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White House Task Force Hold Briefing As Cases Surge. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 8, 2020 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00]

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: State 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 an encouragement to get kids back to school. Please go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. The President tweeted this morning that he disagrees with the CDC's very tough and expensive guidelines for reopening schools. Do you also disagree with those guidelines? And are you concerned that you may be putting the health of students and teachers at risk by trying to meet the President's demand to reopen?

PENCE: Well, the President I spoke about that this morning. And I think what you will see in the coming days what you heard from Dr. Redfield, yesterday at the summit, and again today is very consistent with the President's objective and the concerns that he's raised.

We don't want the guidance from CDC to be a reason why schools don't open. We want to partner with states, with local education officials, with governors, with local health officials to find a way to meet their needs to open up. And I think the President's state statement this morning was simply reflective of that desire.

And but we remain very confident that as we continue to provide resources, we're seeing not just K through 12 education, I mean, all 47 states and two territories have already published plans and guidance for reopening their schools. And we reiterated to the governor's earlier this week, and again at the summit yesterday that we're really here to partner with them to achieve that.

I think what the President was saying this morning, is that if there are aspects of the CDC's recommendations that are prescriptive, or that serve to as a barrier to kids getting back to school, we want governors and local officials and educational leaders to know that we're here to work with them to support the measures they're putting into place.

But I think every American, every American knows that we can safely reopened our schools and we just want -- we want, as the President said this morning to make sure that what we're doing doesn't stand in the way of doing that. Go ahead. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I just follow up on that, Sir?

PENCE: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to follow up, when we're talking about the health of children, though, shouldn't that guidance be tough and should no expense be spared?

PENCE: Well, I'm going to ask Bob Redfield to speak to that. And one of the things that we have seen and I tell you as a parent as much as your Vice President and the head of this task force, I've been grateful for it is that apart from having a underlying health condition, children do not appear to be susceptible to serious illness from the coronavirus.

Dr. Birx can speak to that statistically on a global basis. And that's been a blessing for Americans and American families. And so, as the Secretary Azar just said, we know that the risk of serious illness to children is very low. And there are measures we can put into place to make sure that we don't see the spread of the virus or outbreaks in individual schools by having children learn in a single classroom or learn outside as often as possible not go into larger settings.

And this is all the kind of guidance that the CDC is putting forward. But I'm going to let Bob Redfield speak to that because we really do believe that we can open these schools safely given the -- what we've seen in terms of outcomes among children and also the kind of measures that we think we can put into effect to prevent the spread.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

I think it's really important to be clear that our recommendations to open these schools are really based on the sound public health and safety and health of children. I think you heard already from some of the speakers, there are substantial health consequences that we've seen as a consequence of schools being closed, whether it's access to mental health services, or its access to nutrition.

Clearly, we know a lot and I think it's important that we don't react emotionally, but we act based on data. Clearly, the ability of this virus to cause significant illness in children is very, very, very limited. We know of the post immune inflammatory disease that you've heard about, but it's very rare. But in general, this virus does not cause significant illness in children.

[12:35:11]

Secondly, and I think it's important, unlike influenza, or one of our biggest concerns is we've been able to show that it's really schools and children that become the instrument of transmission throughout our community. With influenza, we really don't have evidence that children are driving the transmission cycle of this.

The most important thing as we reopen schools, and as I mentioned before, we're prepared to work with every school and every school district to help them find the right mixture of strategies for them to do this safely. Our recommendations are not requirements, and they're not meant to be prescriptive. We have lots of different options on how the schools can put it together.

Well, what we'll do want to reiterate as we reopen schools is to remember the importance of protecting the vulnerable, that we will be strong on. It's important to limit the ability of individuals with significant comorbidities, individuals that happen to be an elderly with comorbidities. We want to limit those individuals, their interactions in general and society independent in schools.

PENCE: Thanks Bob.

And let me say just also in response to your question, I would recommend that every American review the statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, that that released is an important report indicating that there are real physical and mental cause for children to be deprived of an in classroom setting ranges from nutrition to children that have special needs.

We heard from Dr. McCance Katz that some 7 million children in America deal with mental health issues in the services in the counseling they receive, they receive at their schools. And so we want to put the health and well being of our kids first and given the fact that children as Dr. Redfield said again, do not appear to be susceptible to serious outcomes from the coronavirus.

We want to put there the totality of their health and their well being forward. And that all tells us, it tells the President, it tells this task force. It means we need to get our kids back to school. Please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Articulated the problem, the myriad risks that students face if they stay out of school come the fall. But what's the plan? What's the administration's specific plan in terms of increased testing, contact tracing, increased PPE if it's needed to support these schools?

As you well know, schools weren't built for students to socially distance. They were built to pack in as many kids as humanly possible, which is one of the reasons why school districts like Fairfax, Virginia, the school district in New York or Texas, they have moved to this hybrid approach some virtual learning, some in person learning. So what's the plan? And then I have a question for Dr. Birx about kids and COVID, if I may.

PENCE: Well, the plan is to continue to do what we've done from the very beginning. As you heard again, this morning, we're at, I believe, 39 million tests that have been performed all across this country. You heard, Admiral Giroir described the extraordinary commitment in just one community alone.

And what we've conveyed to governors is whatever support they need to get kids back to school, we're going to make sure that they have, we're going to make sure that they have the testing resources. We're currently educating states on the possibility and working with commercial labs on the possibility of what's called pooling. So that literally, there could be one test run on say 10 samples and there are particular universities that already have built into their plans, the idea of testing all of their students at the beginning of the academic year and then doing surveillance testing.

But we've made it very clear whether it's testing, whether it's personal protective equipment, or other resources that that we stand ready to provide those resources to the states. And we reiterated that once again, to the governor's. But the good news is because of the historic mobilization that President Trump initiated, we literally have hundreds of millions of supplies of personal protective equipment, 59,000, ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile, testing and scaling all across America. And we know that come the school year we'll be ready to meet those needs. Question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Birx, what's the infection rate among children and what's the very latest in terms of that, you know, in terms of how the virus presents in children, how children transmit the virus to older adults? Nearly a third of teachers across this country are age 50 and older. And what's the best practice in terms of testing children? I've never heard of a case where a school child is tested for COVID-19.

[12:40:09]

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Those are all good questions. And I think it really comes to the evidence base of what do we have as far as testing in children.

So if you look across all of the tests that we've done, and whether we -- when we have the age, the portion that is been the lowest tested portion is the under 10 year olds. So we're putting into place other ways to get testing results from them and looking at antibody in that discarded samples and try to fairly figure this out, because parents have really done an amazing job of protecting their children.

I think Americans have done a great job in keeping infection rates low in children and in the sheltering time and keeping infection rates right now in this new cases originally, I think we saw great protection of people with comorbidities.

We are worried now that as cases spread that it's getting to the older parents and the grandparents. And I call on again, every multi generational household, get tested and protect those in the household. And we do know that there are children with vulnerabilities and certainly within the CDC plan and Department of Education, it's protecting those children also from getting exposed to the virus because we do know that our children with comorbidities.

We know that there are children in America with cancer and getting undergoing chemotherapy. But when you ask that question, the parents have so protected their children. And remember early on, we said test if you have symptoms. And now we know that if you're under 18, the majority of you don't have symptoms.

And so really figuring out and there's universities working around the country on a saliva test, so it'd be easy, easier for children to put saliva in a tube, just basically, what we call spitting in a tube, are spitting through a straw into a tube and looking at that kind of innovation and testing and what Admiral Giroir has been working on very hard is this antigen based testing and getting that equipment into vulnerable areas like nursing homes, assisted living, and other places, but also considering how a school district could use that would make it much easier to test and to use saliva.

So, all of those are being worked on. And that's why we've been pushing on the antigen test. I know you heard me talk about that in April. We're pushing on that because we think it is important for testing of students and testing in universities. But we have -- our data is skewed originally to people with symptoms and then skewed to adults over 18. And so we are looking very closely into that category by using our antibody tests.

PENCE: Did you want to talk about the risk to children?

BIRX: I think the Vice President covered that incredibly well. We know that mortality rate in under 25 from the CDC data is less than 0.1 percent. And so that has been holding. But until we know how many have been infected. We have no evidence that there is significant mortality in children without coexisting diseases. And that's what we're looking for right now is to really make sure we've on turn -- overturned every rock and understand that in deep detail.

PENCE: Yes, right here and then there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President, we all know the CDC guidelines are not requirements, their advice. And isn't the President when he calls it too tough or impractical, making it easier for Americans and for officials to ignore that advice?

PENCE: I have every confidence that governors and state education officials and local health officials are going to implement policies that they think are in the best interest of children and families. And I think the President's sentiment this morning I think is shared widely by the American people and certainly by members of this taskforce.

We want to make it very clear that, excuse me, the guidance that we're issuing is not to supplant the laws, the rules, the regulation, or the decisions at the state level. It's meant to create essentially a range of options. And what we made clear to governors, on the governors call this week specifically was that we are prepared at the CDC to sit down with state officials and to work through their plan and be able to advised and in dialogue with them about the best way forward.

But I must tell you that in this role over the last four months I've been impressed by governors in both political parties and health officials in all of our states and our territories where they put the health of their people first. And but I must also say that I have a great sense talking to governors and a great sense that this is a -- something that the American people want to see happen and governors are hearing that, they know that. And that's why you have 47 states that have already issued plans or guidelines, and we're going to work with them to make those a reality.

[12:45:23]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question, guys.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I have two questions one for you and then one for Dr. Redfield. Can you explain why the President is threatening to cut funding from schools at a time when educators are saying they need more so they can safely reopen?

PENCE: Kaitlan, first and foremost, it's what you heard from the President is just a determination to provide the kind of leadership from the federal level. It says that we're going to get our kids back school, because that's where they belong. And we know based upon what our best health officials tell us that we can do that in a safe and in a responsible way.

But to be clear, the current CARES Act provided $13.3 billion to support education efforts in states in the midst of the pandemic. We're going to work with Congress. We expect there'll be additional support there. But the President just very serious, for all the reasons that we discussed today, he believes and we believe, it's absolutely essential for our children's academic, development, and for their social and emotional and health and nutrition needs to be back in the classroom.

And we're going to provide the leadership from the federal level to do that. But that being said, I will tell you, I sense a great desire among governors around the country to find a way forward and we've made it very clear to them that we're going to partner with them, providing them with the resources to impact that also the supplies.

COLLINS: So you're saying, describing it as a local decision. So shouldn't it be up to them to decide if they can safely reopen and not the President saying he's going to pressure them to do so?

PENCE: Well, I've -- look, we're going to respect those unique communities that may have challenges that have rising cases or rising positivity. And but I think you look at the nation as a whole. And what the President of the United States has made clear is he thinks, as we reopen America, we need to reopen America schools.

It's just as the President said early in this pandemic, that he wanted to get our places of worship back open again, I think what you're seeing President provide is leadership and what we're providing for the White House Coronavirus Task Force is partnership with the governors and the state health officials because we just got to get our kids back.

I have to tell you, the best expert I know on this topic is my wife Karen. And she spoke at the summit yesterday very compellingly about how a lot of our kids are hurting out there. They're struggling with loneliness with social isolation. The American Academy of Pediatrics spoke about that a very forceful statement from pediatricians across the country that said, we got to get our kids back into school.

And so what you're what you're going to see, Kaitlan, is the President is going to continue to provide leadership. I expect, as the debate in Congress goes forward about additional resources, we're going to look to build in incentives for states to go forward. But the President has made it clear. And I think most parents in America would agree with him, that we got to get our kids back to school and we got to get him back into the classroom, and we can do it in a safe and irresponsible way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks guys.

PENCE: That's OK.

COLLINS: -- Dr. Redfield.

PENCE: Bob, question.

COLLINS: Dr. Redfield, you're talking about the guidance that the CDC has put out, it sounds like you think it is in the best interest of students and ways to safely reopen schools so far. So are you going to change that guidance? Because the President said that he does not like it?

REDFIELD: Well, I think I just want to reiterate, we're going to continue to work with local states and jurisdictions. I think the guidance that we've put out, gives a series of different strategies for them to consider what is the most appropriate in their unique situation to adopt, again, and I want to come back to the goal.

And the goal of this is to get the schools reopened, I did mention and I want to reiterate, that goals, just not a goal to reopen schools. That's the goal because we believe that's in the best public health interest of the students for the reasons you've heard. We will continue to develop and evolve our guidance to meet the needs of the schools and the states that we continue to provide that assistance to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, guys. Thanks, guys.

[12:50:05]

PENCE: I am sorry. I can't hear your question. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice President, the guidance recommends that schools have social distancing of students six feet apart. And that's why these schools are adopting these hybrid models is because they don't feel they can keep students six feet apart within their building. So I'm just wondering if that particular part of the guidance is something you're rethinking or do you support that social distancing inside schools because that's where schools I think are having trouble?

PENCE: Well, the President said today, we just don't want the guidance to be too tough. And that's the reason why next week, CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that have been giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward. But we know each school system, you know, has unique capabilities, different facilities, and what parents around the country should know is that we're here to help. We're here to work with their governors, with their local education officials to get our kids back to school. I mean, the truth of the matter is that as we reopen America, we've got to, we got to reopen our schools, for the well being of our kids, for their academic advancement, for working families, but also, as you've heard again, today, for to continue the momentum that we see in this economy that we saw last week with nearly 5 million jobs created.

I want to promise the American people we're going to stay focused at this task force on saving lives, meeting the needs of our state and our healthcare workers on protecting the vulnerable and reopening America's economy, schools, work, and worship. So thank you all very much. We'll talk to you in a few days.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: All right, so you've been listening to the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, the first in two weeks. Let me bring in CNN medical analyst, Dr. Seema Yasmin, who's been sitting here right along with me watching this. I just wanted to get your take a lot said there, what did you hear?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So I see a lot of cherry picking of data, Kate. For example, we hear the Vice President say that we're beginning to see early indicators of the cause being flattened in Arizona, talking about the ramping up of testing, but not putting this in a really helpful national context.

I've actually only three states seeing a decline in cases, about 35 states seeing an increase, and eight states registering record high numbers of hospitalization. So I'm worried that these kinds of messages, the cherry picking of data gives a very particular message to people that are watching.

He also talked about ER visits being down in Florida. And I'm really worried about the cherry picking again of that data point. Because Florida is not only a hotspot, it's the epicenter of America's pandemic. And what he did not mention was that at least 56 hospitals in Florida have ICU's that are at 100 percent capacity.

So I really worried that we're only hearing one side of the story that we're seeing a very positive spin on an actually tragic situation.

BOLDUAN: Doctor, please stand by let me bring in CNN's Dana Bash. Dana, you're listening to this right along with me. Obviously a big focus of this briefing was on schools opening up schools, the Vice President saying multiple times the schools must be reopen. But it's interesting, the CDC standing up there, the head of the CDC standing up there saying that the CDC guidelines now are not meant to be prescriptive. They're not requirements, and they're not meant to be a reason to not open. Are they backing away from what they put out?

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, possibly, and we're going to know the real answer to that when, as the Vice President announced at this briefing, the CDC puts out new guidelines on schools.

Look, this is difficult. I mean, this is possibly one of the biggest challenges that the American people, including leaders, including teachers, including parents, and as the labor secretary, that was kind of nice to hear an acknowledgement of the fact that women are bearing the brunt of this across the country.

This is so hard. Kate, I'm sure you're hearing this. You're a parent. I'm a parent. I was on a conference call with my son's school about this fall going forward. And the one thing that they admitted, which is was part of some of the questioning there it is the faculty that is very concerned about how this is all going to work. They are relying on CDC guidelines, even though as Redfield said they are not prescriptive, they are not requirements.

The one really important line of question that we heard, I think from a couple of reporters, that they didn't have a good answer to his social distancing when it comes to schools. And the whole reason why Fairfax County for example, which the education secretary called out not in a good way, is saying they would go back a couple of days a week is because they can't physically fit kids in the school buildings in a safe way.

[12:55:14]

One of the things I want to point out and I'm wondering what Dr. Yasmin said, what struck me and in about U.K. is that the argument that they made pretty forcefully on the one hand was that children are not only not getting sick, but that they are not -- there's no evidence that children are pushing forward the transmission cycle. But then Dr. Birx later said that they haven't done enough testing on children. So that is, I thought --

BOLDUAN: And you're hitting on something -- you're absolutely right. And let me add to a third layer to that. They're saying all schools need to reopen. But at the same time, Dr. Birx, Dr. Yasmin, also announced that they would like these hotspots states to essentially go back to phase one now which is shutting down. How do you open schools when you want them to shut back down?

YASMIN: Right. It's so confusing. And actually what CDC has previously produced is this nine page checklist with details about how to clean schools, how to do physical distancing, but also these kinds of different guidelines for different contexts. So for example, if you're a school in Dallas County, Texas, which is seeing a massive surge, versus if you're a school somewhere in Massachusetts, whether state is broadly seeing a decline in cases.

But I think also what we saw she didn't give a very clear answer to that question. And the reason for that probably is because we just don't know the NIH has right now, doing a really big study called the hero study, trying to understand the role of children in the spread of this virus. It's too soon to say exactly what role they play.

And I almost wonder, I have to listen again, if the Vice President misspoke a tiny bit because he almost made it sound as if kids were not susceptible to serious manifestations. Broadly speaking, kids do die a much lower rate. They don't get as sick but it's important to remember that some kids get very, very sick. And I just want to add really broadly that having worked at CDC, what goes into producing guidelines like these are thousands of hours of hundreds of staffers, many of them pediatricians or parents themselves, passing through and scrutinizing the latest data to come up with recommendations based on evidence, based on science.

So, to then see the CDC director downplay his own agency's guidance, that's shocking to me.

BOLDUAN: Let me bring in CNN's Elizabeth Cohen for more on this. Elizabeth, you were listening very closely. What stuck out to you?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: How confusing it was, as Dr. Yasmin, just said, on the one hand, you have Dr. Birx saying, hey, we want to go back to the way it was and gatherings, no gatherings of less than 10 people or something to that effect. But on the other hand, they're saying we must open schools. I mean, that was the overriding message of this was we absolutely have to open up schools everywhere.

But you also don't want people to gather in groups of more than 10. How in the world does that make sense? Also something this administration has emphasized over and over again, is that states and localities should be able to basically do their own thing, they should be able to make their own decisions. Why in the world is the federal government telling Miami and Montana to do the same thing to open up schools, come what may?

That doesn't make any sense. This is something Tony Fauci has been really passionate about when I've spoken with him and when he's spoken to others. The United States is a huge place. What's going on in Miami could not be any more different than what's going on in Montana. Why are they giving this same demand really, that you have to open up schools just like, you know, as it was before? You need to open up schools in person.

What I did not hear at this press conference, were solutions. If I were the parent of a child with diabetes or with asthma, I would listen to this and throw up my hands and say, what am I supposed to do if I were a teacher with hypertension or hearts disease. I would be petrified. I didn't hear a lot of solutions here.

BOLDUAN: And Dana, Elizabeth is hitting on something important as well, which is their points seemed that they were saying a lot, but also saying very little while the Vice President said we need to get to a place of reopening, we want to work in partnership with these communities. He also very clearly left open the possibility of allowing states to not reopen if they saw that they were in the one of these hotspots. So again, I'm left with wondering what the plan is from the task force.

BASH: I don't have an answer, Kate. And, you know, you just talked to two very, very smart, capable women particularly in this field, and they were confused by it.

And in fairness, I think part of the issue is that there is no clear answer yet. What they said all of the things that they're saying are true at the same time. It is very, very difficult for students to be -- for kids to be home. It's bad for them. It's bad for opening up the economy. It's also very tricky when it comes to what it takes to open up those schools, Kate.

[13:00:05]