Fauci, Birx urge Americans to take precautions against virus in rare White House appearance
Top Trump administration health officials made a rare appearance at the White House on Thursday to plead with Americans to redouble their efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
But — even with the country facing a worsening pandemic and ongoing attacks on the electoral process from President Trump — Vice President Pence, Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield did not take questions from the press. It was the first time they had delivered remarks from the White House briefing room in several months.
Fauci and Birx had largely been sidelined in recent months as Trump downplayed the pandemic and insisted to supporters that the media and Democrats were using it to hurt him politically. However, even Pence on Thursday acknowledged that the country was seeing increases in cases and hospitalizations.
“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,” Pence said.
The public health experts urged the general public to take basic precautions such as wearing masks, washing their hands and limiting gatherings, particularly indoors.
“I’ve used that metaphor that the cavalry is on the way,” said Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “If you’re fighting a battle, and the cavalry is on the way, you don’t stop shooting. You keep going until the calvary gets here.”
“Every American needs to be vigilant in this moment because we know when you are we can mitigate this virus and stop the spread together,” Birx said.
“Now more than ever we’re asking all Americans to redouble their efforts to be vigilant, to embrace masks, social distancing, hand washing, our advice about crowds, and really to support using the data to make decisions in their communities,” Redfield said.
Pence otherwise painted a rosy picture of the administration’s preparedness to both combat the ongoing surge in cases and distribute a safe and effective vaccine, which could happen as early as next month.
The vice president also made a point to repeatedly encourage schools to remain open and to argue against a “national lockdown,” two items that have been key talking points for the president despite the fact that the U.S. has never had a nationwide lockdown.
Pence, who leads the coronavirus task force, delivered a closing statement in which he expressed optimism about the path ahead before shutting his binder and leaving the room as reporters shouted questions.
The task force had not held a press briefing since July, when the pandemic was worsening mostly in the Sun Belt. But the country is now facing multiple crises.
A map of cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days displayed as Birx spoke showed most of the country was in dire condition. Positivity rates have increased while hospital capacity has decreased, the country now regularly sees more than 150,000 coronavirus cases per day reported and it surpassed 250,000 deaths from the virus earlier this week.
At the same time, Trump has refused to accept the result of the election from more than two weeks ago where Democrat Joe Biden defeated him. He has instead worked to cast doubt on the result and sought to overturn it in some states.
Pence has largely remained silent, holding closed-door meetings with the coronavirus task force and refraining from commenting on the election.
His refusal to answer questions Thursday aligns with the broader White House strategy, however.
Trump has not been seen in public in a week and has not taken questions since Election Day. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has not held a press briefing since Oct. 1., and she has not answered questions in weeks outside of Fox News appearances.