Mar 5, 2020
Mike Pence & Coronavirus Task Force Update Transcript: March 4, 2020
On March 4, 2020, Mike Pence and the coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force held a news conference briefing on updates amid growing concern. Read the full transcript right here.
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Mike Pence: (00:00)
Well, we just completed another meeting of the White House, coronavirus task force. It’s been a very busy and a productive day here at the White House. President Donald Trump has no higher priority than the safety and health of the American people and president has directed our task force, employing the full resources of the federal government in full partnership with state and local health authorities to make that priority a reality.
Mike Pence: (00:34)
As I stand before you today, we have more than 100 coronavirus cases in the United States that is counting domestic cases and cases of coronavirus of Americans that were returned from China or the Diamond Princess. I’m pleased to report that most of those who contracted coronavirus within our care are continuing to recover, but sadly, we received word today that another American has passed away and their family has our deepest condolences.
Mike Pence: (01:10)
That being said, thanks to president’s strong leadership and the professionalism of all of our federal agencies, Health and Human Services, CDC and state and local health officials all across this country, the risk to the American public of contracting the coronavirus remains low. To be clear. If you are a healthy American, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low, but it is still a good idea to engage in common sense practices that are always recommended this time of year. So as someone who has a mother who is 87 years of age and who has married kids living around the country, a brief tutorial on prevention for yourself, for your family and your loved ones.
Mike Pence: (02:17)
It’s a good idea to stay home when you’re sick. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Cover your cough or sneeze with tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash, clean and disinfect frequently. Wash your hands with either a disinfectant or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. And let me say again, as we’ve said before, there’s no need for Americans to buy masks. And the common sense practices that I just described are all available at cdc.gov.
Mike Pence: (02:58)
Today we had a series of meetings here at the White House and on Capitol Hill we’ve met with executives of the airline industry, the executives of commercial labs, executives of nursing homes, and our team also met with the Republican and Democrat caucuses in the House of Representatives. And we were pleased to learn that just shortly ago the House of Representatives passed a federal funding bill by a virtually unanimous margin. It’ll now move to the Senate and the legislation implements the president’s vision to ensure that not only do our federal agencies have the support and resources that they need, but also that our state and local partners have their support. And in my conversations with governors all the way through this afternoon, I know they’re grateful for the bipartisan spirit that has characterized this funding bill and we’ll continue to work through that process.
Mike Pence: (03:52)
As President Trump said, we’re all in this together and he deployed a whole of government approach, but thanks to the president’s leadership, it has actually developed into a whole of America approach. And the meetings today with industry leaders is a reflection of that. As Dr. Birx will indicate in just a few moments with some of the data that we’re evaluating from around the world. It does appear that the elderly are the most vulnerable and especially those with serious health issues. At the president’s direction. As a result, Seema Verma will describe that the center for Medicaid and Medicare services has issued new guidelines for nursing homes nationwide. We have raised the bar regarding infectious disease control in our nursing homes and in addition administrator Verma will explain how we are going to focus all of our inspection resources for the foreseeable future on compliance with infection control standards. Generally we monitor our nursing homes for abuse and neglect, but at the president’s direction we’re going to focus exclusively on ensuring that those who are in nursing homes, people operating the nursing homes, like many of the CEOs that we met with today are complying with the new standards to keep our elderly safe. The president also met today with airline executives and I’ll reiterate as the president said, our profound gratitude to our partners in the airline industry. They have worked with us, as we say, flowing Americans through particular airports. The screening, we’re working very closely with the airlines on contact information. If a person is tested as positive for the coronavirus. We’re working with the airlines to get all the information, not just about that person but about who they sat next to and who else was on the flight. And the president and I are very grateful.
Mike Pence: (06:02)
As we announced yesterday. I’m pleased to report that as of yesterday morning in addition to the travel ban from China, we’ve suspended all travel coming in from China. We’ve suspended all travel coming in from Iran and even foreign nationals who visit either one of those countries are barred from coming into this country for 14 days. We also established a travel advisory for Italy, portions of Italy and portions of South Korea over the weekend. But even as importantly, as of yesterday morning, we fully implemented a screening process. All direct flights from all airports in South Korea and Italy are now being subject to multiple screens before passengers board to come to the United States of America. State Department worked very vigorously to bring that about and we’re grateful for the cooperation of the governments of Italy, the governments of South Korea as well as our airline partners in making that a reality.
Mike Pence: (07:08)
Finally, with regard to testing, we had a meeting today that gave us great hope for great progress in the near future on expanding testing across the country. We have a ways to go yet, but I’m pleased to report as we’ve been able to convey to state governments. Governors around the country, is that the thanks to the good work of the FDA and Dr. Steve Hahn, who’s with me here today. Now all state laboratories, all university laboratories at the state level can conduct coronavirus tests without any additional assets or resources from the federal government. They have the FDA approved tests. They can conduct the test all across the country in all the states.
Mike Pence: (07:56)
Beyond that as we announced through the efforts of HHS, 2,500 kits of tests are going out this week, 2,500 kits including tests has gone out this week. That’s roughly 1.5 million. A test that will be available this week will continue to build on that number but perhaps most significantly thanks to Dr. Birx efforts and leadership. We brought together today at the White House the leaders of all of the largest commercial laboratories in this country. Companies like Quest that have vast capabilities, logistics and testing capabilities and we were pleased to report today that they have created a consortium to share information and to share resources. And literally have told us that as they go through what is called the validation process on testing. That by next week individual companies will be able to do as they said to me, thousands of tests of coronavirus if they are needed and required and many, many multiples more of that in the not distant future.
Mike Pence: (09:08)
Our objective here as Dr. Birx raised with the task force is we’ve got hospitals in effected areas and those that are requesting that have kits. We’ve got universities and state labs that now can perform the test on a requested basis, but our objective ultimately and quickly as possible is to have tests made through these commercial laboratories and commercial providers that your local doctor, your CVS, your MedCheck is able to have a coronavirus test and that isn’t there yet. We’re working to make that a reality, but again, it’s one more example. It’s not just a whole of government approach. It’s a whole of America approach. Whether it be our nursing home industry, whether it be our airline industry, whether it be our commercial laboratories.
Mike Pence: (09:57)
I can speak on behalf of President Trump and our entire task force. When I say we are profoundly grateful for the spirit that’s being reflected by companies all across the United States of America. Grateful for the leadership at the state level and the American people should be confident that that spirit of partnership is going to continue to drive this at every level as we work our way through. Dealing with the coronavirus in the United States. With that, I’m going to recognize Dr. Deborah Birx for her comments.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (10:32)
Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Good evening. Over the last 12 hours, we’ve been able to receive information both from South Korea and Italy adding to our China information. And it’s as we thought, the elderly and preexisting conditions have a more serious illness when confronted with the coronavirus. Reassuringly in South Korea, no one has died under 30. This is reassuring to us and the immediate age in Italy was 81.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (11:02)
…and Italy was 81 of those who succumbed. Those who became ill, the median age was 60. So we find this data reassuring, but it also has really caused us to focus on the Americans who might be most vulnerable. We’re focusing resources, attention, and all of our capacity to ensure those who have pre-existing conditions and those who are elderly have access to the best prevention and treatment options. The prevention options flow right through all of us to ensure that we have good protective hygiene for our elderly clients around the globe. Thank you.
Mike Pence: (11:42)
Thank you. Sema.
Thank you. And as you heard, because of the risk for our nation’s seniors, we are doubling down on our efforts. Today, we put out three memos. One was to hospitals about triaging and placement for patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus. We also put out some information to nursing homes about limiting visitors to nursing homes, monitoring staff. And then finally, we put out some information to our state surveyors that are going to be surveying our nations nursing homes and hospitals around infection control. All of that information went out this morning.
Mike Pence: (12:22)
Very good. Thank you, Sema. CDC, Bob Redfield.
Bob Redfield: (12:25)
Thank you Mr. Vice President. I think what I’d like to highlight today is that first to echo what the Vice President started with when he was giving the American people the advice that he did as he went through, that we do have listed out on our CDC website, cdc.gov. It really is very important. It’s very pragmatic about washing your hands. 20 seconds of soap and water or using the other disinfectants. Obviously, training yourself to cover your sneeze or cough, either in your elbow or with a Kleenex that you will dispose of. These are very important things, working hard not to touch your face. I think the most important thing for many of those individuals that might be a little type A, if you gets sick, stay home. You’re not helping your colleagues by going to work sick.
Bob Redfield: (13:28)
And again, I think these are just very pragmatic. We’ve listed them. They’re absolutely no different than what we ask the American public do for flu. The second thing I would like to do is continue to get the help from you, to get those messages out. The one that’s the most important that the Vice President also talked about is the role of masks. We need these N95 masks for the healthcare workers that are taking care of these patients. We do not recommend them to be used by the general public. And again, you all of you tell the stories are able to be great communicators of that so that the American public gets accurate information and gets good guidance from your experts that you’ll reach out to for your stories. That’s what I would ask you to do and I’ll reiterate what the Vice President said at the beginning, that although we’re continuing to see new community cases in this nation, the overall risk to the American public at this time still remains low. Thank you.
Mike Pence: (14:33)
Thank you very much. [inaudible 00:14:31].
Dr. Fauci: (14:33)
Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just to reiterate what was said by several of our colleagues here is that we make policy recommendations and analysis of what we’re going to recommend based on accumulation of data. Data is very important. What Dr. Birx just told you is data that underscores some of the things that we’ve been telling you. When you talk about risk, risk is something that’s vague to people and we’ve said many times if you talk about risk of infection throughout the country, it’s a low risk. If you talk about someone who is infected and we do have infected people in this country, you’ve heard that from Dr. Redfield. You understand the situation that we have in Seattle.
Dr. Fauci: (15:12)
If you do get infected, if you’re infected as taking Seattle as the microcosm of that, it is exactly what Dr. Birx said. The risk of getting into difficulties is very heavily weighted towards people with underlying conditions and people with the elderly. Where the young people, and they will be an exception here or there the same way we see with influenza, but the risk for a young person who gets infected to getting into trouble is really low, based on a lot of data that’s coming out of foreign countries, particularly out of China.
Mike Pence: (15:44)
Great. Thank you, Dr. [inaudible 00:04:45]. Dr. Carson.
Dr. Carson: (15:48)
I want to thank the Vice President and the President for a very aggressive and careful leadership. Now, I was involved throughout my neurosurgical career with a lot of very, very complex cases and dealt with a lot of renowned physicians, but I must say the people on this task force are extremely impressive. Have been considering all the various different possibilities, outlining scenarios for all the possibilities that can occur. It’s very comforting and recognize that the risk to a healthy adult still remains quite low, largely because of the aggressive actions that have been taken and are continuing to be taken every day. And just one last point, and that is the pharmaceuticals who normally are arrivals have worked together, voluntarily. Wouldn’t that be a great lesson for the politicians?
Mike Pence: (16:51)
Great. A quick informational announcement. I’ll be traveling with many members of the task force to Minnesota tomorrow. We’ll be visiting 3M, which is poised to literally begin manufacturing millions more masks for our healthcare workers. And then we’ll be traveling on to Washington state. Will be meeting with Governor Inslee and with his health team to ensure that the full resources of the federal government are being brought to bear in support of their efforts to protect the health of the people across the Seattle area. With that, let me start right here.
Speaker 1: (17:28)
Thank you, Vice President Pence. I have two questions. One about Washington and then one about Florida. I’ll start with Washington. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that meeting came to be? Will Secretary Azar be with you? Is that a meeting that the Governor asked you to come there? Can you explain?
Mike Pence: (17:47)
I’ve spoken to Governor Inslee, who I know well from our time in Congress together several times since being tapped to lead the White House effort on the coronavirus a week ago. He’s been providing strong leadership for the state of Washington. They have an outstanding health department. But after meeting with members of the Senate and the House, particularly those from the Washington state delegation, we thought it would be important to bring our team out to meet with their team on the ground and to make sure that they have the full support. Our hearts go out to those that have been infected with the disease in the Seattle area, but also we understand the anxiety this has created in the full community and we’re going to be going out just to make sure in sitting down with the governor and with his team that they have everything they need and all the support they need to see to the health of their people.
Speaker 1: (18:48)
Thank you, sir. You will have a meeting on Saturday, is that correct? With the cruise liners, which companies are coming to that meeting? What’s the goal of that meeting? Is there something that you’d like to see them do differently that they’re not doing now?
Mike Pence: (19:01)
Well, we’ll talk about just that. Obviously with the Diamond Princess issue, there are unique challenges that our experts tell us in a closed environment of a cruise liner. We’re going to talk about best practices and I thought it was timely to spend some time with people in that industry as we’re meeting with others in industries around the country. Okay. Back there, please. Sure.
Speaker 2: (19:30)
Two quick questions. The first one I’ve been looking online at hand sanitizer, at soap, there’s some sites like Amazon where these prices have just skyrocketed. What’s your advice to Americans who are trying to just buy that soap and water and the hand sanitizer that you’re telling them to buy but can’t afford it at this point or can’t find it?
Mike Pence: (19:49)
That’s great. I want to ask the CDC to respond to that because they’ve got some very clear guidance.
Bob Redfield: (19:54)
Thank you Mr. Vice President. I want to make it really clear that I don’t think … Soap and water vigorously washing your hands for 20 seconds is what the American public needs to do. If they want to use the hand sanitizers, that’s another option. But I don’t want people to think it’s inferior to what we’ve recommended for decades, which is vigorous washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
Mike Pence: (20:20)
Okay, another one. Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (20:23)
You were talking about working on getting testing so that doctors at other places will be able to have it. How far along are you in that goal and what should Americans expect? How soon should Americans expect to be able to go to their doctor’s office to get tested?
Mike Pence: (20:37)
Well, I’m going to ask to Deborah Birx to address that, but just so you know, there’s three levels here. Number one is that we do have about 1.5 million test kits going out as we speak to hospitals, particularly hospitals in areas that have seen coronavirus cases. In addition to that, thanks to the good work of the FDA and the change that President Trump authorized this weekend, now every state health lab and university lab can conduct a coronavirus test. And that expands the capacity. But ultimately as Dr. Birx will explain, our objective is in addition to those tests being available, we want to get to a place where any American who has a concern, is able to go to their doctor, is able to go to a medical clinic and know that there’s a coronavirus available. We think we can get there in a matter of weeks and in partnership with the commercial labs, we’re challenging them to do just that. Dr. Birx.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (21:47)
Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just briefly, because I think you were interested also in cost and I think what we’ve heard from CMS and from HHS that this will be an essential lab test, so fully reimbursable. What we talked about with the commercial laboratories is exactly your question.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (22:03)
What we talked about with the commercial laboratories is exactly your question and we asked them, and they’re in validation this week. Some of them thought they would have tests available on Friday and the rest on Monday. I’ve asked them to prioritize the areas where we’ve had these clusters so that people can be reassured in those areas where there is… where we have identified virus has been circulating. In those cases, they will have it available at doctor’s office and all of our pediatric offices that would need it and they will transport it through a logistics network to make sure that they can be run.
Speaker 4: (22:37)
Follow up question-
Mike Pence: (22:40)
With regard to the costs, let me be very clear, HHS has designated the coronavirus tests as an essential health benefit. That means by definition it’s covered in the private health insurance of every American, as well as covered by Medicare and Medicaid. But we’re working with members of Congress and we’ll be monitoring the cost very carefully.
Speaker 5: (23:05)
[inaudible 00:23:05] travel restrictions on Italy and South Korea. Are you considering more, imposing more restrictions on travel?
Mike Pence: (23:12)
Well, I’m going to ask Dr. Fauci to speak to that. At this time, they’re not recommending that the president impose additional travel advisories or restrictions, but as Dr. Fauci can explain where we’re going to follow the data on that very closely and follow the cases. If you want to speak to that.
Dr. Fauci: (23:34)
So this is something that’s really evaluated in real time. I mean, you can’t make a decision now that you’re going to project what’s going to be. You just based on the data and it became very clear that the situation in Northern Italy and in Korea was actually unique compared to what we were seeing in several of the other countries. That’s why that was done. We reevaluate this literally every single day.
Mike Pence: (23:57)
We do. We do. Right there.
Speaker 4: (24:00)
Thank you, Vice President.
Mike Pence: (24:01)
No, right here.
Speaker 4: (24:02)
Speaker 6: (24:02)
Mike Pence: (24:02)
No, right here.
Speaker 6: (24:02)
Mike Pence: (24:02)
Speaker 6: (24:02)
Thank you. So I was wondering what sort of progress was made with your meeting with the airline CEOs today about coordinating the collection of passenger data? And then also there’s been reports that the CDC is investigating a potential cluster of cases from a cruise ship in California that could be linked to the state’s first death. Could you confirm that and how many people might the CDC be investigating in that case?
Mike Pence: (24:30)
I’ll let CDC respond to your second question, but on the first question, I know the president was also very moved by the level of commitment from our airlines for customers’ health and safety as well as their crew’s health and safety. They described to us their activities in cleaning the aircraft and sanitizing aircraft. And we believe, as President Trump said today, that it’s safe to fly. It’s safe to fly in America and it’s safe to fly internationally, apart from the travel advisories that are available to the public.
Mike Pence: (25:08)
With that being said, it’s a work in progress about having contact information, but we were assured today by the airlines that they’ll continue to work very closely with us to provide manifests passengers on an individual flight in the event of a coronavirus infection and the cooperation has been just what the American people would expect from our airlines. But let me let CDC speak to the other issue.
Bob Redfield: (25:38)
Thank you Mr. Vice President. We are working in support of the California Health Department, that’s in the process of evaluating another cruise ship where they do have confirmed cases. We’re at the very beginning of that looking at the manifest to make sure we understand who’s gotten off the cruise and where they got off the cruise and we’re really involved in that entire contact followup as we speak right now.
Speaker 7: (26:09)
Last question guys.
Speaker 6: (26:09)
Mr. President. Mr. President.
Mike Pence: (26:09)
Speaker 4: (26:09)
Thank you very much. Possibly a question for Dr. Birx regarding it’s being safe to fly-
Mike Pence: (26:14)
Speaker 4: (26:15)
… you have spring break coming along, a lot of grandparents may be coming to visit family members to help watch over kids, older adults. Is it safe? If it’s unnecessary travel, should they still hop on a plane and travel?
Dr. Deborah Birx: (26:30)
Well, that’s what we were talking about, the common sense approach. So if you have preexisting medical conditions or you’re of the elderly and frail, that is something that they need to take into context and that’s why we were very clear about providing that information, because we really want everyone to know what we know, that we’ve received this new data, we’ve gone through it carefully. It does look like there is significant, greater risk of serious illness as you become older and if you have other medical conditions. Now what I talked about also was protecting the elderly and protecting those with other medical conditions, and I want to be clear, the other medical conditions included people recovering from cancer, so just as you would protect them when they have their chemotherapy and their immuno responses are lower, you would do that with careful hand-washing again and ensuring if you have children in the household that they are following those same procedures. I have a nine month old and a two year old grandchild and they’re… the two year old has learned to wash your hands carefully and I think these are just things we need to ensure are happening every day in households.
Speaker 8: (27:39)
Mr. Vice President.
Speaker 9: (27:43)
Do you have any hesitations traveling to Washington state tomorrow, I mean for your own personal health, and are you trying to send a message to all Americans that you believe it is safe to fly?
Mike Pence: (27:53)
No, I have no hesitation at all. I have to tell you that the job that Washington state has done in confronting the coronavirus infections in the Seattle area has really been inspiring. You’ve got an outstanding health facility, outstanding health department and we’re going to be sitting down with all of their health officials. But I’m a real believer just as the president is, in sitting down, sitting nose to nose, as the president did today with executives, and asking the questions and making sure that the American people expect nothing less. They expect us to be there for that community and we’ll be bringing our task force out to make sure that Washington state has all the support that they need and that’s the purpose of the trip.
Speaker 6: (28:40)
Thanks. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I appreciate it. In light of what Dr. Redfield said yesterday about how quickly this virus has been spreading, what will need to happen specifically for you to declare this a national emergency? What’s the threshold? Will it be the number of deaths? Will be the number of cases?
Mike Pence: (29:01)
Well, let me let Dr. Fauci speak to that in terms of a determination and when a recommendation to the president. We’ve declared a public health emergency, but maybe you might speak to what area we-
Dr. Fauci: (29:11)
A public health.
Speaker 6: (29:13)
You know what I’m asking with regard to national emergency.
Dr. Fauci: (29:16)
What precisely do you mean?
Speaker 6: (29:18)
Well to declare a national emergency, what’s the threshold, the number of cases, the number of deaths, where you’re going to take decision making out of the hands of the states and you’re going to make, okay we’re going to quarantine the city or we are going to shut down big events or we are going to say no travel?
Dr. Fauci: (29:39)
Well let me just tell you-
Speaker 6: (29:39)
Dr. Fauci: (29:40)
… how that would be made. That would be made by very serious discussions among the task force. I would think that if we were in a situation, and hopefully we never even approach that, we will you have clear, wide, diffuse community spread throughout the country and you have to have federal mandates that come in to essentially enforce certain types of social distancing. I think it would have to come to that. But I’m a bit humble about that. I would like to discuss it with a variety of other people who have more of a handle on the implications of that.
Speaker 5: (30:16)
Mike Pence: (30:16)
That would be a very good place-
Speaker 6: (30:22)
Sorry, I’m sorry, sir.
Mike Pence: (30:22)
That’s a very good place to step off. We’re going to go back to work. But let me end where I began, and that is to say today in the United States, the combination of domestic cases and people that we have brought home, from China and from the Diamond Princess, we have slightly more than 100 cases. And the vast majority of those people either have recovered or are continuing to recover. Now that’s not going to lessen the focus of President Trump has charged us to continue to put on this issue. Continue to work closely with members of Congress to make sure that we have the resource to confront the spread of the coronavirus.
Mike Pence: (31:07)
But at this moment I have to tell you our state and local governments around the country are just doing an exceptional job. And as a former governor I can tell you that the people that are on the ground, the health care workers, the health officials at the state level are responding to this with compassion, with professionalism. And a big part of our job right now is just to make sure that they have the support that we come alongside them, that they have the personal protective equipment and gear to be able to minister to anyone who has the virus.
Mike Pence: (31:44)
But I think the American people can take some comfort that the reality is today, that the risk of the coronavirus to the average American remains low. And as we continue to take these steps, as Americans continue to take common sense practices to protect their own health, the health of their family, we’ll work to keep it there.
Speaker 10: (32:09)
[inaudible 00:32:09] Can the uninsured get tested? Gentlemen, ladies, can the uninsured get tested?
Speaker 7: (32:21)
Screaming to the cameras ain’t going to get you anywhere.
Speaker 10: (32:23)
Well, how about answering the question?
Speaker 4: (32:24)
We would like an answer to that question.
Speaker 10: (32:25)
That’s a valid question. Could you answer it?
Speaker 11: (32:28)
What was your going to follow up going to be to me… with regard.