Skip to Main Content

As criticism mounts that the White House has turned a blind eye to the worsening coronavirus epidemic in the South and West, Vice President Mike Pence is arguing that the administration remains on top of the response.

On Friday, at the White House coronavirus task force’s first public briefing in nearly two months, Pence said that “our focus today” was on the rising Covid-19 infections in certain states. But he also used the event to tout what he said have been successful administration initiatives to minimize the damage of the virus, even as the country has not suppressed the virus as other countries in Europe and Asia have successfully done.

Pence also celebrated that all states were in the process of “safely and responsibly” reopening and pointed to improvements in certain employment and retail sales metrics as a sign of economic progress. But his remarks came just hours after state officials in Texas and Florida, facing record levels of cases and tightening hospital capacity, reimposed certain restrictions on bars and restaurants that they had earlier lifted. Other states, including Arizona, have paused their reopenings in an effort to try to control the spread of the virus as they experienced rising cases and hospitalizations.


Other task force members were more somber in their remarks. Deborah Birx, a physician who has been coordinating the White House’s efforts, urged older people and those with conditions that leave them more vulnerable to serious Covid-19 complications to “shelter as much as you can” if they live in one of the country’s hot spots. “Use your grandchildren to go and do your shopping,” she said.

In his remarks, Pence argued that the administration’s efforts had curtailed the death toll from the virus, even as some 125,000 Americans have died. He noted that federal officials have been assisting state and local health agencies and said that no American who needed a ventilator went without one. He also replayed the worst-case scenario, showing a slide that indicated that without intervention, 1.5 million to 2.2 million Americans could have died. With the measures the White House embraced, the slide indicated, that would be reduced to 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. Recent studies, however, have found that the U.S.’ slow response — including delays in physical distancing policies and a bungled testing rollout — contributed to a higher death toll.


“We slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, we saved lives,” Pence said.

Experts have noted that flattening the curve was just an immediate necessity to prevent health systems from getting overwhelmed. The U.S. has not instituted a national testing or contact tracing strategy, and states started reopening with support from President Trump even though they didn’t hit the metrics initially established by the White House.

Support STAT: If you value our coronavirus coverage, please consider making a one-time contribution to support our journalism.

The result, experts say, was that the curve essentially remained flat for weeks, and never dropped to levels that would have safely allowed for further stages of reopening. And now, the curve of cases is rising again, with record spread occurring in the southern and western portions of the country. Areas that were harder hit during the spring, including the Northeast and parts of the Midwest, are not facing the crises that the other parts of the country are, for the moment.

Still, Pence said that “we’re in a much better place” now than two months ago, pointing to a declining daily death toll standing in the hundreds, compared to the peak when 2,500 Americans were dying a day.

There are a number of possible reasons for the continuing drops in deaths even as cases rise, experts say. Clinicians are now better at treating severe Covid-19 cases, and perhaps those most vulnerable to dying from the coronavirus are taking more precautions — which is backed up by data that shows young people account for an increasing proportion of new cases. But experts caution that deaths, as a metric, lag behind new infections and hospitalizations, because it generally takes someone several weeks to die after contracting the virus. That means that deaths could start creeping up soon.

Pence expressed the administration’s “sympathies and deepest condolences” to those who had lost loved ones, but he said he hoped the declining number of deaths “is an encouragement.”

The briefing Friday, which Pence said Trump encouraged the task force to hold to address the increasing cases, came as even some Republicans were questioning the administration’s resolve to combat the coronavirus for the long haul. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed 10 days ago, Pence wrote that “we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy” and dismissed certain warnings. Last week, Trump claimed the virus was “dying out.”

At the briefing, Pence and the federal health officials urged younger Americans to keep up their vigilance and practice behavior that can reduce the spread of the virus, noting that a greater portion of the new cases being identified in states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas are among younger people. Younger people may think they don’t have to worry about Covid-19, but some of them will experience serious complications if infected, and they can pass the virus on to others who are vulnerable to more severe cases, they said.

“We still have work to do,” Pence said. “We say to every American, particularly those in counties and states being impacted by rising cases, that now is the time for everyone to do their part.”

Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, put the impetus on individuals, saying they could be “part of the solution or part of the problem.”

“A risk for you is not just isolated to you,” Fauci said. “Because if you get infected, you are part, innocently or inadvertently, of propagating the dynamic process of the pandemic. The chances are that if you get infected, you’re going to infect someone else.”

The health officials stressed that individual decisions to keep distance from people, wear masks, and wash their hands could make a difference in transmission. When they were away from the podium and were not speaking, Birx and Fauci — as well as health secretary Alex Azar and Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — all wore masks. Pence did not appear to have one.

Pence faced several questions from reporters about why the Trump campaign was continuing to hold political rallies that did not comply with recommendations about mask wearing and physical distancing. One reporter asked Pence, who several times at the briefing encouraged people to listen to guidance from local and state health officials, why the campaign held a rally in Tulsa, Okla., last weekend despite local officials advising against it.

Pence said that people still had the freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly, and that the campaign wanted “to give people the freedom to participate in the political process.”

  • So protesters and rioters can not waer mask because ““people still had the freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly – to give people the freedom to participate in the political process”, but not Trump rally participants.

  • the horrendous economic consequences of Covid-19, and the horrific loss of life are largely due to a confluence of very unfortunate specific events and circumstances.

    Coronaviruses were not considered as a major public health threat before 2003, as they were known to cause only mild upper respiratory tract infections. The first known serious coronavirus infection was the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus SARS-CoV, in 2002. Since then, MERS, SARS and Ebola killed many people and arrived in various waves. For example, there have been eight waves of MERS with the fourth wave killing the most people. However, very few lives that were lost from the earlier novel coronaviruses breakouts and subsequent waves, occurred in what was referred to as the “first world”. In particular, deaths from the earlier novel coronaviruses were very rare in the United States.

    One of the unfortunate events and circumstances that contributed to the Covid-19 tragedy, was a complacent belief on the part of many in the world, that the United States was the de facto “center for disease control” for the entire world. Many thought that America could and would eradicate any possible pandemic that occurred, or at least, prevent it from significantly impacting the developed countries. That belief was not unreasonable given events that happened in the prior epidemics. In 2014, President Obama poured significant resources into the successful fight against the Ebola outbreak. These resources included the 101st airborne division, which was sent to West Africa, in what was called Operation United Assistance by the military.

    The confluence of the rise in populism, with its’ disdain for intellectual elites and science in particular, combined with the rise of authoritarianism, turned what could have been only a nasty novel virus outbreak into a catastrophe. There are various countries that demonstrated that there was nothing inherent in SARS CoV-2, which meant that hundreds of thousands of deaths in the first world were inevitable.

    There are countries where leaders reacted to Covid-19 in the ways that the world could have expected the United States to do, prior to the rise of populism in America. These leaders who were guided by science, were from various ends of the political spectrum. These included a very left-wing leader in New Zealand and what might be called an old-school pre-Trump conservative, in the mold of former Republican presidential candidates such as Barry Goldwater, Mitt Romney or Bob Dole.

    As the New York Times reported:
    Thousands of miles from President Trump’s combative news briefings, a conservative leader in Australia and a progressive prime minister in New Zealand are steadily guiding their countries toward a rapid suppression of the coronavirus outbreak.

    Both nations are now reporting just a handful of new infections each day, down from hundreds in March, and they are converging toward an extraordinary goal: completely eliminating the virus from their island nations.
    Whether they get to zero or not, what Australia and New Zealand have already accomplished is a remarkable cause for hope. Scott Morrison of Australia, a conservative Christian, and Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s darling of the left, are both succeeding with throwback democracy — in which partisanship recedes, experts lead, and quiet coordination matters more than firing up the base.

    “This is certainly distinct from the United States,” said Dr. Peter Collignon, a physician and professor of microbiology at the Australian National University who has worked for the World Health Organization. “Here it’s not a time for politics. This is a time for looking at the data and saying let’s do what makes the most sense.”

    New Zealand and Australia are not the only places where science prevailed and relative very few Covid-19 deaths have occurred. As I said in: REM, REML And The mREITs Going Forward

    …As of April 22, 2020, the USA with about 5% of the world population, is experiencing about 33% of the new daily COVID-19 deaths. Countries such as South Korea, Germany and New Zealand seem to have been much better prepared for COVID-19. Other countries may be able to resume full production sooner than the USA. There even might be a time where travel within and/or to and from the USA is restricted far more, than in the rest of the developed world.

    The first cases of COVID-19 appeared about simultaneously in the United States and South Korea. As of April 21, 2020, there were a total of 237 COVID-19 deaths in South Korea as compared to 43,200 in the USA. On a per capita basis, South Korea with a population of 51,269,185 had 0.00000462 COVID-19 deaths. For the United States with a population of 331,002,651 the per capita deaths are 0.001305. Thus, the per capita COVID-19 death rate in the United States is 282 times that of South Korea…”

  • The Global Health Security and Biodefense unit — responsible for pandemic preparedness — was established in 2015 by Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice. The unit resided under the National Security Council (NSC) — a forum of White House personnel that advises the president on national security and foreign policy matters. In May 2018, the team was disbanded and its head Timothy Ziemer, top White House official in the NSC for leading U.S. response against a pandemic, left the Trump administration.

    How would a President Hillary Clinton have handled the COVID-19 Pandemic? We will never know for two reasons. First, she was not elected. Second, there might never have been a pandemic originating in China during a Hilary Clinton administration.

    If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, she would have had no more interest in imposing tariffs on China than Obama, or his predecessors did. Rather, in terms of dealing with authoritarian governments like Russia and China, she would be, far more focused on pushing for reforms such as: human rights, rule of law, and a free press. That was the case as when Hillary was Secretary of State, much to the dismay of the rulers of both China and Russia.

    Trump did not invent authoritarianism. However, his apparent admiration for some of the traits of and actions taken by rulers he considers strong and powerful, have clearly encouraged further tendencies toward authoritarianism, worldwide. Prior to the Trump presidency the leaders of both China and Russia were subject to term limits. Now Putin is pushing for a term limit freeze that would allow him to stay in office indefinitely.

    Since 1976, China had been slowly moving away from authoritarianism and enacting reforms. A two-consecutive-term limit to China’s presidency was put in place by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982. However, in March 2018, President Xi Jinping pushed through changes to the constitution allowing him to rule indefinitely. Abolishing term limits were part of the retrenchment away from earlier reforms and liberalization, that had occurred in China. President Trump’s reaction that move towards more authoritarianism in China, was to say: “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” “And look, he was able to do that,” he added. “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll give that a shot someday.” It is inconceivable, that a President Hillary Clinton or any other previous president, would react like that. China certainly took notice of Trump’s comments.
    Regarding China, every president since Nixon, considered moving towards freedom and human rights, as America’s highest goal. Whatever trade policies that moved China towards a more open and free society, were generally considered to be in America’s best interests by those presidents. President Hillary Clinton would have been similar to all the pre-Trump presidents, with regard to pushing for a less authoritarian China, rather than engaging in a trade war.

    Authoritarian governments tend to create a climate where local officials attempt to hide bad news or problems from higher authorities. Where a vigorous free press exists, local officials are much less inclined to think that they get away with cover-ups. Local officials tend to fear they cannot evade the eyes of investigative journalists, in countries with a free independent press.

    After SARS, China created an infectious disease reporting system that officials said was world-class. In free open societies, when reacting to the appearance of clusters of a novel infectious disease, medical professionals would never consider first seeking the consent of local officials, before alerting the appropriate national entities. A prompt national government response would generally enable those patients infected to be identified and isolated. That type of immediate notification should have allowed China to contain or at least drastically slow down, the spread of the novel corona virus.

    In China’s authoritarian environment, the medical professionals deferred to local officials who, over a political aversion to sharing bad news, withheld information about cases from the national reporting system. As part of their attempt to conceal the news about the outbreak, local officials arrested Dr. Li Wenliang and seven other whistleblowers. The doctor died from the virus. In an authoritarian society, where a free press may be considered an enemy of the state, arresting a doctor who raises an alarm is reasonable. If China had a free press, they might never have arrested the doctor.

    Many Americans might agree that Hillary Clinton, or any other previous president, would likely have handled the COVID-19 pandemic better, or at least not have downplayed the urgency of, and thus delayed, action to mitigate the its’ harm. Many Americans probably would also agree that neither Hillary Clinton, nor any other previous president, would have called the press an enemy or the state. However, many may not have considered that a China, that was pressured by America more about allowing a free and open society, rather than about trade matters, might have contained the spread of the virus, rather than arresting the whistle blowers.

    We will never know what would have happened had Hillary Clinton been elected. The one thing we know, for sure, is that the total amount of the tariffs paid by American consumers, not the Chinese as Trump falsely claims, are less than a single weeks’ cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The confluence of the rise in populism, with its disdain for intellectual elites and science in particular, combined with the rise of authoritarianism, turned what could have been only a nasty novel virus outbreak into a catastrophe. America was not the only advanced country that did not or could not take the steps necessary to contain the SARS CoV-2 Virus. Populist rulers of Brazil and the Philippines have channeled President Trump in first denying the seriousness of COVID-19 and then promoting unproven remedies. For example, President Bolsonaro of Brazil has insisted on expanding the use of chloroquine against COVID-19…”

    • The notion that the virus would not have become a problem if Hillary were elected because China might have had a free press etc. is delusional. She never had any impact on Russian or Chinese behavior as SOS and certainly would not have forced them to have a free society. The notion that the political left would have handled the virus better is dubious given their denunciation of the travel restrictions Trump put in place on China and later on Europe and the late application of social distancing and masks in New York and the practice in Blue states of sending covid sick people released from ICU beds to nursing homes. Magical thinking does not address problems but since you are in an imaginary frame of mind, one might also assume that had Trump been President instead of Obama, Khadafy would not have been overthrown creating a terrorist haven that resulted in our consulate being seized and Americans killed. ISIS would not have been allowed to rise and seize territory thoughout the Levant and the resulting refugee problem would never have happened.

Comments are closed.