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Pence Misleadingly Blames Coronavirus Spikes on Rise in Testing

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Pence Misleadingly Blames Coronavirus Spikes on Rise in Testing

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence encouraged governors on Monday to adopt the administration’s explanation that a rise in testing was a reason behind new coronavirus outbreaks, even though testing data has shown that such a claim 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,” Mr. Pence said on a call with governors, audio of which was obtained by The New York Times. “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.”

He added: “But also 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. But according to our most current information, hospitalizations for coronavirus are going down across the country.”

It was a misleading message publicly emphasized by President Trump at a meeting earlier in the day.

“If we stop testing right now,” Mr. Trump said, “we’d have very few cases, if any.”

In fact, seven-day averages in several states with coronavirus outbreaks have increased since May 31, and in at least 14 states, positive cases have outstripped the average number of tests that have been administered, according to an analysis of data collected by The New York Times. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that coronavirus hospitalizations have decreased nationally, though positive cases have increased and the number of deaths attributed to the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, could increase as more data becomes available.

As the head of the administration’s virus task force, Mr. Pence has frequently used his public appearances to play down the seriousness of the pandemic, even though several members of his staff have tested positive. Last week, he was criticized for taking a picture with dozens of Trump campaign staff members who were standing close together without wearing masks.

This Saturday, Mr. Pence is scheduled to join the president at a rally in Tulsa, Okla., despite concerns that the enclosed venue could promote the virus’s spread. The Trump campaign has asked attendees to assume the risk should they contract it.

And on the private call with governors, Mr. Pence again played down the overall size of the new outbreaks, stressing that some states were seeing what he called “intermittent” spikes. Rather than pointing to community spread as a culprit, as officials in several areas — including Washington, D.C. — have, the vice president focused on specific outbreak locations, like nursing homes.

He added that C.D.C. employees would be redeployed to states experiencing new outbreaks and encouraged governors to think “on a county level” when dealing with them. The vice president also said that the virus’s spread was now well contained, and he adopted a term that Mr. Trump has used for the virus — “embers,” which can be quickly snuffed out.

“The president often talks about embers,” Mr. Pence added. “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.”

Experts, including some in the Trump administration, have warned that stamping out the coronavirus is not that simple. In fact, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned last week that “we have something that turned out to be my worst nightmare,” a reference to the virus’s ability to spread rapidly.

On the call, Mr. Pence instructed Alex M. Azar II, the health secretary, to address the problem in a “constructive” way. Mr. Azar said that localized outbreaks at meatpacking plants and nursing homes would continue to be a focus for officials. “If any of them light on fire,” Mr. Azar said, “we’ve got to get there right away.”

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the administration’s response, reiterated that hospitalization rates for the virus had been declining across the country, though some states had seen an uptick.

“You’re finding cases in the community rather than finding them in the clinic and the hospital,” she said, adding that more people had been identified as asymptomatic or presymptomatic in recent weeks.

She said protest sites across the country had not yet seen a rise in coronavirus cases, though she said data had begun to show “early upticks” in Minneapolis.

Dr. Birx asked governors to “ensure that all the law enforcement that has been engaged in protecting your citizens have been tested,” adding, “I really appreciate having most of you call for the protesters to get tested.”

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 12, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican who has publicly criticized the Trump administration’s early response to the virus, told the vice president that there was an “urgent need” to have the administration and members of Congress working together on another coronavirus relief bill.

“States are going to be faced with laying off tens of thousands of state workers,” Mr. Hogan said, adding that many governors were finalizing state budgets at the end of June. Mr. Pence said that any further legislation would most likely happen in the middle of July and that the door would be open for negotiations between the administration and Congress.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has indicated that negotiations would not take place before a two-week recess scheduled for early July.

Other governors, including J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, who has been critical of the administration’s handling of the virus, did not speak on Monday’s call.

“Illinois was the first state in the nation to meet the federal metrics laid out by the White House for reopening and right now is showing the largest decline in Covid cases,” Mr. Pritzker’s office said later in a statement. “The governor will continue to follow the science and data and rely on the public health experts when it comes to reopening the state.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/us/politics/pence-coronavirus-governors.html

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