now because a lot of them could be asymptomatic. My question there is, of course, I think, anecdotally, we see that going on. But there's an issue of the politicization of masks. You have a lot of people who are not young, who will not be wearing masks. And it seems, from the vice president, that was ignored.

So talk to us about the kind of the population that was really stressed upon, needs to get it together, and then talk to us about actually the reality of the populations who need to maybe be doing more, Sanjay.

GUPTA: It was interesting because there were specific questions that were expected about these rallies. And what were the recommendations or guidance for these rallies? How can you say one thing at the podium from the Department of Health and Human Services and then have these rallies where people are not wearing masks?

The vice president sort of cloaked it in the First Amendment, this is a freedom of expression, freedom of speech. Despite the fact the ordinances in the communities said people should be wearing masks and doing all they can to mitigate the spread.

With regard to young people specifically, there's no question -- and we've known this for some time. This is not science to say people have spread this virus, even if they're not showing symptoMs. Therein lies the issue.

Young people are far less likely to develop symptoMs. That's a good thing. We know that. But they can still spread this virus. And we're clearly seeing that now. They can spread it.

I think one of the point Dr. Birx made, inadvertently or intentionally, I'm not sure. But who is at risk, really?

We know older people are at risk but LAO people with comorbidities. What are the comorbidities? Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease. When you look at those and apply it to the population of the United States, despite your age, you're starting to look at a large segment of the country that would be considered vulnerable in some ways.

I think Dr. Fauci struck a different tone with this issue than others, basically saying, look, I don't care if your state is beige or green or looks stable or improving, everyone is still vulnerable at this point. We really got to all behave like we have the virus and implement the basic public health measures.

KEILAR: Pregnant women are more vulnerable. Right? We've seeing in the data about hospitalizations. They're much more likely to be hospitalized than women their age who are not pregnant. So, that's also an issue there.

GUPTA: Right.

KEILAR: I wonder, Doctor Hotez -- if I can bring you into this -- he seemed to be stressing, the vice president, that reopening has not caused the uptick in cases. He said in some cases you look at the states down south and they reopened two months ago. We know there's been a phased reopening. If you look at the exact date

when this started in, say, Texas or Florida, yes, maybe almost two months ago but these are phased reopenings. And as we see people lag behind what is reopening and getting more comfortable with the idea of perhaps participating in that reopening, you have -- I wonder what you think about it.

Because I see young people, more likely to go to bars and restaurants, which are an issue when it comes to the spread, and yet he seems to be saying young people are to blame, but the reopening of bars and restaurants are not.

What did you make of that?


First of all I would say this helped remind me why I stopped watching the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings. They are disorganized and uninformative. And you really learn nothing.

What we know is we're seeing a massive resurgence in our met metropolitan areas, across the southwestern parted of the United States, here in Houston and Dallas and Phoenix, and into Los Angeles.

The vice president said the good news is there's no increase in positivity rate. That's false. We're seeing a steep increase in positivity rate. And the number -- and we will soon see an increase in deaths as well. And that was also obscured. We know the death rate -- the deaths will follow the big resurgence in the number of cases.


They still clung to this discredited idea that a lot of the increase is due to increase in testing. I'm looking at some of my notes here.