Jun 28, 2020
VP Mike Pence & Texas Gov. Greg Abbott COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript June 28
On June 28, Vice President Mike Pence & Texas Governor Greg Abbott held a press briefing on coronavirus in Texas. Pence said masks are a “good idea”, and Abbott said COVID-19 is making a “dangerous turn” in the state. Read the news briefing transcript here.
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Governor Greg Abbott: (00:03)
Well, welcome everybody with us here today. I especially want to welcome the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence. Thank you, Mr. Vice President for being here today.
Vice President Mike Pence: (00:14)
Thank you, Governor.
Governor Greg Abbott: (00:14)
I’d like to just start by kind of peeling back the curtain a tiny bit, and explaining the way that Mike Pence has been working with the governors across the United States.
Governor Greg Abbott: (00:24)
So, we have this weekly phone call that will include the vice president as well as Dr. Birx. But in addition to that, probably at least once a week, I’ll have the opportunity to visit with the vice president about challenges or issues that may be occurring in the state of Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (00:42)
Sometime it’s me calling him, sometimes late at night or on a weekend, talking about a need that we have or something that we need to focus. Other times, it will be him calling me.
Governor Greg Abbott: (00:54)
Most recently, you might remember, on Father’s Day. You called me, and you just wanted a lay of the land. And we got to share each other Happy Father’s Day with each other, as we were working on protecting fathers and mothers and children across the state of Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (01:09)
And so, Mr. Vice President, I want to thank you, and thank the Trump administration and all of your great team members for what you’ve done to help Texas as we navigate our way through the conquering of COVID-19.
Governor Greg Abbott: (01:24)
Speaking of which, I do want to just share a couple of things. One is, as everybody knows, during the course of April, Texans joined together with our fellow Americans to focus on slowing the spread. We did exactly that, and that is what led to the beginning of the opening of businesses in the state of Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (01:43)
And then, after the opening was announced on April the 27th, we continued to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the state of Texas, so much so, that all the way until the 26th or 27th of May we went to the lowest positivity rate that we ever achieved during the course of this pandemic. It was 4.27% at that time.
Governor Greg Abbott: (02:07)
Well, we need to understand that COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks. Over just the past few weeks, the daily number of cases have gone from an average of about 2,000 to more than 5,000 per day.
Governor Greg Abbott: (02:28)
At the same time, hospitalizations have increased from about 2000 per day to more than 5,000 per day. And the positivity rate that just one month ago was at 4.27%, is now well over 13%.
Governor Greg Abbott: (02:47)
Now, one thing I said from the very beginning, and that is that Texas will follow data in making decisions about how we move forward. One thing I declared early on, is we would be looking at that positivity rate, because the positivity rate shows us a measurement of the way in which there is community spread in Texas.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:11)
With a positivity rate of over 10%, I declared early on, it would be an alarm bell protects us to take action to reign in the spread of COVID-19. And that’s exactly what we began to announce this past week, measured steps to ensure that we are taking specific identified action, that can target ways in which we can reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Governor Greg Abbott: (03:41)
Here’s what I know. What I know is, that Texans working together, we were able to slow the spread of COVID-19 in April and in May. And I know that once again, all Texans coming together and working together, we will once again slow the spread of COVID-19.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:04)
Texas understands the need of so many families in this state, to ensure they have the ability to provide for their livelihoods. Families need to put food on the table. They need to pay rent. They need to take care of their families. We want them to be able to do that.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:26)
And hence, we know that we can do both, continue to allow businesses to open containing the coronavirus. But, it does require all Texans to go back to those strategies that we mastered: wearing a face mask, sanitizing your hands, keeping a safe distance.
Governor Greg Abbott: (04:49)
And remembering this, and that is, if you don’t need to get out, there’s no reason to go out at this particular time. If you can keep your distance from others, that’s a very good, safe place to be. And that is especially true for anybody who is age 65 or older, and hence, is in a more vulnerable data set.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:13)
One thing remarkable about Texas, and that is, that despite the increase and the spread of the coronavirus, Texas still has the second lowest death rate of the top 27 most effective States in the country. We cherish the lives of our fellow Texans.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:33)
We must all come together and all work together, to make sure we do all that we can to continue to protect the lives of our fellow Texans. And it will take these, worn by everybody in the coming days, to make sure that we will protect those lives, and we will slow the spread of COVID-19.
Governor Greg Abbott: (05:53)
Someone who has been a partner with us in this effort, who’s provided guidance, help and support every step of the way, someone without who’s help, we really wouldn’t be having a successful response to COVID-19 is the Vice President of the United States, Vice President Mike Pence.
Governor Greg Abbott: (06:12)
Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your leadership.
Vice President Mike Pence: (06:16)
Well, I thank you, Governor Abbott. Thank you for those good words, and thank you for your leadership.
Vice President Mike Pence: (06:24)
From the very outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, represented here today by Dr. Deborah Birx and Secretary Ben Carson, has been working very closely with your administration. We’re grateful for the partnership that we forged.
Vice President Mike Pence: (06:47)
President Trump wanted us to be here today, with the developments over the last two weeks, with the rising positivity and the rising number of cases, with a very simple message. And that is, to you, to the people of Texas, we’re with you. And we’re going to stay with you.
Vice President Mike Pence: (07:03)
We’re going to make sure that Texas and your healthcare system in Texas have the resources, have the supplies, have the personnel to meet this moment.
Vice President Mike Pence: (07:15)
The governor and I also talked today, about the vital importance of testing. At this point, Texas is testing at an enormous scale across the state. But in our briefing today, we spoke about how we can accelerate testing, accelerate the returns on testing.
Vice President Mike Pence: (07:31)
And we’ll be carrying that back tonight to the Coronavirus Task Force, as well as to our private partners, companies like LabCorp and Quest, to make sure that Texas has the resources to identify this moment.
Vice President Mike Pence: (07:45)
This has been a helpful ground report, and we’re going to take back the specific request governor, that you forwarded to us and your team has forwarded.
Vice President Mike Pence: (07:55)
But I want to also acknowledge, that all along the way from the time that we first unveiled the 45 days to slow the spread, cases and positivity in Texas were low and steady. You flattened the curve here in Texas, it’s a tribute to the people of this great state.
Vice President Mike Pence: (08:17)
But about two weeks ago, something changed. We wanted to get a report from you directly about that, and make sure that you have the counsel, the resources, and the support to meet this moment.
Vice President Mike Pence: (08:31)
Also, want to commend the governor, for your decisive action. Reopening this economy, which began in early May is a tribute to your leadership, and the steady progress in putting Texas back to work is something every Texan can be proud of.
Vice President Mike Pence: (08:53)
But with the development of these new cases, as you said, going from 2,000 a day to 5,000 a day, positivity rate going from roughly 4%-
Vice President Mike Pence: (09:03)
… the positivity rate going from roughly 4% to 13%. We’re grateful governor that you’ve taken the steps that you’ve taken to limit the kind of gatherings and meeting at certain places in communities that may well be contributing to the community spread that we’re seeing in Texas and in states like Arizona and Florida and California as well.
Vice President Mike Pence: (09:29)
Let me add my voice to the governor’s voice to say, when we issued the guidelines to open up America again, we laid out a phase reopening plan. Texas, took that plan and implemented it here in a safe and responsible way. But there was guidance throughout that applied to all of the phases and chief among them was that people should continue to practice good hygiene, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and wear a mask, wherever it’s indicated or wherever you’re not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Vice President Mike Pence: (10:14)
And we would strongly reiterate that today. I know that roughly half the state is under local ordinances, strongly recommend if your local officials in consultation with the state are directing you to where a mask, we encourage everyone to wear a mask in the effected areas. And where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea. And it will, we know from experience will slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
Vice President Mike Pence: (10:49)
Another aspect of this that we’ve observed … and Dr. Birx I’ll turn it over to her in a second is that we are seeing in Texas and in Florida and other affected States, a significant number of younger Americans that have contracted COVID. And that it is a good thing that we know people have contracted it. Not because younger Americans without underlying conditions are particularly vulnerable to a serious outcome, but because no American under the age of 35 would ever want to inadvertently infect their parent or grandparent an elderly neighbor or an elderly friend.
Vice President Mike Pence: (11:34)
And that’s what I would say. And what Dr. Birx said on Friday to all the wonderful young people here in Texas, is this is a moment where you really have … we have to put our arms around and protect the most vulnerable among us. And particularly seniors with underlying health conditions are precisely those for whom the worst outcomes occur.
Vice President Mike Pence: (12:04)
And so, as we deal with community spread, as we engage in the kind of steps that the governor’s directed here in Texas, we just encourage particularly all of the younger Americans among us, if you have a concern, whether you have the symptoms or not go ahead and get tested. And in any event, it’s a good time to steer clear of senior citizens and to practice, the kind of measures that’ll keep our most vulnerable safe.
Vice President Mike Pence: (12:44)
Governor, again, I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for what you’ve done in this state. When we hear that, that Texas has the lowest number of fatalities of the major effected states, that’s a tribute to your healthcare workers, it’s a tribute to your people, and frankly, it’s a tribute to your leadership. Our objective is to keep it that way. Our objective is to save lives as Texas continues to reopen your economy and help to lead this country back to work. But I want you to be clear. We know we’re all in this together and governor you know I’m a phone call away. This team stands ready to work with you and to work with Senator Cornyn and your great delegation in Washington DC. We’re going to make sure Texas has what you need when you need it. And with your leadership, with the cooperation of the people of Texas and with God’s help, I know we’re going to blunt this outbreak and we’re going to protect our most vulnerable and we’re going to save lives.
Vice President Mike Pence: (13:57)
So thank you governor very much. And with that, Dr. Birx should share a few reflections on what we’re seeing and, and she’ll be having additional briefings later today. And she, and I will be traveling to a number of other affected states over the next several days.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (14:13)
Thank you, Mr. Vice president, governor Senator. So privileged to be here in the great state of Texas and particularly at this medical center. I love the motto, educate, heal, discover, because that’s what has happened with our COVID-19 response. It’s been a privilege to work with the health team here and the governor. We talked about your opening plan, I think late Friday night. I think you worked 24/7 too, late Friday night, sometime the end of April, where we talk through each of the aspects of the opening plan. And it was a very serious and safe opening plan. And you can see the impact of the opening plan and how it worked out all of May for almost five weeks. And then there was an inflection point and I really appreciate the governor and the health committees really understanding that that inflection point was around test positive.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (15:06)
That seems to be our earliest indicator of new cases, because we have enough testing now at the community level to start finding the asymptomatic and early cases. And we can start seeing even the increase in test positive before we see evidence of increased hospitalizations. And I think that’s good to know that that’s an alert system that we can trust. And it’s an alert system that we can trust as you begin to control this.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (15:33)
And we’ve been having a great meeting with the health commissioner and your health leadership at this medical center. And I think the concern that’s been raised is what is happening now is very different than what was happening through April and May, where you were having outbreaks that were quickly contained because they were in a nursing home or a prison or a meat packing plant.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (15:56)
And somehow over the last 15 or 16 days, it’s taken on a very different aspect through Texas. And you can see it in Harris County. You can see it Harris County, primarily you can see the rate of increase is quite enormous right now. And you can see it in Bear County and Travis County. Dallas is more steady in its rate of increase. But I think in talking to your medical group here and to all the Texans, what we are seeing here is a increased rate of hospitalization of 20 to 40- year-olds. And I think that really tells us that there is a lot of infection in the 20 to 40-year-olds. We know that’s the primary asymptomatic group. But what it tells us in that asymptomatic spread, it’s hitting those vulnerable 20 to 40-year-olds that have issues with comorbidities, maybe a little obesity, a little type II diabetes.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (16:54)
And so when you’re out with your friends and I want to thank the governor for his action on the bars and really appealing to every Texan, to where mask, I think we know now there’s scientific evidence that mask both keep you from infecting others, but may also partially protect you from getting infected. I think that’s a new discovery and a new finding, and it’s very encouraging to Texans to know that you can protect one another. I know it’s difficult in the 30 and the 20s and 30 something, but really just here really to ask every one of them to wear a mask, every single one of them to wear a mask.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (17:33)
And if they’re interacting with their parents and grandparents, they should wear a mask then too, because we know now how many of them are asymptomatic and no one wants to pass the virus to others. But we see from this very medical center that you have 20 to 40 year olds in the ICU. Now, most likely they will recover because Texas has done extraordinarily well, but we have to protect one another. And so I really came here with the vice president to really hear what was happening at the ground level to get a report-
Dr. Deborah Birx: (18:03)
Really hear what was happening at the ground level to get a report because in the end it’s communities that will stop this epidemic with great state leadership. And we are grateful to be here and to learn from you all. And to take that back and take these best practices, take the best practices of closing the bars and then following the impact by getting mass a hundred percent compliance in Harris County in Dallas County and Bear County and Travis County, and really get and see that impact.
Dr. Deborah Birx: (18:33)
We have additional tools that we didn’t have just two months ago. We have different tools to prevent the spread with mass and social distancing at a much higher and greater level. We know now with closing the bars, but we also have better therapeutics and better care and better knowledge about how to save people’s lives. So we have a different tool set to bring to the people of Texas, to actually curve the epidemic and stop the spread here as well as ensure that everyone in the hospital does well. So thank you for the opportunity to meet for your staff. Thank you for all your staff coming in on a Sunday. Spending the time with me. I am deeply grateful.
Governor Greg Abbott: (19:12)
Thank you, doctor.
Vice President Mike Pence: (19:15)
Ben Carson: (19:16)
It’s a wonderful to be back here. I haven’t been here for quite a long time. UT Southwestern has a very well deserved excellent reputation. I want to thank you again, Mr. Vice President for the tremendous leadership of the coronavirus task force, and it’s made a tremendous difference. It’s wonderful working with governors like you, Governor Abbott, who actually pay attention to data and who are willing to be flexible for the sake of the people. Makes a big difference because some people just get into their lane and they stay there no matter what’s going on. And Dr. Birx is the only person that I know who works longer and harder than the President, doesn’t sleep. So we appreciate that hard work for all the people on the task force. And as a congressional representatives, Senator Cornyn, I appreciate the tremendous contributions there as well.
Ben Carson: (20:17)
We’ve learned an enormous amount about this virus and about this disease over the last few months. And it is an ever evolving process we’re learning more each day. And the important thing is that we’ve learned a lot about how it spreads. I don’t think there are very many adults in this country who don’t know about the hand washing techniques that should be employed, about the masking, about the social distancing.
Ben Carson: (20:52)
The problem is, people aren’t doing it. And this is actually within the hands of the citizens of this country. We get to determine how long this thing is going to plague us. It’s sort of like a battery, a rechargeable battery. Every time it can infect somebody, it gets new life, but if you do the right thing and it’s not infecting a lot of people, it kind of dies down. So we get a chance to really affect that the way we want to. And we want freedom, particularly in Texas, but you have to look at the longterm freedom and if we beat this thing back, now we get a lot more freedom in the long run. So I think we’re on the way we just need to disseminate that information, everybody in their sphere of influence and to be the example of themselves.
Vice President Mike Pence: (21:53)
Thank you, doctor. Senator Cornyn.
Senator Cornyn: (21:56)
Well, let me first start Mr. Vice President, by saying thank you for being here. You and Dr. Birx and Dr. Carson. I think this is very reassuring to the 29 million people who call Texas home because there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of misinformation, a lot of fear. And I think just as a number of you said, dealing with the facts and data, we can reassure the people of Texas that we’ll get through this and we’ll get through this together. So Governor, let me just say how proud I am of the great job you and your team have done. And I’ve known you long enough to know that you don’t make rash or emotional decisions. You do it based on the facts. And this is as we were discussing a little bit earlier, sort of like trying to design and build an airplane while you’re flying it.
Senator Cornyn: (22:48)
Because things that we thought were true proved not to be so, things we didn’t know, we now know. And so I think it’s a big deal that you’re here. Mr. Vice President demonstrates the commitment that you and President Trump and the entire administration making to the people of Texas and the people of our country. But in closing, let me just say, there are a couple of things I heard today that really stand out. One is when you turned to Governor Abbott and you said, “Whatever you need, whatever you need”. So there’s not going to be lack of resources available to kill this virus and to get life back to whatever the new normal is. And I think Dr. Carson must have some Texan in his roots. Because I heard him this morning and say, “We will dominate this virus. Not let it dominate us.”
Senator Cornyn: (23:42)
There’s nothing more Texan in spirit then that sort of attitude, Dr. Carson. So thank you for mentioning that. And finally, I’d just say the message I think that you’ve heard today and you continue to hear from the Vice President and Dr. Birx and the coronavirus task force is a plan executed properly and with prudence is called for. Panic is not called for. And so that’s what I see happening here across the state and across the country, we will dominate the virus Dr. Carson, and it will not dominate us. Thank you.
Vice President Mike Pence: (24:21)
Thanks Senator. Governor, questions?
Governor Greg Abbott: (24:23)
Speaker 1: (24:24)
Governor, Mr. Vice President I was wondering with the COVID test positivity rates rising and hospitalizations rising in Texas and in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Why is federal government only pushing to extend federal funding for community test sites for two weeks? Why not longer?
Vice President Mike Pence: (24:46)
Well, when we stood up testing early on, we’d established a number of federally operated sites. There were five states that those were still conducted in, and so several weeks ago we consulted with the Governor’s office about transitioning what I think were six sites out of more than 600 sites that Texas is operating and operating with the private sector. But frankly, in consultation with the Governor and at the urging of both of your senators, we’ll be extending that every bit as long as Texas wants us to.
Vice President Mike Pence: (25:29)
This is all hands on deck. We’re going to make sure not only do we continue the testing at those five sites, but the Governor needs additional public resources to expand testing. That’ll be made available. We’re encouraged on the supply side that in talking with Nim Kidd and the team here in Texas, that on personal protective equipment, critical supplies that Texas believes that they have a significant and abundant amount of supplies. But we told them that as we continue to build the strategic national stockpile, as we continue to operate our efforts at the federal level, that we’ll make sure and backfill anything Texas needs in that respect.
Vice President Mike Pence: (26:21)
At this point, I think Governor, you informed us that you suspended elective surgery in four counties, but it was encouraging to hear that only 20% of patients in Texas hospital today have COVID. Which means that hospitals have a great deal of ability to expand their capability here, but we’ll make sure that’s the case. But on the testing front, there was a fairly routine winding down of those first test sites that were operated by the US public health service. But that was frankly, those decisions were set into motion before.
Vice President Mike Pence: (27:03)
But that was frankly … Those decisions were set into motion before we saw what was happening in these states. We’ll continue them every bit as long as Texas needs them.
Governor Greg Abbott: (27:08)
Pause. Jack, I’ll add to that. Beginning several weeks ago, Chief Nim Kidd was working with officials in federal HHS to be able to receive a handoff of those testing sites, so that the state of Texas would have operational control over not just those, but the goal and the capability was going to be able to expand even more testing sites and do even more testing. There is going to come a day when those testing sites will be handed over from the federal government to the state with us being able to have the full capability to make sure even more testing is going to be able to be achieved.
Governor Greg Abbott: (27:51)
I will add this also, and that is a partner in this process is UT Southwestern Medical Center. They are working collaboratively both with us, both on their own programs, especially here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to do expansive testing. There will be no shortage of testing either in Texas or in the DFW region in particular.
Vice President Mike Pence: (28:12)
I appreciate the question. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (28:14)
Mr. Vice President, Governor Abbott said on Friday that his biggest regret was reopening bars too soon. In that same vein, what part of the national response do you wish had been different or could have been better?
Vice President Mike Pence: (28:29)
Well to be honest with you, I serve alongside a president who is always eyes forward. He wanted us to be here in Texas today. I’ll be in Arizona, in Florida before the week is out, because we want to focus on where we are today. But I will tell you, when you look at the sacrifices the American people made over all 45 days of slow the spread, I think it demonstrated the resilience and the character of this country, and frankly of the people of Texas.
Vice President Mike Pence: (29:02)
It gives us great confidence, as the governor said, that having flattened the curve before here in Texas, that with the steps the governor is taking with regard to closing bars, preserving capacity, by suspending elective surgery, encouraging everyone in Texas to wear a mask. We encourage wherever it is indicated by local authorities as necessary or wherever anyone can’t engage in social distancing. It’s the right idea. We’re very confident that we’re going to get through this. But we’re entirely focused right now in this moment. We’re going to stay focused there today and tomorrow.
Speaker 4: (29:47)
Mr. Vice President, you guys are a collective-
Speaker 3: (29:49)
Speaker 4: (29:49)
… voice today on the importance of wearing a mask and you’ve all exhibited that behavior. Does that need to come directly from the President from the top? And does it undercut message of the task force when he is implied that wearing a mask could be a political statement against him? Does he need to actively encourage Americans to wear masks, as you guys have today?
Vice President Mike Pence: (30:10)
Well, the President had tapped me to lead the White House coronavirus task force, and part of our guidelines open up America, again, encourage people to wear facial coverings where social distancing was not possible. Our administration is promoting the practice. But when the governor and I talked to this week, we talked about the importance in this moment of calling on people across Texas, wear a mask.
Vice President Mike Pence: (30:41)
First, if you’re in the 50% of the state that requires it locally, we encourage you to adhere to local guidance and listen to your local health officials because they’re tracking what’s happening in their community every day. The guidance they give up when to wear a mask when it’s appropriate, when it’s necessary, is important. But for anyone, if you can’t maintain social distancing, which is that if going to be within six feet of people for more than 15 minutes, it’s just a good idea to wear a mask.
Vice President Mike Pence: (31:16)
And I would add, I thought Dr. Burks made a very compelling comment, and that is also say young people with everything we see happening here with the rise of cases, particularly among young people, if you’re going to go see mom and dad, if you’re going to see any elderly friends, it’s a good time to wear a mask just to make sure that no one would inadvertently convey the coronavirus. It’s an important message. We’re here to convey it on behalf of the administration, the White House coronavirus task force and the President. We’ll continue to do that.
Vice President Mike Pence: (31:52)
Governor, I want to thank you again. Thank you for your leadership. We’ll be following up on the discussions that we had. I appreciate the senator’s support of the Cares Act legislation and resources. I’ll reiterate the promise that he quoted. That is to you, people of Texas, we’re going to make sure you have what you need when you need it. We’re going to get through this. When we look at the path of the coronavirus, everything the people of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut went through, New Orleans, Michigan, and then the steady state that Texas managed until just the last few weeks, we know we’re going to get through this. We’re going to get through this together. Thank you very much, governor.
Governor Greg Abbott: (32:47)
Vice President Mike Pence: (32:47)
Thank you all.
Speaker 4: (32:47)
Mr. Vice President, could you briefly comment on the reports that Russia offered to pay [Downy 00:32:52] for American troops? Was that part of the President’s daily briefing?
Vice President Mike Pence: (32:53)
Governor Greg Abbott: (32:53)
See you on the plane. We’re going this way.
Vice President Mike Pence: (32:53)