Pence encouraged governors to downplay new community spread of coronavirus: report
Vice President Pence encouraged governors to downplay new community spread of the coronavirus and attribute spikes to increases in testing, The New York Times reported Monday.
Pence urged the state leaders to take on the Trump administration’s explanation for rises in cases — that more testing has led to more positive cases — during a phone call with governors Monday, according to audio obtained by the Times. The newspaper notes, however, that data show his explanation is misleading.
“I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing,” Pence said in the call. “And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing.”
The vice president advised the states to “encourage people with the news that we are safely reopening the country.”
“That, as we speak today, because people are going back to hospitals and elective surgery and getting ordinary care, hospitalization rates may be going up,” he said. “But according to our most current information, hospitalizations for coronavirus are going down across the country.”
Pence during the call also said some states were seeing “intermittent” spikes because of specific outbreak locations like nursing homes, instead of community spread, the Times reported. The vice president said that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be sent to states with increasing new cases and instructed governors to approach the issue “‘on a county level.”
“The president often talks about embers,” Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, said. “As we go through the summer, as we see, over all, as you all know, around the country, that despite a mass increase in testing, we are still averaging roughly 20,000 cases a day, which is significantly down from six weeks ago.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was also on the call, said the administration would continue to focus on outbreaks at meatpacking plants and nursing homes.
The vice president’s statements align with President Trump’s previous claims that the U.S. has a high number of cases due to its large testing program. But data shows that seven-day averages in several states have increased since May 31, and at least 14 states have seen the positive cases overtake the amount of testing conducted, according to the Times.
CDC data does show hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have decreased across the country, but positive cases have increased and the number of deaths related to COVID-19 could rise as well.
The vice president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Saturday, Pence will join Trump in Tulsa, Okla., at the first campaign rally since the pandemic-related shutdowns were initiated. The director of the city’s health department said the large indoor event was a “huge risk.”