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U.S. Hits Bleak Milestone As Coronavirus Cases Top Three Million; White House Task Force Holds Briefing As Cases Surge. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 8, 2020 - 12:00   ET



ADMIRAL BRETT GIROIR, HHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH: And I think of that community every single day everybody pitching in across America to help us all. So in terms of testing when it covered three quick topics first one is just where we are numerically?

The Vice President has already said we are now topping 39 million tests across country. The states really crushed their goal in June. The state goals were about 12.9 million in June. CDC numbers have finalized at about 16.5 million tests for June.

So congratulations to almost all of the states, who made their goal, exceeded their goal. We're doing very well right now, between six and 700,000 tests per day. We did top the 700,000 mark last week and we're averaging about 620,000 and 630,000 tests per day.

We continue to shift we're right with swabs and media. So the states tell us what they need. We work with them to set those goals based on their state testing plans. After technical assistance by the CDC and my office, FEMA ships those every week.

Now that's along with Esper the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS. So that's sort of the overall general view. We announced yesterday what we talked about a little bit last week and that is federal surge sites. We opened these in three communities.

There was a list of communities identified by Dr. Birx and her team that had certain characteristics of their infection trend, but also met certain characteristics of numerical numbers in isolation that surge testing might have an impact over a short period of time.

So our goal in those communities is to do at least 5,000 tests per day, and those are in Baton Rouge, Jacksonville and McAllen. McAllen in Texas, and we have many other sites that we're working with. Again, this is a partnership with the state and local governments to make that happen.

They're up and running and testing in all three sites. Baton Rouge started yesterday. The other two sites start today and we already have almost 6,500 appointments already made this morning. So that's going very, very well.

The last thing I want to talk about is phoenix and I don't know if we have the slides for this. I get just a little bit concerned when I hear things in the news, like, we're doing nothing for phoenix and the federal government hasn't been doing anything with phoenix, because that really is not correct and undermines a lot of the thinks we're doing.

I'm going to show you some slides. I didn't make these slides up. My team, this was part of the 55-slide deck. 55 slides, slide deck just on phoenix where we understand the demographics, the health disparities the income levels racial and ethnic backgrounds where tests are done? Where the resources are? This is how we really warp the issues.

So first of all we're in constant contact with Governor Ducey and his team. His state health officials are outstanding. We not only talk on the calls but we have frequent calls and I know Dr. Redfield does this as well and Ambassador Birx does this as well.

Number two, we provide support according to the state's plans. Just in the last two months we shipped over 500,000 swabs and media to the states to fulfill their plans. In terms of phoenix, if I can get the first slide back, please, I just want to say that yes, we have lots of support in phoenix.

This is the community-based testing locations. I didn't decode this because is right out of mire slide deck. Phoenix has three federally funded retail sites. This is paid on a per capita basis. You come up, get a test. These sites not these three sites but overall program is tested just under a million individuals and they're located specifically in communities of high social vulnerability.

We have three there. We also have 13 what we call 3.0 sites these are retail pharmacies that because of our regulatory flexibility they can do that without a federal stipend or grant. They do this just through the insurance and Medicaid and Medicare billing system. So those are 16 federal sites we have in phoenix.

Next slide, I don't know if there is a map to go with that but under leadership of Secretary Azar we've really surged in to FQHCs Federally Qualified Health Centers. This is where you really want testing to happen because these are medical homes for those who are indigent and underserved. We have 28 FQHC sites performing testing just in the Phoenix area right now.

Next slide, we don't have that slide, but let me talk about, we've also identified every single testing machine in phoenix. So there are testing machines to do tens of thousands of tests per day and we're sending at least 100,000, okay maybe it will come up, maybe it won't, but at least 100,000 assays to the Phoenix area every week.

So these are all the things we're doing in the background that happen on a regular basis that we do community by community by community. Now, two days ago I heard that Mayor Gallego was unhappy because there was no federal support. I heard that on Monday morning. I was on the phone with the FEMA Representative in the afternoon.

[12:05:00] GIROIR: It was clear to me that Phoenix was not in tune with all the things the state was doing. We convened a call last night, where we had Governor Ducey's people on the phone, where we had the Mayor's people on the phone, where we had various health officials on the phone.

We got everybody together understood where the gaps are? There's a surge from Arizona State. There is a surge in testing sites that are state testing sites in Phoenix that are up there. And this morning Governor Ducey looked at everything, thought a surge site would be helpful in West Phoenix.

He requested that and we're contracting that right now so I just wanted to give you that example, because it really pains me when somebody says the federal government isn't doing anything when we have 41 federal sites there. We're sending supplies.

We're sending tests. And we work with the Governor every day and if there's an appropriate request and on list for Dr. Birx, which it was, we will send a surge site and that's what we're doing we're contracting that this afternoon. Thank you.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Admiral Giroir. As we said, the focus today is on safely reopening our schools. As we discussed yesterday at the White House Summit from very early in this process, the Centers for Disease Control has been issuing guidance for schools and for child care services in early March.

March the 12th, to be specific, and when we first published the 15 days to slow the spread and encouraged people to engage in schooling from home wherever possible from that point forward, CDC has published decision trees about how schools can begin to develop reopening plans?

And just last week published new guidance for K-12 schools. But next week as Dr. Redfield can elaborate, in a few moments they'll be issuing five new documents that will range from preparing communities to return to school safely, to decision-making tools for parents and caregivers, and to create symptom screening considerations as children and teachers return to school.

But as we made clear yesterday, we'll make clear again today. None of the CDC's recommendations are intended to replace state, local rules and guidance, that what we've made clear to Governors and to state and local health officials is CDC stands ready to work with local officials as they tailor their plan for reopening their schools.

But we're all committed to getting our kids back into the classroom, getting them back in the classroom this fall. With that I want the Secretary of Education to reflect on the efforts she's making here at the Department of Education and we'll hear from Dr. Redfield and a few wrap-up comments from Secretary of HHS before we go to questions.

BETSY DEVOS, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. Thanks for hosting the Task Force here today. We are so grateful to the President and to you for your leadership on doing what's right for students.

Yesterday we had a really good and important conversation at the White House with local leaders and great teachers and parents. It was insightful and inspiring, and as Mrs. Pence noted, these past few months, parents have worn multiple hats, they really our unsung heroes.

And I might add as the Vice President noted, as are the teachers who were often playing dual roles as parents themselves and continuing to help their students learn. She also said, Mrs. Pence also said that as we reopen businesses, restaurants, theaters in our country we simply can't leave out our schools, and that is so correct.

Students can and must continue to learn full time. I've been really inspired by the innovative teachers, schools and their communities that have kept learning going through this past few months, and they are getting ready to do it again this fall.

A couple of great examples in Harlem and the surrounding boroughs in New York, Success academy moved to distance learning in one week using multiple technology platforms. Teachers there insisted on, in learning new materials right along with their students.

The students were still graded. They made sure all of the students had the needed tech that they did not maybe have at home initially. Miami- Dade County used existing instructional continuity plans to make a seamless transition to distance learning.

They added interventions for students who were struggling already before the pandemic. The international leadership academy in Texas started from the mind-set that not learning wasn't an option for any student. They delivered multilingual and special education curriculum to all students.


DEVOS: There were a number of schools and districts across the country that did an awesome job of transitioning this spring. And there were a lot in which I and state school leaders were disappointed in that they didn't figure out how to continue to serve their students.

Too many of them just gave up. The center for reinventing public education said only 10 percent across the board provided any kind of real curriculum and instruction program. And as I said, I've talked to all of the state's school chiefs at least once, most of them more than once, and they've told me that while many of their districts in their states have done well through the past several months, a number of them, they were very disappointed in, in doing next to nothing.

And then we see as we talk about reopening schools, there are some creating false paradigms for the fall, and here right in our neighborhood, the D.C. area, Fairfax County, which is one of the most well-funded, I would call it an elite public school system in America, offered families a so-called choice for this fall.

Either zero days in school for their students, or two days and their spring-time attempt at distance learning was a disaster. But I have - I give this as an example, because things like this cannot happen again in the fall. It would fail America's students and it would fail taxpayers who pay high taxes for their education.

Ultimately, it's not a matter of if schools should reopen it is simply a matter of how? They must fully open and they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders. I really appreciate something that Secretary Azar reiterated yesterday at the White House.

It's a Surgeon General's prescription for health care. And I'm going to repeat it again because it bears repeating. First, ask yourself what's your individual circumstance? Are you or a someone in your home vulnerable? Second, what's going on in your community? Is the virus widespread or is it isolated?

And, third, think about the kind of school activity that you're thinking about how to accommodate and deal with? What needs to be in place for things to be successful? Education leaders need to examine real data for their own states and communities and weigh the risks.

Local leaders in every community need to ask these questions and consider all the risks. Physical health and safety are factors. So is mental health. So is social emotional development. And importantly, very importantly, so are lost opportunities for students particularly the most vulnerable among us, and students with disabilities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics noted keeping schools closed places children and adolescence at considerable risk of morbidity and in some cases mortality. The pediatrics guidance concluded that everyone should start way goal of having students physically present in school.

Fully open and fully operational means that students need a full school year or more and it's expected it will look different depending where you are. What's clear is that students and their families need more options. I've talked a long time about the need to rethink education.

And to expand education options for all students. This moment really demands action, and America always was and is and always will be a country of doers. We are confident that with grit and determination and a measure of grace, we can and will do what's right for all the students in our nation. Thanks very much.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. First and foremost I want to make it very, very clear that the guidance that CDC continues to put out for schools K-12 and higher learning is intentional for reopening and keeping our schools open.

That is, that's its purpose. We recognize that there's a variety of unique circumstances for different schools and different school districts, and so we've outlined a number of strategies that those schools, those administrators, can use to accomplish this goal safely.

But I want to make it very clear that what is not the intent of CDC's guidelines is to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed. [12:15:00]

DR. REDIFELD: We're prepared to work with each school, each jurisdiction, to help them use the different strategies that we've proposed that help do this safely so they come up with the optimal strategy for those schools.

I think it's critical and it would be personally very disappointing to me and I know my agency if we saw that individuals were using these guidelines as a rationale for not reopening our schools. I think there is a series of different additional guidelines that we are about to put out, to help really, with the K-12 community particularly at the community level, to help open safely.

Guidelines also that come out where consideration documents for parents and caregivers. Guidelines for schools to help them understand how best to do symptom surveillance and characterize symptoms in the schools as a tool, and guidelines to really work at how in the ins and outs of using face masks in the school setting?

As well as finally some guidance and to help the schools have systems which they were monitor their programs. But I want to close by reiterating again the purpose of CDC's guidance is, remember its guidance. It's not requirements.

And its purpose is to facilitate the reopening and the keeping open the schools in this country, because as the Vice President said, it is critical that we get these schools opened, do it safely, we're prepared to work with all the school districts and schools to help them facilitate their development of their own unique plan to accomplish that. Thank you.

PENCE: Thanks, Dr. Redfield. Opening up schools is the right thing to do for our kids. So they don't fall behind academically and also so that children that are in need of services special needs children, children with mental health issues, nutrition needs, have the support that they receive at the schools.

It's important, though, for parents and for works families and I asked Secretary Scalia to be here from the Department of Labor to speak about the impact on, as we put America back to work, making it possible for us to have single parents back in the workforce.

It's essential that we get our schools opened as well. So I wanted Secretary Scalia and then of course Secretary of HHS to finish our remarks before we go to questions. Mr. Secretary?

EUGENE SCALIA, U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Thank you. Mr. Vice President, good to be with you all today. For reasons that Secretary Devos mentioned, and the Vice President mentioned, of course, having our schools open is so important to our children's education, but as Vice President has said, it's very important as well to working men and women across the country that need to be able to structure their work days in a predictable manner.

And the expectation that schools will be open and their children will be able to be in school so that the parents, in turn, can have a predictable schedule that they bring to the workplace. Of course that's important to our business places as well and in that sense critically important to our national reopening.

One study has suggested that if we closed all of our schools and day care for just a month, just hypothetically, if we did that, the impact on U.S. productivity would be in the order of $50 billion that gives you a sense of the impact. Having our schools closed can have on our national recovery.

I did want to mention a couple of groups in particular to whom this is very important. First, lower wage workers. One of the great triumphs of the economy that we enjoyed until the virus came was how well lower income men and women were doing in the workplace?

We, as you know, had unemployment tide at a 50-year low. We had record low unemployment for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and others and we had rising wages. Wages actually rose about 15 percent for lower income men and women during the first three years of this administration.

Unfortunately, and a number of people observed this, it's the lower income workers who have been particularly adversely affected by some of the shutdowns we've had in response to the Coronavirus. Unemployment among the lower income workers has been higher than for other populations.


SCALIA: And, therefore, for them, having schools reopen so that they can themselves have predictable schedules, be able to return to the workplace is going to be very important. They hold jobs that are less likely to be jobs by which you can tell - I think many know you can telecommute.

There are burdens being placed on mothers, fathers, who are getting up a little bit earlier or staying up a lot later to get work done to plan around caring for their children in the interim, but for lower income men and women, that option often is not even available.

And then second, let me talk briefly on working women who studies show and I think experience many of us reflects that it's women in the household who quite often bear the larger burden when it comes to caring for children studies show this.

And, again, prior to COVID, another great success of the economy we're enjoying was the employment rate for women. The unemployment rate for women was actually lower than for men right before the virus came, but unfortunately, and this is a stick we've been tracking.

We see that the unemployment rate for women now is higher than it is for men now. We made great progress in June. The Vice President mentioned the extraordinary jobs report. We've put 7 .5 million Americans back to work in just two months, and the unemployment rate for women dropped nearly 3 percent in June. But, still, we have important work to do, and we know that working women will have a harder time getting back to the workplace. They continue to cite child care at a much higher rate than men as a reason they're not able to work, and so for them, too, reopening our schools will be very important.

Just to wrap up, you know, such an important sense, the pace and structure of our national life is built around the expectation that our young people will be in school in person during the school year. That's so important for them, but it's also vitally important for their parents.

In that sense, so critical to this reopening that is preceding very well economically. But to keep going we need our schools open in the fall. Thank you very much.

PENCE: Thank you Eugene. Mr. Secretary?

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Vice President, for your leadership of the President's all of America approach to combating the virus, and for the focus that you are now putting on getting our kids safely back to school.

From HHS's perspective reopening schools safely may be the single most important thing that we can do to support healthy families during this pandemic. All decisions about undertaking activities during COVID-19 have to look at risk as a continuum. Not a binary question.

States and school districts can think about the same things that we urge individuals to think about. As Secretary Devos noted our Surgeon General has came out with his prescription for health. Ask yourselves three critical questions. Where are you? Is there significant community transmission of the virus in your area? Whom are we talking about?

Children are much less susceptible to severe outcomes from the virus than adults. And what activities are we looking at? There are more and less risky activities for schools like keeping kids in the same classroom versus changing classes avoiding large gatherings and doing activities outside, whenever possible.

Reopening schools comes with some risk. But there are risks to keeping kids at home, too. At home, kids aren't benefitting from social stimulation. They may be falling behind in learning. They may be more vulnerable to abuse that goes unreported by the mandatory reporters in our school system.

They may not be getting special services they may need. They may not be getting the nutrition that they get at school, and it may be difficult for parents to get back to work as Secretary Scalia noted. This issue like so many considerations around safely reopening isn't about health versus the economy but about health versus health.

All of this is why the American Academy of Pediatrics is strongly recommended beginning with the goal of having students physically present in school. This goal is the right way to use the extensive guidance that CDC has put out to help each state and school district think through a safe reopening.

Last week we put out guidance around testing for K-12 schools. This guidance like our guidance for colleges and universities offers recommendations for how and when students, teachers and staff should be tested. While CDC does not make a recommendation in favor of universal testing, it's a perfectly appropriate surveillance technique where the capacity exists and capacities growing all the time.


AZAR: We've talked to colleges and universities that are able to use their research lab capacity with pooling of multiple samples to test their whole student bodies and staff frequently. Thanks to regulatory flexibility that CMS and the FDA have provided.

Many of the leaders we heard from yesterday at the White House at School Reopening Summit are doing testing before returning to school, and then - surveillance. On top of that the measures we recommend universally like keeping distance, wearing a face covering and frequent hand-washing are effective and can be applied in the college or the K-12 setting.

We put out the CDC guidance to enable and support states and school districts in reopening safely. We want them to use the tools available to reduce risk, and we'll be putting out more guidance on how schools can use each of these tools, such as face covering?

On top of that, I will reiterate that our set of tools is expanding all of the time. Just yesterday we signed a new agreement with Regeneron to provide nearly $.5 billion some support for a promising therapeutic all the way to manufacturing hundreds of millions of doses for the American people.

The initial doses pending approval would be available as soon as the end of this summer or early fall that are the first of a number of therapeutic agreements that we will do under the President's "Operation Warp Speed" initiative.

Promising therapeutic are already being administered every day by our heroic health care workers. I want to thank these heroes who continue to put themselves at risk caring for those suffering from the virus. We know many frontline workers have gotten sick, and we know some have given their lives including some of my employees in the Indian health service.

And America is deeply grateful. It is because we are making progress against the virus and learning more about it every day we can talk how to bring America's kids and teachers back to school safely?

We have the tools to do it. And it has to be a top priority. So thank you to President Trump and the Vice President for putting such a focus on this very important aspect of our road to recovery. Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you. Thank you. Right here, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice President, in the President's call to reopen schools is there a situation in some states that the health situation doesn't allow for this? Where you would are supportive of some states continuing distance learning and we now see the President threatening to cut off funding for schools? Is that a serious threat and what would that look like?

PENCE: Well, the principle behind our approach to this Coronavirus pandemic has been to provide federal support as states manage their own response. And what I can tell you is in the weekly reports that we provide Governors, we are down to the county level in terms of where the new cases are, where the positivity lies?

And I think we would account for the fact that while we hope, we hope every school in America is able to open this fall, there may be some states and local communities that, that given cases or positivity in that community may adjust to either a certain set of days, or certain limitations, and we'll be very respectful of that.

What the President has made clear though is that we think it's absolutely imperative that every state and territory in this country make - make steps, and take steps, rather, to get kids back in the classroom to the fullest extent possible.

We really believe that every state has the ability to do that, but for those individual communities that may be seeing outbreaks, we'll work with them, give them the guidance, and the support to be able to implement the policies they deem moat appropriate.

Our mission here is to safely reopen our schools and as you've heard from all of these members of our Task Force it's not just about kids learning and not falling behind academically. It's about all the vital services that children receive at our schools, it's about working families, and it's about opening up America again. So we'll continue to drive on that.

On your second point, I would tell you that at this point, I think 90 percent of education funding comes from the states, roughly 10 percent depending on states' budgets, come from the Federal Government. And as we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we're going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school.