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Florida Reports 18,000 Plus New COVID-19 Cases This Weekend Alone; Vice President Pence Speaks As Coronavirus Cases Surge In The U.S.; Texas Governor Addresses COVID-19 Surge In His State. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired June 28, 2020 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:00]

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We also started something in April and have now really expanded it. Having COVID dedicated skilled nursing facilities, so that if you have an outbreak at a nursing home and you're not able to properly isolate the patient, maybe that patient doesn't need hospitalization in terms of their level of acuity, but they do need to be isolated.

So you now have these dedicated facilities. There is one right here in Pensacola. We have them in different parts of the state where these folks can be transferred so that they are not spreading the infection in their nursing home he and that is really something that we didn't have available in March. We now have a lot of that available throughout the state.

We have also now, any time you have a resident of a long-term care facility in a hospital regardless of whether it's for COVID, they need to be tested regardless of their symptoms before they are discharged back to the long-term care facility because we're concerned about somebody being asymptomatic and then bringing it back and spreading it amongst vulnerable residents.

Now we went through -- I had the National Guard and strike teams going to nursing homes, testing the residents, testing the staff. It took us -- because we have over 4,000 facilities in the state of Florida, so it took us about two months to get through all of that.

Now, what we're doing is every two weeks, every staff member, employee at a long-term care facility needs be tested, so we have a system in place where those tests are distributed to all the long-term care facilities and we're going to be getting data on the long-term care facility workers, hopefully in real-time as they are testing, and this is something that is a mandate and a requirement.

That is a way, too, if somebody is positive you can isolate that worker so that they are not interacting with the residents and spreading it there.

Nationwide, if you did an honest accounting of how and not all states have done that, but if you were honest about it, certainly more than 50 percent of the COVID related fatalities have been with residents of long-term care facility and so that is absolutely our number one area of vulnerability when it comes to COVID-19.

We have obviously done a lot on infection control, helping them as best we can. There's a look at COVID dedicated nursing facilities. So you see, you have the Luna Health and Rehab here in Escambia, we have one on Tallahassee.

So between for Northwest Florida, you have a couple of different options. The one in Jacksonville was the first one that was done in April. And now, we're going to be opening up one in Miami-Dade County on, I think, July 1st down there at the old Pan-American Hospital building.

So this is there. We didn't have that three months ago and I think that this will help protect the most vulnerable, and throughout this whole time, 80 percent -- almost 80 percent of the long-term care facilities in Florida have not had a COVID positive resident, which is, I think pretty good given how contagious this disease is and particularly how it can pass asymptomatically.

They've worked hard. Obviously, we have tried to support as best we can. And of course, the brunt of the COVID-related fatalities are in that 65 and plus age group. Certainly, particularly in the long-term care facilities.

And I think one of the messages that we have, we've advised from March and continue to advice, and all our executive orders, all our public health advisories for folks who are in those vulnerable age groups or who have underlying medical conditions to limit -- avoid crowds, limit contact as much as you can with folks outside the home.

Just given that, we're seeing this circulate with young people in particular. There is a vulnerability there if you're maintaining close contact.

By and large, the folks here in Florida, the seniors have been very, very diligent, and I know it's gone on now -- we're in the third month of this. I know, it can be tiring. But we would just ask you to maintain that diligence right now and if you're in one of those younger groups, you know, make sure that you're behaving in ways that aren't going to put someone who is more vulnerable at risk.

We also talked about avoiding the three Cs: closed space with poor ventilations, crowded places with many people nearby and close contact settings such as close-range conversation. That's just the reality of how this thing likes to transmit.

In Florida and I know you're seeing cases across the entire Sunbelt and I'm not exactly sure why you're seeing it there as opposed to other places, but one of the things that I think is a factor as it gets warmer in Florida, people want to beat the heat. They want to go inside. They want to do air conditioning.

So, if they are having party or getting together, they are much more likely to be doing it indoors, in the AC, in a closed space. That is going to increase the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

[15:05:10]

DESANTIS: Outdoor transmission particularly in sunshine heat and humidity has not been something that we've seen a lot of here in the State of Florida and I think that's the data. It has been pretty clear throughout most of the United States and most of the world that you just don't see a lot of outbreaks tied to outdoor activity.

Now, it doesn't mean that they can't -- if you're really close in a really large group -- I mean, obviously we've seen -- there's some suspect that you may have seen some of that in the U.S. recently, but I would say from run-of-the-mill activity, you know, outdoors is going to be better than indoors.

Crowded places, you know, none of this stuff in our Phase 1 or Phase 2 you know, would permit necessarily to have a crowded place in any of these things, but I know not everyone has been following all the different rules.

But just understand that is going a situation we're going to have much more likely have transmittal of the virus and we've seen that with some of the clusters that have been identified particularly amongst these young people as I think some of the folks may talk about.

But, you know, they will say, what did you do? We had a big graduation party for all of my friend or whatever. Well, and then you end up having a bunch of them getting infected.

So the three Cs are something to think about. Avoid them as much as you can, and then in addition to that, particularly when you can't socially distance, wearing a facial covering. We've advised that since the beginning of May, including and especially for face-to-face businesses and I think you've seen that with businesses who do things like hair salons and barbershops.

You see a lot of restaurants where the servers are wearing the facial covering and the gloves and I think that that's a good thing to do. I think it gives customers a lot of confidence that you're really putting safety first.

Obviously, washing hands and if you are sick or have symptoms, then certainly stay home. You'll have an ability to get a test at all of these sites, but stay home and don't infect other people. We think that that's a responsible thing to do.

So, that's where we are. I think that the increased cases are being driven, a lot of it because you are seeing much more spread amongst the younger demographic. I think that that positivity rate, we would like to turn that and get that going in a downward direction.

We are testing a lot more, and so part of this is, you're testing in areas you wouldn't have been testing before particularly in that 18 to 34 demographic, but it's important to identify who may be carrying this so that even if they aren't significantly ill from this, that they don't pass to it somebody else who may end up being more vulnerable to a serious illness. So I appreciate being here. I want to turn it over to Tom to make some

comments and then we'll let some of the other physicians speak and then maybe just have a discussion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much Governor DeSantis, and we welcome you to Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola. We are glad to be with you again and we are so grateful for your leadership. You and your team have been responsive to our needs and consistently open to our input.

We're grateful for everything you're doing help protect our communities and our families during this unprecedented time and we thank you for your strong advocacy on behalf of Floridians with the Federal government as they provide aid in the form CARES Act funding.

And I really want to take this opportunity to recognize and celebrate our caregivers and our physicians, our associates and our leadership team across Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast including those right here at Ascension Sacred Heart Pensacola.

Their efforts have been extraordinary and they have gone above and beyond tirelessly and selflessly every moment of every day to provide clinically excellent, compassionate, personalized safe care for every patient, every loved one and they have cared for one another.

I also want to emphasize for anyone who needs care, especially if it's a potentially -- for a serious illness or injury, don't delay getting the care you need.

We have enhanced safeguards and state-of-the-art screening and infection prevention infection practices in place to ensure safety, clinical excellence, comfort and healing.

We continue our COVID-19 readiness and response plans to both eliminate the spread of the virus and to immediately surge if necessary to care for an influx of patients should we experience that.

We continue to lead Pensacola and the panhandle in providing COVID-19 testing including at our multiple drive-thru locations.

As we continue to work in close partnership with local, state and federal authorities and health officials, we also need your help from everyone across our community.

You can help by following the guidelines that we've been encouraging you to --

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right, we are going to continue to monitor what's going on with in Pensacola with Governor DeSantis.

Meantime, I want to take you straight now to Texas and there you see, Vice President Mike Pence along with Texas Governor Abbott. Let's listen in.

[15:10:10] GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): ... that will include the Vice President as

well as Dr. Birx. But, in addition to that, probably at least once a week, I'll have the opportunity to visit with the Vice President about challenges or issues that may be occurring in the State of Texas.

Sometimes, it's me calling him, sometimes late at night or on a weekend talking about a need that we have or something that we need the focus on, or other time it will be him calling me. Most recently, you might remember on Father's Day, you called me and just wanted a lay of the land.

And we got to share each other Happy Father's Day with each other as we're work on protecting fathers and mothers and children across the State of Texas. And so Mr. Vice President, I want to thank you and thank the Trump administration and all of your great team members for what you've done to help Texas as we navigate our way through conquering COVID-19.

Speaking of which, I do want to just share a couple of things. One is, as everybody knows during the course of April, Texans join together with our fellow Americans to focus on slowing the spread. We did exactly that. And that's what led to the beginning of the opening of businesses in the State of Texas.

And then, after the opening was announced on April 27th, we continued to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the State of Texas so much so that all the way until the 26th or 27th of May, we went through the lowest positivity rate that we ever achieved during the course of this pandemic. It was 4.27 percent at that time.

But we need to understand that COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks.

Over just the past few weeks, the daily number of cases have gone from an average of about 2,000 to more than 5,000 per day. At the same time, hospitalizations have increased from about 2,000 per day to more than 5,000 per day.

And the positivity rate that just one month ago was at 4.27 percent is now well over 13 percent.

Now, one thing I said from the very beginning, and that is that Texas will follow data in making decisions about how we move forward. One thing I declared early on is we would be looking at that positivity rate because the positivity rate shows us that a measurement of the way in which there is community spread in Texas.

And with a positivity rate of over 10 percent, I declared early on it would be an alarm bell for Texas to take action to rein in the spread of COVID-19, and that's exactly what we began to announce this past week.

Measured steps to ensure that we are taking specific identified action that can target ways in which we can reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Here's what I know. What I know is that Texans working together, we were able to slow the spread of COVID-19 in April and in May and I know that once again, all Texans coming together and working together, we will once again slow the spread of COVID-19.

Texas understands the need of so many families in the state to ensure they have the ability to provide for their livelihoods. Families need to put food on the table. They need to pay rent. They need to take care of their families. We want them to be able to do that.

And hence, we know that we can do both, continue to allow businesses to open while containing the coronavirus. But it does require all Texans to go back to those strategies that we mastered.

Wearing a facemask, sanitizing your hands. Keeping a safe distance. Remembering this, and that is if you don't need to get out, there's no reason to go out at this particular time.

If you can keep your distance from others, that's a very good safe place to be and that is especially true for anybody who is age 65 or older and hence, is in a more vulnerable data set.

You know one thing remarkable about Texas and that is that despite the increase in the spread of the coronavirus, Texas still has the second lowest death rate of the top 27 most affected states in the country.

[15:15:10]

ABBOTT: We cherish the lives of our fellow Texans. We must all come together and all work together to make sure we do all we can to continue to protect the lives of our fellow Texans, and we will take these, worn by everybody in the coming days to make sure that we will protect those lives and we will slow the spread of COVID-19.

Someone who has been a partner with us in this effort, who has provided guidance, help and support, every step of the way, someone without whose help, we really wouldn't be having a successful response to COVID-19 is the Vice President of the United States, Vice President Mike Pence. Thank you for your friendship, thank you for your leadership.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you, Governor Abbott. Thank you for those good words, and thank you for your leadership.

From the very outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the White House Coronavirus Taskforce represented here today by Dr. Deborah Birx and Secretary Ben Carson has been working very closely with your administration, and we're grateful for the partnership that we forged.

President Trump wanted us to be here today with developments over the last two weeks, with the rising positivity and the rising number of cases with a simple message to you and that is to you and the people of Texas, we're with you and we're going stay with you.

We're going make sure that Texas and your healthcare system in Texas have the resources, have the supplies, have the personnel to meet this moment. The Governor and I also talked today about the vital importance of

testing. At this point, Texas is testing at an enormous scale across state, but in our briefing today, we spoke about how we can accelerate testing, accelerate returns on testing and we'll be carrying that back tonight to the Coronavirus Taskforce, as well as to your private partners.

Companies like Lab Corps and Quest to make sure that Texas has the resources to identify this moment. This has been a helpful ground report and we're going to take back the specific requests, Governor, that you've forwarded to us and your team has forwarded.

But I want to also acknowledge that all along the way from the time that we first unveiled the 45 days to slow the spread, cases in positivity in Texas were low and steady.

You flattened the curve here in Texas. It's a tribute to the people of this great state. But about two weeks ago, something changed and we wanted to get a report from you directly about that and make sure that you have the counsel, the resources and the support to meet this moment.

I also want to commend the Governor for your decisive action. Reopening this economy, which began in early May is a tribute to your leadership and the steady progress in putting Texas back to work is something every Texan can be proud of.

But with the development of these new cases, as you said going from 2,000 a day to 5,000 a day, positivity rate going from roughly four percent to 13 percent, we're grateful, Governor, that you've taken the steps that you've taken to limit the kind of gatherings and meeting at certain places in communities that may well be contributing to the community spread that we're seeing in Texas and in states like Arizona and Florida, and California as well.

Let me add my voice to the Governor's voice to say when we issued the guidelines to open up America again, we laid out a phased re-opening plan. Texas took that plan and implemented it here in a safe and responsible way, but there was guidance throughout that applied to all of the phases and chief among them was that people should continue to practice good hygiene, wash your hand, avoid touching your face and wear a mask wherever it's indicated or wherever you're not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and we would strongly reiterate that today.

[15:20:02]

PENCE: I know that roughly half the state is under local ordinances, strongly recommend. If your local officials in consultation with the state are directing you to wear a mask, we encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas and where you can't name social distancing, wearing a mask is a good idea and it will, we know, from experience will slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Another aspect of this that we have observed and Dr. Birx, I'll turn it over to her in a second is that we are seeing in Texas and in Florida and other affected states, a significant number of younger Americans that have contracted COVID.

And that -- it is a good thing that we know people have contracted it, not because younger Americans without underlying conditions are particularly vulnerable to a serious outcome, but because no American under the age of 35 would ever want to inadvertently infect a parent, a grandparent, an elderly neighbor or an elderly friend.

And that's what I would say and what Dr. Birx said on Friday to all the wonderful young people here in Texas, is this is a moment where you really have -- we have to put our arms around and protect the most vulnerable among us and particularly seniors with underlying health conditions are precisely those for whom the worst outcomes occur.

And so, as we deal with community spread, as we engage in the kind of steps that the Governor has directed, here in Texas, we just encourage particularly all of the younger Americans among us.

If you have a concern, whether you have the symptoms or not, go ahead and get tested. And in any event, it's a good time to steer clear of senior citizens, and to practice -- practice the kind of measures that will keep our most vulnerable safe.

But, Governor, again, I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for what you've done in this state. When we hear that Texas has the lowest number of fatalities of the major affected states, that is a tribute to your healthcare workers, it is a tribute to your people and frankly, it is a tribute to your leadership.

Our objective is to keep it that way. Our objective is to save lives as Texas continues to reopen your economy, and help to lead this country back to work.

But I want you to be clear, we know we're all in this together. And, Governor, you know, I'm a phone call away. This team stands ready to work with you, to work with Senator Cornyn, your great delegation in Washington, D.C. We're going to make sure Texas has what you need, when you need it and with your leadership, with the cooperation of the people of Texas and with God's help, I know we're going to blunt this outbreak and we're going to protect our most vulnerable and we're going to save lives.

So thank you, Governor very much, and with that, Dr. Birx will share a few reflections on what we're seeing and she will be having additional briefings later today and she and I will be traveling to a number of other affected states over the next several days.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Thank you Mr. Vice President. Governor, Senator, it is a privilege to be here in the Great State of Texas and particularly at this Medical Center. I love the motto: Educate, heal, discover because that is what has happened with our COVID-19 response.

It's been a privilege to work with the health team here and the Governor. We talked about your opening plan, I think, late Friday night. I don't think -- I think you've work 24/7, too, late Friday night. At some time at the end of April where we talked through each of the

aspects of the opening plan, and it was a very serious and safe opening plan and you can see the impact of the opening plan and how it worked out.

All of May, for almost five weeks and then there was an inflection point and I really appreciate the Governor and health committees of really understanding that inflection point was around test positive.

That seems to be our earliest indicator of new cases because we have enough testing now at the community level to start finding the asymptomatic and early cases and we can start seeing even the increase in test positive of where we see evidence of increased hospitalizations.

[15:25:06]

BIRX: And I think that has -- it's good to know that that is an alert system we can trust and it is an alert system that we can trust as you begin to control this.

We've been having a great meeting with the Health Commissioner and your health leadership at this Medical Center, and I think what raised -- the concern that's been raised is what is happening now is very different than what was happening through April and May where you were having outbreaks that were quickly contained because they were at a nursing home or a prison or a meat-packing plant.

And somehow, over the last 15 or 16 days, it's taken on a very different aspect through Texas and you can see it in Harris County. You can see it -- Harris County primarily, you can see the rate of increase is quite enormous right now and you can see it in Bear County and Travis County.

Dallas is more steady in its rate of increase. But I think in talking to your medical group here and to all of the Texans, what we're seeing here is an increased rate of hospitalizations of 20 to 40-year-olds, and I think that really tells us that there's a lot of infection in the 20 to 40-year-olds. We know that's the primary asymptomatic group.

But what it tells us in that asymptomatic spread, it is hitting those vulnerable 20 to 40-year-olds that have issues with co-morbidities. Maybe a little obesity, a little type 2 diabetes.

And so, when you're out with your friends and I want to thank the Governor for his action on the bars, I am really appealing to every Texan to wear a mask. I think -- we know now there is scientific evidence that masks both keep you from infecting others, but may also partially protect you from getting infected. I think that's a new discovery and a new finding.

And it is very encouraging to Texans to know that you can protect one another. I know it's difficult in the 20s and 30-something but really just here really to ask every one of them to wear a mask. Every single one of them to wear a mask. And if they are interacting with their parents and grandparents, they

should wear a mask then too because we know now how many of them are asymptomatic and no one wants to pass the virus to others.

But we see from this very Medical Center that you have 20 to 40-year- olds in the ICU. Now most likely, they will recover because Texas has done extraordinarily well. But we have to protect one another.

And so I really came here with the Vice President to really hear what was happening at the ground level, to get a report because in the end, it's communities that will stop this epidemic with great state leadership, and we are grateful to be here and to learn from you all and to take that back and take these best practices, take the best practices of closing the bars and then following the impact.

By getting masks a hundred percent compliance in Harris County and Dallas County and Bear County and Travis County and really get and see that impact.

We have additional tools that we didn't have just two months ago. We have different tools to prevent the spread with masks and social distancing at a much higher and greater level. We know now with closing the bars, but we also have better therapeutics and better care and better knowledge about how to save people's lives.

So we have a different tool set to bring to the people of Texas to actually curb the epidemic and stop the spread here as well as assure that everyone in the hospital does well. So thank you for the opportunity to meet your staff. Thank you for your staff coming in on a Sunday, spending the time with me. I'm deeply grateful.

ABBOTT Thank you very much, Doctor.

PENCE: Dr. Carson?

DR. BEN CARSON, H.U.D SECRETARY: Well, it's wonderful to be back here. I hadn't been here for quite a longtime and UT Southwest has a very well deserved extent reputation.

I want to thank you again, Mr. Vice President for the tremendous leadership of the Coronavirus Taskforce. It has made a tremendous difference. It's wonderful working with governors like you, Governor Abbott who actually pay attention to data and who are willing to be flexible for the sake of the people. It makes a big difference because some people just get into their lane and they stay there no matter what's going on.

And Dr. Birx is the only person that I know who works longer and harder than the President, doesn't sleep. So we appreciate that hard work, but all the people on the Taskforce.

And as a congressional representative, Senator Cornyn, I appreciate your tremendous contributions there as well.

You know, we've learned an enormous amount about this virus and about this disease over the last few months. And, you know, it is an evolving process. We're learning more each day. And the important thing is that we've learned a lot about how it spread.

[15:30:19]

CARSON: I don't think there are very many adults in this country who don't know about the hand washing techniques that should be employed, about the masking, about the social distancing.

The problem is people aren't doing it. And, you know, this is actually within the hands of the citizens of this country. We get to determine how long this thing is going to plague us. It's so like a battery, a rechargeable battery.

Every time it can infect somebody, it gets new life. But you know, if you do the right thing and it is not infecting a lot of people, it kind of dies down. So, we get a chance to really effect that the way we want to. And we want freedom.

You know, particularly in Texas. But, you know, you have to look at the long term freedom. And, you know if we beat this thing back now, we get a lot more freedom in the long run.

So I think we're on the way. We just need to disseminate that information. Everybody in their sphere of influence and to be the example themselves.

PENCE: Thank you, Doctor. Senator Cornyn?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Let me first start, Mr. Vice President, by saying thank you for being here. You and Dr. Birx and Dr. Carson, I think this is very reassuring to the 29 million people who call Texas home because there's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of misinformation, a lot of fear.

And I think just as we, as a number of you said dealing with the facts and data, we can reassure the people of Texas that we'll get through this and get through together.

So, Governor, let me just say how proud I am of the great job you and your team have done and I've known you long enough to know you don't make rash or emotional decisions. You do it based on the facts and this is as, we were discussing a little bit earlier, sort of like trying design and build an airplane while you're flying it, because things that we thought were true proved not to be so.

Things we didn't know we now know and so that's -- I the think it's a big deal that you're here, Mr. Vice President, it demonstrates a commitment --

WHITFIELD: All right, you've been watching two very important briefings coming from two states that are being hit the hardest with the rising cases of coronavirus -- Texas and Florida there.

Governor DeSantis in Florida there acknowledging that yes, there is a spike in numbers, a spike in positivities, but claiming much of it can be blamed on an increase in people of a certain demographic -- a younger demographic 18 to 44, and most of it because of socializing he says.

In Texas, you heard the Vice President there, Pence acknowledging a spike in Texas saying also what's contributing to that spike is the groups getting together and he says wearing a mask is a good thing.

So let's talk about the real similarities here coming from these briefings out of Florida and Texas. I've got a great contingent of experts and reporters from Texas to Florida and to Washington.

Right now, let's go to Dr. Michael Saag, an Associate Dean for Global Health at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Also with us there is Francesca Chambers, a White House correspondent for McClatchy D.C.

So, Doctor Saag, let me begin with you in Texas. Governor Abbott saying it has been a swift and dangerous change, talking about positivity rate of more than 13 percent.

Were you expecting to hear an announcement perhaps coming from the Governor or the Vice President about how those numbers are going to be tackled?

DR. MICHAEL SAAG, ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR GLOBAL HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA IN BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think today, I heard for the first time the Vice President really emphasizing mask wearing as did both governors. So, that's a step forward.

I also heard a lot of victory lap activities saying aren't we doing a good job now? And I am glad to see we're refocused on getting the epidemic under control. But if I were to give a grade for all of us, except for maybe a few states like New York, Washington State, New Jersey, I would say we're getting mostly an F right at the moment going from the first part of May when we reopened until now.

Because when we reopened in retrospect, fair enough, we were saying, okay, we've got this under control now. We can start going back to normal activities. But we didn't say at the time we still need to keep distance and wearing masks.

[15:35:10]

WHITFIELD: Let me ask you, Dr. Saag, just to take a moment there, I just want to hear Vice President Pence and what he is addressing right now.

PENCE: ... to make sure not only do we continue the testing at those five sites, but the Governor needs additional public resources to expand testing, that will be made available.

We're encouraged on the supply side that in talking with the Nim Kidd and the team here in Texas that on personal protective equipment, critical supplies that Texas believes that they have a significant abundant amount of supplies. But we told them as we don't build the strategic National Stockpile, as we continue to operate our efforts at the Federal level, that we'll make sure and backfill anything Texas need in that respect. At this point, I think, Governor, you informed us that you've

suspended elective surgery in four counties. But it was encouraging to hear that only 20 percent of patients in Texas hospital today have COVID, which means that hospitals have a great deal of ability to expand their capability here, but we'll make sure that's the case.

But on testing front, there was a fairly routine winding down of those first test sites that were operated by the U.S. Public Health Service, but that was frankly -- those decisions were set into motion before we saw what was happening in these states. We'll continue them every bit as long as Texas needs them.

ABBOTT: I'll add to that. So, beginning several weeks ago, Chief Nim Kidd was working with officials in Federal H.H.S. to be able to receive a handoff of those testing sites so that the State of Texas would have operational control over not just those, but the goal and the capability was going to be able to expand even more testing sites and do even more testing.

So there is going come a day when those testing sites will be handed over from the Federal government to the state with us being able to have full capability to make sure even more testing is going to be able to be achieved.

I'll add this also and that is a partner in this process, as UT Southwestern Medical Center, they are working collaboratively both with us, but on their own programs, especially here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to do expansive testing.

And so, there will be no shortage of testing either in Texas or the DFW region in particular.

PENCE: All right, I appreciate the question. Thank you. Please?

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, Governor Abbott said on Friday that his biggest regret was re-opening bars too soon. In that same vein, what part of the national response do you wish had been different or could have been better?

PENCE: Well, to be honest with you, I served alongside the President who was always has eyes forward. He wanted us to be here in Texas today. I'll be in Arizona and Florida before the week is out because we want to focus on where we are today.

But I will tell you, when you look at the sacrifices that the American people made over all 45 days of Slow the Spread, I think it demonstrated the resilience and the character of this country, and frankly, of the people of Texas, and it gives us great confidence as the Governor said that having flattened the curve before here in Texas, that with the steps the Governor has taken with regard to closing bars, preserving capacity by suspending elective surgery, encouraging everyone in Texas to wear a mask, we encourage wherever it is indicated by local authorities as necessary or wherever anyone can't engage in social distancing, it is the right idea.

We're very confident that we're going to get through this. But we're entirely focused right now on this moment and we're going stay focused there, today and tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question.

QUESTION: ... today on the importance of wearing a mask and you have all exhibited that behavior. Does that need to come directly from the President? From the top? And does it undercut the message of the Taskforce when he has implied that wearing a mask could be a political statement against him?

Does he need to actively encourage Americans to wear a mask as you guys have today?

PENCE: Well, the President who tapped me to lead the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and part of our guidelines to open up America, again, encourage people to wear facial coverings where social distancing was not possible.

[15:40:07]

PENCE: So, our administration is promoting the practice, but when the Governor and I talked this week, we talked about the importance in this moment of calling on people across Texas, wear a mask.

First, if you're in the 50 percent of the state that requires it locally, we encourage you to adhere to local guidance and listen to your local health officials because they are tracking what's happening in their community every day.

And the guidance they give about when to wear a mask when it's appropriate, when it's necessary is important. But for anyone, if you can't maintain social distancing, which is that if you're going be within six feet of people for more than 15 minutes, it's just a good idea to wear a mask.

And I would add -- I thought Dr. Birx made a very compelling comment and that's also to see young people with everything we see happening here with the rise of cases, particularly among young people, if you're going go see mom and dad, if you're going see any elderly friends, it is a good time to wear a mask just to make sure that no one inadvertently convey the coronavirus.

So, it is an important message. We're they're convey it on behalf of the administration, the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and the President and we will continue to do that.

But, Governor, I want to thank you again. Thank you for you leadership. We'll be following up on the discussions that we had. And I appreciate -- I appreciate the Senator's support of the CARES Act, legislation, resources and I'll reiterate the promise that he quoted and is that to you, the people of Texas, we're going make sure you have what you need when you need it, and we're going to get through this.

When we look at the path of the coronavirus, everything the people of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut went the through, New Orleans, Michigan and then the steady state that Texas managed until just the last few weeks, we know we're going to get through this and we are going to get through this together.

So thank you very much, Governor. Appreciate it.

ABBOTT: Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you all.

WHITFIELD: Okay, pretty good indicators there. The Vice President is finished. He closes the book there and he has thanks Texas Governor Abbott even more questions are coming his way.

But perhaps we heard from this Vice President more now in the last 15 minutes than over three months. It's important to wear a mask. It's a good thing to wear a mask.

We saw him, Dr. Saag, come off the airplane when arriving in Dallas wearing a mask. That is not something we have seen the Vice President customarily do and then reiterating there with the Texas Governor alongside him to wear a mask.

So that is new. That is a very striking message coming from the Vice President. We also heard it from the Florida governor. But again, while these two states -- and here is a picture of Vice President Pence arriving in Dallas this morning with a mask being greeted by Texas Governor Abbott wearing a mask.

But this has been the message, has it not, from Texas and Florida with leadership saying let's go back to the basics. It is not necessarily proposing anything new with the spike in coronavirus case, but go back to, the messages of wearing a maverick, washing your hands and maintaining distance. Dr. Saag, is that enough?

SAAG: I hope it is. To be honest, this is all one giant experiment. We're dealing with a pandemic we've never experienced before. And I believe that those things that you just said will keep us safer for sure.

The question is can we reverse trends in these states that are having the more exploding pandemics and we will see. It's much better than we've seen before.

I'm heartened by the developments from the Governors and the Vice President today so, we'll look over the next -- really, it's going to be four weeks because the exposures that happened yesterday will still be showing up 10 to 14 days from now.

WHITFIELD: Francesca Chambers, if you're still with us there, so clearly, we are hearing the message from the Vice President there, you know, saying go back to the basics.

The Florida Governor DeSantis saying go back to the basics. People maintain your social distancing. But is there -- is there seemingly some reticence of trying to offer anything more than that, or is it just everyone is out of ideas. What more can to be done?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT MCCLATCHY: Well, the White House and the Vice President in particular this morning have been consistent in saying they believe that it is up to states to implement these procedures such as requiring masks to be worn. And that comes even as folks like Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former F.D.A. Administrator has said that he believes masks should be required.

But the reticence that you're seeing here is that the White House wants governors to mandate this themselves and the same today --

WHITFIELD: I mean, these governors, those governors not willing to mandate it.

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CHAMBERS: Right. And the Vice President and the White House have made it clear that they do not want to do that either. So what you're going see is the Vice President coming to Texas like he did today for a briefing. He is supposed to go to Florida for a very similar briefing and he is expected to speak to governors on the phone again tomorrow.

WHITFIELD: Sara Westwood with us from Washington. This is significant that the Vice President would wear the mask like we've seen him because we've seen him in other environments whether it's visiting offices, even hospitals, medical facilities, not wearing masks and no one around him.

In fact, it's been reported, people have been asked to remove their masks, but in this case, it was very much showcased along with his message. How significant is that?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it's very significant, Fred. I mean, it was such a stark departure from just as recently as Friday at that Coronavirus Taskforce briefing, Vice President Pence was sort of actively avoiding making any sort of significant push for masks.

He was suggesting, you know, other aspects of the social distancing guidelines, hygiene, but he wasn't really throwing his weight behind masks.

He traveled to Ohio earlier this week. He did not wear a mask for a large chunk of that trip. So it was deliberate today that for most of the time that the Vice President was in front of the cameras, he was wearing a mask and he offered the most forceful endorsement of mask wearing that he has so far.

It is also a shift here that you saw the Vice President praising the fact that Texas has closed its in-person bar service, praising the fact that Texas has suspended elective surgeries because as recently as just this past week, Pence, the President and other administration officials have been focusing all of their praise on the reopening themselves.

So they are acknowledging that there is a problem in a way that we haven't been over the past few weeks. They have been shifting their focus more away from COVID and to the extent that they were talking about the crisis, it was about the economic recovery. It was about the ways in which life was returning to normal.

Now, the focus is shifting completely to what needs to be done differently and that is a very significant message that we were hearing from the Vice President.

WHITFIELD: Yes, Sara, there has been a lot of mixed messaging, but really, you know, let's start with today. There was a bit of mixed messaging coming from the Vice President's visit while he got off the plane. He was wearing a mask and he was greeted by the Texas Governor wearing a mask.

Then he goes to the big Megachurch for an address, while we saw him for a moment putting on a mask and even taking it off, a hundred- person -- a hundred-member choir was not wearing a mask. Social distancing from a lot of the vantage points that we get here were not necessarily being honored there in the church.

But then sitting down next to the Governor, the Vice President trying to hit that message hard. Going back to the basics, wearing a mask, washing your hands, keep maintaining distance.

So, does this mean or does this perhaps even position the President that he is about to change his position or perhaps even the President is going to start articulating and demonstrating himself wearing a mask?

WESTWOOD: Well, that's interesting because the President has characterized wearing a mask as potentially a sign of weakness. He said he wouldn't want to wear a mask for example when greeting another head of state and suggested that people might refuse to wear a mask in order to make a political statement for or against him. So, that is going to be a tough position for the President.

You've seen multiple administration officials including this morning the Health Secretary Alex Azar appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" and Pence today, their focus is really on individual behaviors and what people can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while still maintaining the reopening.

In fact, Pence today was explicit about the fact he does not believe that it is premature reopenings that are causing these spikes in the states where we are seeing an increase in infection rates.

He believes it is people not adhering to the social distancing guidelines and specifically, Pence and others have put the blame on young people for not demonstrating the proper behaviors. So they are wanting to put a focus on people not practicing those mitigation techniques because they do not want to put the focus on reopenings. They still want to get that economic revival and that economic recovery.

WHITFIELD: Always, thank you so much, Sara. Alexandra Field is in Houston for us and while the Vice President was in Dallas, this is a statewide problem, and you know, the Vice President, Alexandria, touched on the issue of testing and we have seen videotape of long lines of vehicles for testing and then some actually turning away because there are more people. There is a greater demand than there are resources for testing.

And even hospitals are now warning, they are very worried about whether they are going to have the bed capacity.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. And I think the people in Texas who are watching what happened this morning are going to be relieved to see top officials recognizing that there is a problem in Texas.

When we write the book on what happened in Texas, there are going to be more than a few chapters on what went wrong and how it could have been avoided.

Part of the issue that you point out is testing. We are now hearing a renewed emphasis on testing, but this is reflective of what we have seen on the ground.

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FIELD: We've been in Harris County and in the Houston area for the last few days where they are seeing cases really spike and surge in these last few days.

I spoke to one local Harris County official today who said they've also seen an exponential increase in interest in testing, so yes, they are going to need to expand the capacity in this hotspot and as you widen it out across Texas when we see these cases rising.

You're also hearing again this renewed emphasis on mask. While that is helpful, we all know that, people all over the country know that. It's been left to the local governments in Texas now to mandate businesses to require customers to wear masks, but there a lot of people who are saying, this hasn't worked here in Texas.

There's a huge problem here in Texas. They don't just want to see recommendations made for people, they want to see people who have the authority use their authority.

So for instance, the Governor has not mandated masks across the state, instead he has finally allowed these local municipalities to use their power to do it, but this is something that local governments were stripped off early in the crisis when they tried to make mandates, they were actually superseded by the Governor.

So, it is seems some lessons have been learned, the effectiveness of masks, the importance of testing, but it's going to have to be implemented now, and at least there is some recognition of that at this point -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Alexandra Field, thank you so much in Houston. Let's go to Pensacola, Florida, where Florida Governor DeSantis had wrapped up his briefing there.

Natasha Chen, 8,500 cases three days in a row, and DeSantis, you know, contributing to -- saying that contributing to the increase is that low-risk demographic, and increasing cases among people ages 18 to 44. NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right and he is

talking about the spreading because people have been socializing more and he showed us graphs where now, the 25 to mid-30s age group is now the leading group of people with positive COVID cases here in Florida.

Now, they did talk about the fact that some of these people may not experience such extreme symptoms, but that maybe because of that, they aren't being as careful with quarantining at home and perhaps, if they're perhaps asymptomatic, then going out into the community and spreading.

They talked a lot about the fact that some of the spread may be coming from households, from people having private parties, or going out together in clusters. So there's a lot of concern there.

He talked about how there's a lot more testing going on now, but the positivity rate is also going up. It's about 12 percent now across Florida.

We did ask him about the Republican National Convention, the President had sort of had disagreements with North Carolina about possible requirements for facemasks at such a convention.

We asked him what would happen here in Jacksonville. He believes that things are going to look better in about two months when the convention is scheduled for Jacksonville, and one of the pediatrician here on the panel said he hopes that would be the case, if everyone continues to follow the rules and stays safe, wear the mask, wash your hands -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Natasha Chen, thank you very much -- In Pensacola.

Let's go further south now to Riviera Beach where we find Randi Kaye. And so Randi, Dade County had already said it is going to close its beaches, July 4th weekend. Now, just north of that, Broward County is going to close its beaches. What is the message that the folks in Riviera Beach and Palm Beach County are expecting?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I would think that we might not be far behind here in closing the beaches, certainly, Fred with those two.

I mean, this is South Florida's three largest counties. They had about 60 percent of the cases -- Miami-Dade, Broward and here in Palm Beach County, so you would think that since they did open their beaches, and now they are closing them for at least July 4th weekend that we can expect to see the same thing here in Palm Beach.

People here are paying close attention to the numbers now with 8,500 cases today, down from 9,500 yesterday, but still, people don't like what they're seeing and they do want the masks mandated.

A lots of people I spoke with today said you know what, it is selfish to not be wearing a mask. It's not to protect yourself, it is to protect me, and they want folks, they want the Governor to certainly mandate a mask, including the Commissioner of Agriculture here, a Democrat in a state pushing hard for that -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Randi Kaye, thank you so much, in Riviera Beach.

I think Francesca Chambers, are you back with me? All right. Oh, there you are. Okay, hi. Hi again. Okay, so you know, the real consensus here, a real emphasis being put on people need to be a lot more responsible.

This President is looking at, you know, five months before Election Day. He has been digging in his heels about his approach to coronavirus and the Vice President has been saying -- touting that, you know, the White House has handled this very well.

[15:55:10]

WHITFIELD: Are they going to maintain this message? Is today's announcement from Pence an indicator that they are going to stick with the verbiage that they been using?

CHAMBERS: Well, the Vice President notably, by the way, declining to say if he felt that they had done anything wrong, that the President just wants to move forward from here.

And it was the first time on Friday that we had heard from the Coronavirus Taskforce in some time, so it's unclear at this point how frequently we will hear from them moving forward, particularly this Holiday Week with the Vice President traveling and the President also expected to travel this week.

However, when it comes to Florida, and I have to add, my colleagues at "The Miami Herald" are doing really great work on tracking the cases in Florida as well.

One thing about Sunday that is really critical to understand is that often, there are fewer case counts on Sundays because we are at the tailend of the weekend, and so the numbers that you're going to want to look at as we head into later in the week, but today the median age was 42 for the coronavirus cases, and that's slightly up from 38 a few days ago, and so it does show that the age range, at least is trending down.

WHITFIELD: All right, Francesca Chambers, thank you so much and thanks to all of our reporters and experts who joined us. I appreciate it.

All right, still ahead, COVID cases are on the rise across the country.

A former C.D.C. official tells us the coronavirus still has the upper hand, and will continue to get worse for weeks. So what will the Trump administration do about that? A live team coverage continues, next.

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WHITFIELD: All right, hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with top U.S. officials urging everyone to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 as we see spikes in cases across the country.

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