Press Briefing by Vice President Pence and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force | November 19, 2020
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington, DC November 19, 2020 4:40 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon. We just completed our second meeting this week with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And we've continued - we've continued to be on the same mission we've been on throughout the course of this year, and that is to save American lives and to work every day toward that day that we put the coronavirus in the past.
I'm joined today, and you'll hear in a few moments, from members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including those that are leading the effort of distribution of vaccinations under Operation Warp Speed. And I think you will be as impressed as I was at FEMA earlier today when I heard the detailed plans for the virtually immediate distribution of vaccines when they become approved and available to the American people.
From very early in this pandemic, at the President's direction, we have followed an approach to this pandemic that was federally supported, state managed, and locally executed. And to that end, this past Monday, we completed our 41st conference call with all of the nation's governors - every state, every territory. And there, we spoke about our current circumstances where we see cases and hospitalizations rising, but we also continue to speak to them about - about the expansion of testing, the availability of supplies, and our ongoing efforts to continue to drive forward toward the development and the distribution of a vaccine for the American people.
As we gather here today, with cases and hospitalizations rising across the country, President Trump directed us to host this briefing, to describe the ongoing work of our task force and our partnership with state and local officials and our partners in the private sector to continue to put the health of America first.
But first, let me begin simply by saying that our hearts and our prayers are with all of those families that have been impacted by the coronavirus over the course of the past 10 months. And let me say personally: Not a day has gone by that I haven't thought personally about families that have lost loved ones. And I want to assure each of you that you will always be in our hearts and you will remain in our prayers.
But we wanted to take this opportunity also to thank the American people for the extraordinary sacrifices that you've made over the course of the past 10 months. We've been through a lot together. We went through 45 days to slow the spread, back when the positivity rate across this country was more than 20 percent. We managed to accomplish our objective: We slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, and we saved lives.
And then, during the outbreak across the Sun Belt this summer, when we saw positivity rise to nearly 10 percent, the American people, officials at the federal and state level stepped up again, and we put that outbreak in the past.
And even as we see help on the way, the vaccines being developed at a historic pace, as I mentioned before, as we gather today, we are seeing cases and positivity rising across the country.
But we approach this moment with the confidence of experience. We know the American people know what to do. We have forged a partnership that is truly seamless with state and local health authorities. And as we'll describe to you today, we've continued to work seven days a week, all throughout this year and up to this very moment, to make sure the American people have access to the healthcare that we'd want any member of our family to have as we meet this pandemic.
Now, cases are rising throughout the country. Positivity in the last 30 days has risen from an average of 5 percent to 10 percent. And to that end, we've continued the mobilization that began at President Trump's direction early this year. We increased testing from a standing start in the month of February to now, as of today, we've completed more than 170 million tests, and we continue to approve new tests, including an at- home test that the FDA just recently approved. And we're distributing more than 150 million Binax tests to schools and nursing homes around America as we speak.
Our mobilization of supplies you will hear described in great detail continues to surge each and every day. We actually are able to track PPE and supplies on a hospital-by-hospital basis. And so we're carefully monitoring. We're working with state officials, with hospital administrators, to make sure that our hospitals have the support they need.
Also, as we gather, more than 140 clinical trials for therapeutics continue to be underway, but effective therapies are already available and are widely known among the American people. And for those over the age of 70, we're proud to report that we actually have decreased the fatality rate by more than 70 percent since those heartbreaking days of April.
In May of this year, of course, as the President spoke last week in the Rose Garden, we launched Operation Warp Speed, focusing on accelerating the development, the manufacture, and the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine. And you'll have an update today on the progress from two of our leading experts and those that are coordinating Operation Warp Speed.
What I want to say in the midst of all of this to the American people, as we begin this briefing, is that with the - with a massive increase in testing over the last 10 months, with PPE and medical supplies and equipment that are available to the American people, with the medicines and the therapeutics and, very soon, the vaccines that are available, America has never been more prepared to combat this virus than we are today.
And our pledge to each and every American looking on today is we're going to work around the clock to keep it that way. We're going to make sure that hospitals that are seeing patients coming in on an increasing basis know that we're going to - we're going to work around the clock to meet that need. And you have our continuing pledge and the practice of experience that we've had along the way.
So, in a few moments, you'll hear from members of our team. We're going to begin with Dr. Deborah Birx, who's going to describe what we're seeing in the rising cases. Literally every day, for members of the task force, begins with detailed analysis of what's happening across the country. And she'll give you our very best - our very best information on rising cases and hospitalizations. And that information is summarized each and every week for the nation's governors and provided to them in particular detail as well.
After Dr. Birx speaks, we've asked General David Sanford with FEMA to provide an update on our ongoing efforts to provide PPE and medical supplies to our hospital needs. We're literally going to make sure, as I said, that as we see cases rising, that we're meeting the needs in hospitals around America to stand up the response that any one of us would want a family member to be able to have access to.
Then we've asked Dr. Fauci to give us an update on the incredible and historic progress on the development of vaccines. It seems like, with good news happening every couple of days, that's a great encouragement to the American people.
And then, General Gus Perna will outline our distribution plans on Operation Warp Speed. I was at FEMA today and received a detailed briefing about our distribution plans. And I asked General Perna to come here today to make that presentation to the American people. And it is, in a very real sense, putting us in a position that literally, the day after one of these vaccines is approved, we'll be shipping vaccines to the American people. And within a day after that, we'll be seeing those vaccines injected into Americans with a particular focus on those most vulnerable and those that are providing healthcare to the American people.
Finally, we'll talk with - a bit about the way forward. As state and local governments are continuing to act and take mitigation measures to slow the spread, you can assure them, as we did governors again this week, that we'll support decision making at the local level. And we'll continue to support decisions that are made in each individual community based on the circumstances on the ground.
But that being said, President Trump wanted me to make it clear that our task force, this administration, and our President does not support another national lockdown.
And we do not support closing schools. You'll hear from Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC that, actually, the CDC never recommended that we close schools at any point this year. And Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, who also serves with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services at HHS, will describe the real cost to children being away from school.
But in every one of these cases, we're going to give you the best information that we have up to this moment. And I just want to assure the American people, as I trust that you will have a sense today, that we're going to continue to work around the clock to meet this moment.
But help is on the way. We have every confidence that, in a short period of time, we could have one or more safe and effective vaccines for the American people. And as each of us does our part in partnership with state and local officials, and each of us does our part to look after our own families and our own communities, I believe the day is coming soon when we will put this coronavirus in the past.
But with that, let me introduce Dr. Deborah Birx, who will update us on cases. And after that - after that, we will get a presentation on the availability of supplies that we continue to make available to hospitals and healthcare providers around the country.
DR. BIRX: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. And it's really a moment that we want to call on every American to increase their vigilance. And I want to go through some data about why we are asking people from Elko, Nevada, through Denver, Colorado, to Philadelphia; from Madison, Wisconsin, to El Paso, Texas, and across this great nation to really increase their vigilance at this moment.
I want to thank the governors and mayors and county commissioners that I've had the privilege to talk to over the last four and a half months of being on the road.
We can have the first slide, please.
The number of universities - 42 states, 30 universities, and a large number of chairmen from our tribal nations. The reason we wanted to really be in here is to really understand the reality on the ground, what they were facing, and understand how we could be more supportive. And this is really a call to action for every American to increase their vigilance because of the graphic that is shown here.
I wanted to show you the difference in slopes between the spring surge, the summer surge, and the fall surge so the American people know that this is more cases more rapidly than what we had seen before, but to also make it clear, like before, we do know what to do. And we're asking every American to do those things today.
The next slide shows our increase in test positivity. The light brown bars are the number of tests that were performed. But even with the number - an ever-increasing number of tests performed, you can see the increase in test positivity to around 10 percent. In some areas of the country, it is much higher than that, and it illustrates the ongoing community spread in your counties, in your small and large metros, and in your rural areas.