Press Briefing by Vice President Pence and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force | Rockville, MDxz
June 30, 2020
United States Public Health Service Headquarters
4:32 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for joining us. The White House Coronavirus Task Force met today, but it is a particular honor to be here at the headquarters of the United States Public Health Service to make an important announcement on the establishment of the Ready Reserve Corps.
And also, on behalf of the President and on behalf of entire team, to express our gratitude to the women and men who wear the blue uniforms across the country and have served our nation with such distinction and compassion over the past four months.
I'm – I'm here with several members of our team, who you will hear from in the course of this briefing. But as we gather here today, more than 2.6 million coronavirus cases in the United States; sadly, we've lost more than 129,000 Americans.
The data report that we received today from Dr. Deborah Birx – who is, as we speak, in Arizona, briefing with Governor Ducey and their team – is that, at this moment, we have 12 states with rising cases and percent-positive cases – a combination of both rising cases and rising percent positive. Beyond that, there are another 28 states that either have rising cases or rising positives but do not have a combination of those two things.
We also continue to see that roughly 50 percent of all the new cases are taking place in four states. And so, as you would anticipate, we're – we are working with governors and state health officials in all of the states that are impacted, but we're particularly focusing on the four states that are generating the majority of the cases which, of course, are California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida.
I'm pleased to say that, while there are 29 states that have – don't have a combination of rising positivity and rising cases, we also have an additional 10 states that are either entirely stable or have numbers that are so low that they're de minimis. So our focus, particularly at the task force today, was on the 12 states that have the combination.
Beyond that, while one life lost is too many and we mourn the loss of every American and grieve with every family that lost a loved one, because of the dedication of our healthcare workers, because of our response and the response of the American people, we are grateful that, today, fatalities are at the lowest level since the end of March.
We continue to be vigilant as we see rising cases. We understand that that could – that could change. But again, to see the precipitous decline in fatalities is a tribute to the healthcare workers in this country and to the cooperation and the compassion of the American people.
Our message to every American in the states that are most affected by rising cases and rising positivity rates is: We are with you. We are working with the governors in your state to ensure that they have the resources and the support to meet this moment and provide the level of healthcare that any one of us would expect for a member of our family.
But to all of the American people, I say, on behalf of the President of the United States and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, that because of all that we've done over the last four months, we're ready. We're in a much better place than we were four months ago or even two months ago. And part of our briefing today will focus on the progress that we have made and our ability to respond to the outbreaks that we're seeing occurring in states, particularly across the south.
I've been traveling across the country – I was actually in Texas over this past weekend; received a full briefing from Governor Abbott about their response – and I will be traveling to Arizona tomorrow, meeting with Governor Ducey. And I'll be able to confirm to him that we were informed today that a team deployed by FEMA of 62 Disaster Medical Assistance personnel are on the ground in Arizona. We're also currently processing a request from Texas, and we're in consultation with other states.
As you will hear in a moment, with regard to testing, with regard to personal protective equipment, with regard to ventilators, with regard to therapeutic medicines, we are in a strong position all across the affected areas of the country to meet this moment. But in consultation with the states, we're – we're going to make sure that they have the reinforcements in healthcare workers. And I'm pleased to confirm today that 62 DMAT, or Disaster Medical Assistant Team, members have arrived in Arizona.
I'll also be traveling later this week to the state of Florida, where Dr. Birx and I will also receive a briefing, along with Secretary Azar, about that state's response.
At the present moment, all 50 states in the country are reopening and have done so in one degree or another since the beginning of May, when we issued our Guidelines to Open Up America Again.
At this moment in time, because of the rising cases, at least four states have taken action to close down bars, limit capacity in restaurants, and another 10 states have slowed down or postponed certain reopening efforts.
And let me make it very clear that we fully support the new guidance that's been issued by the governors in these states. We truly do believe that these prudent measures and additional guidance and steps will make it possible for us to continue to move our nation forward, to continue to reopen in a safe and responsible way, while putting the health – the health of our citizens first.
I thought Dr. Fauci put it well in a recent task force meeting when he said, and I think also testified today, that we "should not look at public safety measures as an impediment to opening up America, [that] rather, we should look at them as the vehicle to opening up," as we see rising cases in particularly those 12 states where we have a combination of rising cases and positivity.
The American people deserve to know that our best health experts say it's not an either/or. It's not whether we continue to open up or whether we move in an opposite direction, but rather it's whether we take these prudent measures that will slow the spread and put the health of our citizens first.
Our governors in the affected areas and their public health officials are making – are taking strong action to keep their states open, while slowing the spread and putting the health of their citizens first. And they have our full support.
Let me say again, as I said at the outset: The American people deserve to know that we're in a much better place today, thanks to the whole-of-government approach, the whole-of-America approach that President Trump initiated at the very outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The – working in cooperation with agencies across the federal government, working with the private sector across this country, we literally have scaled – now 33 million tests have been performed across the United States.
And as Admiral Brett Giroir will detail momentarily, we're – we're testing between 500 and 600 thousand Americans every single day, with the capacity to significantly increase that through the innovation of what is known as "pooling."
And when it comes to medical supplies, FEMA has facilitated the delivery of literally billions of gloves and gowns and masks. And as Admiral Polowczyk will detail in just a few moments, we are in continuous contact with not just states, but with hospitals in states across the country. And we continue to receive very strong reports about the support they've received and the supplies that are available to meet this moment.
Also, we're in a much better place because of the availability of what's known as therapeutics or medicines to treat people that have contracted the coronavirus and are experiencing severe symptoms.
Now, Dr. Steve Hahn of the FDA is here, and he will speak about the progress that we are making, whether it be the availability of remdesivir, which we're distributing another tranche this week; the use of blood plasma, of steroid treatments; and – also, we continue to hear very hopeful signs about the continuing – continuing progress for developing a vaccine for the American people.
And so, with that, I'm going to – I'm going to yield to the team here to give you updates. I'm going to begin with Secretary Azar, who will update us on our national response, including important work the CDC did today with regard to opening up our schools again. And then Admiral Giroir will update us on testing, Admiral Polowczyk on supplies, and Dr. Hahn on medicines. And then, finally, we'll hear from Dr. Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General of the United States, who will give counsel to every American in the states that are impacted and all across the country about best practices.
So to every American in states that are seeing rising cases and rising trends in positivity: We want – we want to assure you we're with you. And we're deploying, at the President's direction, the full resources of the federal government to meet this moment and working in strong partnership with your state and local officials.
And to every American: We want to assure you that we're ready, more ready than ever before, to meet this coronavirus pandemic because of the – because of the resources that our President, that agencies at the federal government, the steps deployed and efforts at state government, and mostly because of what the American people have done and demonstrated that they have the ability to do.
I mean, the truth is, while we've made great progress on making availability of testing and supplies and medicines, we all need to do our part. We know how to slow the spread. And the commonsense measures that we outlined in our phased approach to open up America again, the guidelines that apply to all of the phases are – ought to be embraced by every American: wash your hands, practice good hygiene, and wear a mask. Wear a mask when – whenever your state and local authorities say it's appropriate. It's always good idea to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible.
We're all in this together, and we have every confidence that as we met the moment before when we saw this pandemic first strike in the northwest and then strike so hard around the Greater New York City area, then New Orleans, then Michigan, that with a with a – with a whole-of-government approach, a whole-of-America approach, cooperation of the American people, we'll do what we did earlier on in this pandemic: We'll slow the spread and we'll save lives.
And with that, Secretary Azar and members of the team will brief, and then we'll have time for questions.
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President, for honoring HHS and the Commissioned Corps with your presence today. And thank you for your leadership of the President's all-of-America response to COVID-19.
I'd also like to thank Admiral Giroir and Vice Admiral Adams for their service during this crisis and for their dedication to strengthening the Commissioned Corps.
The men and women of the Commissioned Corps have been and will continue to be central to our COVID-19 response and on all six points of our strategy to defeat the virus: surveillance, testing, containment, healthcare capacity, vaccines, and therapeutics.
To every member of the Commissioned Corps who's gone into harm's way in this crisis, who's spent time away from home and loved ones, we are deeply grateful.
I want to mention one particular step forward we took today to help Americans get back to work and back to school while protecting us from the virus: new guidance from the CDC as to how higher education institutions can protect students and their employees. In particular, it offers recommendations for how and when testing should be used for students, faculty, and staff, including both testing for symptomatic individuals and testing for asymptomatic individuals who've had possible exposure to the virus.
The guidance also notes that in areas with moderate to substantial community transmission, where resources allow, colleges and universities can work with local health officials to consider testing asymptomatic students and staff who have no known exposure. This may make sense in order to identify outbreaks and inform control measures, and would especially apply to groups like those living in congregate housing.
This guidance relies on what we've learned about the virus in recent months. In the very near future, we will also be releasing similar guidance around K-through-12 schools, recognizing how important safe schools are to reopening our country.
These are just two examples of the science-based resources that we're providing for state and local health departments and other institutions as they work with federal assistance to continue the fight against the virus and to reopen our country.
We need to reopen America. We have to get back to work, back to school, back to worship, back to healthcare. But we must all play our individual parts to enable this reopening. We can reverse these outbreaks and prevent future ones by doing what the President has called for since the beginning in his guidance: practice social distancing, wear facial coverings where social distancing is not possible, and practice good personal hygiene.
By doing so, you protect yourself, you protect vulnerable household members, but you also protect the person you may be standing next to in the grocery line. And you don't know whether they're vulnerable. You have no way of knowing whether they're at high risk of severity, hospitalization, or fatality. You protect them.
There's just three simple steps to keep reopening: social distance; wear facial coverings when you can't social distance; and practice good personal hygiene. It's all we need to do to keep reopening. We can work, go to school, go to worship, reengage with healthcare, if we all, as individuals, practice good, responsible behavior to protect each other and to protect ourselves.
So thank you very much, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well done. Admiral?
ADMIRAL GIRIOR: Thank you, Mr. Vice President and Mr. Secretary. Again, you did us an incredible honor by being here and honoring and appreciating the 6,100 women and men of the Commissioned Corps. We do say women and men; we are a 55 percent female service and the most diverse within the country.
I'm going to take a few minutes and talk about testing. As both the Vice President and the Secretary said, we're a world different than we were in March. At that time in early March, we'd only done a few thousand tests. Now we're doing 550, 600 thousand. We've actually gone over 600,000 per day, on occasion; over 33 million tests.
And I think all of you know there's some components to this. There's, sort of, the front end – somebody to take the swab or to supervise you doing that swab. You got to have the supplies there, you got to have the machines, and you got to have the laboratory tests.
So on the front end, way back in March, this had to be done by a practitioner, with a very deep nasal pharyngeal swab in full PPE. We could not get to where we are today, from there, without a lot of science and a lot of collaboration from the FDA.
Because we're able to validate nasal self-swabbing, those 41 sites turned into what you saw today, in the press, over 600 retail pharmacy sites that have now been extended for several months, continuing from their first June 30th closure now, at least through August, where there's supervised self-swabbing. That has translated into another 1,400 CVS sites. So now 2,000 retail pharmacy sites, born from those first 41, in over 1,300 federally qualified health center sites. Again, most of these focused on the most underserved communities and vulnerable communities.
So we're scaling that, and every week we're getting new authorizations from the FDA to take it the next step further, and that's home self-swabbing. There are some authorizations that are home self-swabbing and some that are video assisted, so we could eliminate a lot of the whole front-end problem where we are.
As I said many times, we're scaling testing on a routine basis. And I've told you that, assuming no technological innovations, we will easily be at 40 to 50 million tests available by September. That's a very conservative estimate – very conservative estimate – because the industry tells us we'll be at a much higher place.
But what are some of the innovations we're seeing right now being implemented, again, under the guidance of the FDA, validated, high quality? And that's pooling. You've heard – you've heard something about pooling. Pooling is very helpful because it could combine more than one sample in a single laboratory assay.
So imagine this situation where I wanted to know if all of you were potentially negative, and I thought you were probably negative because you don't have a history, you're not febrile, you haven't been in contact with anyone. So you could collect your own swabs, you can put them in tubes, and we can take all of those tubes, or at least 10 of them, and put them into a simple tube and do that assay. If that one single assay is negative, then you're all negative, if you do it appropriately. So you can leverage 2 times, 5 times, possibly even up to 10 times or even more.
This is being done now in many universities and many commercial laboratories, and we are absolutely working with everyone in the community to do this. It's not right all the time, but it's right a lot of the time. So of those 18, 20 million tests per month that we'll probably be doing in July, or out of those 35 to 50, 60 million tests we're doing in September, you can do the math and multiply at least a portion of those by two, three, or even five. So that's where pooling is going to get us.
The final thing I would like to say is, the RADx program, that's the diagnostics program at NIH, as well as the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, are really making great inroads to innovation. This was funded to sort of get us to the next step, to provide more rapid tests, higher quantities of tests, completely different kinds of tests.
Now, again, we're not assuming any breakthrough innovations, but there's going to be some, and I'm very excited about that. The NIH Director Francis Collins, the BARDA Director Dr. Gary Disbrow, and I work on literally on a daily basis to make sure that the innovations that come on will be translated immediately to our public health system.
So I'd be happy to take your questions later on today. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Admiral Giroir, and thank you for your great efforts. I know I speak for people all across this country when I express how proud we are of the extraordinary progress.
And the way we've scaled testing across America is historic. When I was tapped to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, we had done less than 8,000 coronavirus tests. And to think that, in the intervening months, now 33 million tests and the ability to scale beyond that, it's a – it is a great comfort to the American people and a great tribute – a great tribute to the public-private partnership that President Trump forged early on.
I think it's also been historic to see the progress that we've made on personal protective equipment and particularly for Americans in the four states where 50 percent of the cases are occurring, or the 12 states where we're seeing a combination of rising cases in positivity. We want the American people to know that the personal protective equipment for our healthcare providers is also at a historic level.
And I've asked Admiral John Polowczyk to come and to articulate where we stand to date with the hospitals and healthcare facilities in the impacted areas, and our ongoing effort to ensure that the extraordinary doctors and nurses and healthcare workers that are, at this very hour, ministering to Americans struggling with the coronavirus have the masks, the gowns, the gloves, the ventilators, and all the personal protective equipment they need to render that care.
But Admiral Polowczyk?
ADMIRAL POLOWCZYK: Thank you Mr. Vice President. Back in March, mid-March, when I was moved from the Pentagon to FEMA, the President gave me one task: Provide our healthcare workers the supplies they need, what they need, when they need it.
And I'm going to give you a short update today, and I think the theme is: "We have more" – "They have more."
So, from that time in March, mid-March until now, we are in a fundamentally better position. I'm going to go through some details that makes me that confident. And personally – those that personally know me, I'm a my glass half full type of person. And so for these – these details I find very encouraging.
As we, over the last few weeks, tried to ascertain how well states and hospital networks are preparing, and preparing for the summer into the fall, we held a round of state calls with every state emergency manager and every state health official facilitated by the FEMA regional administrator. So we went through every region and every state, and had a discussion about what we were doing for the National Stockpile and what they were doing for their states.
That call led me to believe that 65 to 70 percent of the states have at least 30 days of supply on hand, if not 60. There are many states that have more than 60, that have targets of 90, and looking to achieve that. Those state calls have made me confident of the numbers that we're putting into our modernized National Stockpile.
Here in recent weeks, with the uptick in cases, where Dr. Birx has highlighted down to the county level, my team has called those hospitals. And I am here to provide a synopsis of that. We've talked to hospitals in Dallas, Phoenix, Houston, and on down the line. Many of them are reporting 30 to 40 days of supply on hand. Now, there are some sporadic shortages, but mostly in the size of – the size of masks. "Could I have more small masks?"
So we took that information, and I talked to 3M today, as a matter of fact. And they've already changed – based on the discussions with my team, they're already changed their production to produce more small and extra-small masks. So essentially, almost an even split – 40, 45, 50 percent were smalls, to then the – to the rest to normal supplies.
So states are saying they have supplies. Hospitals and areas where there are outbreaks are having more supplies.
Another data tool: The National Health Safety Network, where – the CDC-run network where hospitals report days of supplies on hand across the nation – those supplies, back in March – there were many hospitals that were saying that they had less than three days. Now folks have multiple weeks – the majority of hospitals. So we are – we are fundamentally in a different place.
One of the things we did was we assembled all of the business-system data for the medical supply chain – for the commercial medical supply chain. I have that (inaudible) at FEMA. And I can see the demand from hospitals and the supply to them. And those numbers are coming together, where supply is getting much closer to demand – all at the same time that states are stockpiling, municipalities are stockpiling, hospitals are stockpiling, and the federal government – with the Health and Human Services, Strategic National Stockpile – is being replenished.
So let me – let me shift topics to the nursing home project just real quick. We're on our second round of the nursing home project. You know, those give a little bit more than a week's worth of supply each. Each round has, you know, almost 2 million sets of eye protection; 14 million masks; 63 million gowns – gloves; and 13 million gowns to get to the 15,000-plus nursing homes. We're 60 percent through this second round, and 45 percent have been delivered.
And finally, let me just touch on ventilators. So back in March, the National Stockpile had approximately 19,000 ventilators. Today, ready for deployment, we have 48,000. By next week, if the production schedules hold, we'll have 55,000. So we are – we are in a fundamentally different place for supplies than we are.
Pending your questions later, Mr. Vice President, that's all I have.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's great. Thank you.
And one other area where we've made great strides and we hope and pray to make good strides in the months ahead has been in the area of therapeutics and in the headlong pursuit of vaccines. And when we see the extraordinary decline in fatalities over the last two months, it is a tribute, first, to our healthcare workers, to all that they've done – but it's also a tribute to the availability of what are known as therapeutics – medicines like remdesivir; the new steroid treatment that you all have heard about; the availability of plasma treatments.
And I wanted to Dr. Steve Hahn of the FDA to update us on the medicines, as well as where we stand on vaccines.
DR. HAHN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. President Trump asked the FDA early on in the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce any unnecessary regulatory barriers to get medical products into the hands of Americans. And FDA created an emergency review and development program for therapies called the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program, and we have supported that program since that time, and it continues to this day.
I'd like to first start by telling you that the pipeline of therapeutics treatments that we see across this country – the great academics, researchers, private sector – that pipeline is very robust.
Currently – currently, as a recent count, FDA is monitoring more than 144 active trials of therapeutic agents for COVID-19, and another 457 development programs for therapeutic agents is in the pipeline.
So we're at a vastly different place than we were three months ago, two months ago. The nation's work is paying off, as we saw the positive results of the recent National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease trial of remdesivir in certain hospitalized patients with a significant 30 percent reduction in the length of hospital stay for severe COVID-19 patients.
We also recently updated the clinical guidelines for the treatment of COVID-19 disease, with the addition of dexamethasone and other corticosteroids, with a trial that reported a 30 percent reduction in mortality in severely ill patients.
Those two therapies alone will have a significant impact on the natural history and the course of this disease, and provides great hope for those who get sick with this and are hospitalized.
But our work isn't done; more is in the pipeline. As I mentioned, over 25,000 patients in the United States have been treated on our expanded access convalescent plasma program. Now, just as a reminder, that's where we take antibodies – the antibodies that are naturally developed by someone who has gotten the COVID-19 virus and then has recovered – and then we administer that to someone who's sick with COVID-19.
This has worked in other diseases in the past. We have some preliminary safety data in over 20,000 patients. It shows that this therapy is safe. And we're currently evaluating the efficacy of this – the effectiveness of this program. We have great hope for that.
Now that information will tell us a lot about, if a person develops antibodies, how protective are those antibodies – what level do you need. And it also gives us information for the next set of therapeutics that are coming down the pike.
Already, in clinical trials, we have a number of agents called "monoclonal antibodies," which are synthetic forms of antibodies – so, genetically engineered antibodies that can then be given. Again, these have been used in other infectious diseases, and we have hope that they would also work in these disease – in COVID-19. And we expect the readout of those trials over the next several months, possibly late summer and early fall.
So I just want to switch gears to talk about vaccines. Under the leadership of Secretary Azar and Operation Warp Speed, we have seen the sponsorship of a number of different vaccines. But we know that vaccines are being developed around the world, and FDA has received applications from a double-digit number of sponsors regarding vaccines.
Four vaccines have been approved for moving into clinical trials – that is, authorized to go into clinical trials so we can get the data on those vaccines – and another six are in the pipeline for us to review.
We've seen recent reports of interesting and, I think, positive data regarding the immunogenicity – that is, how well these vaccines stimulate an immune response in people and also regarding their safety.
More work needs to be done, but I think we've seen some positive results to date. And obviously, we need to make sure that those studies mature so that we can have the data we need.
Now, FDA recognizes the need and urgent need to develop a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, and we've been working collaboratively with all industry and all of our partners in academia, as well as in government, on that.
Today, we took additional action to facilitate the timely development of safe and effective vaccines to prevent COVID-19 by providing new guidance with recommendations for those developing COVID-19 vaccines. And the goal of this guidance is to assist in the clinical development, and ultimately, hopefully the licensure of a vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19.
Now, it's very important to have this guidance because it provides regulatory transparency and clarity to the developers – what is FDA expecting to see in terms of data and science in the context of clinical trials – so that we can make the absolute best decision for the American people.
Now, while the FDA is committed to expediting this work, we will not cut corners in order to approve a vaccine, and we will make clear through this guidance what data are needed to meet our regulatory standards.
I remain cautiously optimistic about our timeline with respect to vaccines. We will see what the data show. But clearly, from a therapeutics point of view, there are more tools in the toolbox for the great providers of this country to treat patients with COVID-19.
And then finally, I'd like to add to what the Vice President said, and that is: Mask wearing, social distancing, hand hygiene, and other forms of hygiene – this is how we're going to keep America open again. I've heard from colleagues around the country, my former colleagues in cancer care, from friends and families – nobody wants to shut down again. Our way of keeping open is with these public health measures.
Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr. Hahn.
And as you can see, we're in a much better place, whether it be testing, whether it be personal protective equipment, whether it be ventilators, or whether it be the availability of medicines that are speeding relief to Americans struggling with coronavirus.
And I – and I promise you that, as the President has directed from the very beginning, we're going to continue to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear in support of governors and states that are being impacted by the latest outbreak of the coronavirus.
But as we said at the beginning, we're all in this together and we all have a role to play. And so I wanted to ask the Surgeon General to bring a few remarks about – about how every American can play their part to slow the spread, to put into practice the kind of personal habits that will ensure not just that they protect their own health or the health of a family member or friend, but most especially, as has been said already, we see that roughly half of the new cases in Texas and Florida, we are told, are among Americans under the age of 35, for whom the threat of serious outcomes from the coronavirus is fairly low.
But it's not just about protecting yourself as a young person; it's about making sure that anyone who is vulnerable to a serious outcome with the coronavirus is protected. No one of any age would ever want to inadvertently expose a mother, a father, a grandmother, or a grandfather.
And what the Surgeon General will share with us are the kind of practices that will make it possible for all of us to do our part to slow the spread, to heal our land, even as we continue to open up America again.
SURGEON GENERAL ADAMS: Good evening, everyone. Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for being here at Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Headquarters today. We very much appreciate it.
And I just want to start off by saying that we absolutely cannot afford to lose focus on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on vulnerable communities, particularly communities of color.
Compared to whites, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are hospitalized at five times the rate; black Americans hospitalized at four and a half times the rate; Hispanics three and a half times the rate.
The fact is, this virus is exploiting and exacerbating preexisting health disparities, and these disparate outcomes and equitable opportunities for health are part of the anger, the frustration, and the fear that we're seeing manifest in protests around the country.
The fact is, social justice and social injustice often reveals itself through health inequities, and the administration and my office are using our unique levers, including the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, to ensure that every American has the opportunity to be healthy.
At Secretary Azar's direction, we've been working at HHS to address these disparities long before the pandemic. But in response to the pandemic, we've taken a number of additional immediate actions. And as we're talking about both the burden of disease in our communities, but the resources that are now available to folks to help respond, I want to quickly run down some of these efforts.
Admiral Giroir has led our increase in community-based testing – over 600 sites. Seventy percent of them are in communities that have a high social vulnerability index, which means they're disproportionately serving people of color.
CDC now requires all testing data reported by states to include information on race, ethnicity, and ZIP Code. This mandate will help us better understand who is most affected and how to target interventions on the hardest-hit communities. HHS recently allocated $15 billion to Medicaid providers and $10 billion to safety-net hospitals which serve large numbers of our most vulnerable Americans.
The administration has also invested critical resources in community health centers – which I often say are our best kept secrets – ensuring that 28 million people living in medically underserved areas have access to care and testing that they need. We don't want our federally qualified and community health centers to be secrets to the people who most can benefit from the care that they receive there.
And Secretary Azar – and I want to thank you for this, sir – has instructed my office to expedite calls to action on hypertension – which is the number one risk factor for COVID complications – and maternal mortality, both of which disproportionately impact people of color. And I am very worried about infant mortality and maternal mortality going up in the midst of COVID because women are scared to go out and get care. We need to safely reopen so that people can get the care that they need beyond COVID.
Last week, you heard Admiral Giroir announce that Morehouse School of Medicine was awarded $40 million as part of a cooperative agreement with the Office of Minority Health. This effort will be a major leap forward and help us achieve our goal of delivering important COVID-19 updates and information in ways and through channels that best reach minority communities.
And speaking of reaching minority communities, we're really digging into engagement with other folks. So I had a phone call, last week, with over 100 different organizations that are embedded in communities. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the National Association of Black Nurses, and over 100 other organizations were the phone call. This administration – HHS – we're committed to outreach to make sure that we can get the information to the people who most need to benefit from it.
And to the point of the VP's visit here today. One of the reasons I'm proud to be a leader in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is our mission to serve the underserved. Having a Ready Reserve, which is the announcement that we made earlier today, will augment our efforts to eliminate health disparities and ensure everyone has the best chance at a long and healthy life.
One of eight uniformed services, the Public Health Service is the only one dedicated solely to protecting and promoting America's public health. By a number of metrics, we are the most diverse uniformed service. Over 50 percent of our officers are female and only 40 percent identify as white and non-Hispanic.
We provide essential health services where most others do not go – dare not go, in some cases – to provide care for vulnerable and underserved populations.
The bulk of our officers are at Indian Health Service's – Health Service's facilities, and we have a large number of officers in the Bureau of Prisons – two communities that have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19.
We serve on the frontline of public health emergencies. My first deployment was to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after three Category 5 hurricanes in a row hit those unfortunate territories. We respond quickly to natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and global public health emergencies like Ebola, as well as serve on humanitarian missions.
We also advanced innovation in science and work at the forefront of medical challenges like COVID-19, cancer, and the opioid crisis, providing new treatments and cures.
Which leads me to my finish. We are in a much better place to treat COVID than what we were two months ago, four months ago, even just a few weeks ago.
You heard Admiral Polowczyk talk about how we are better supplied than what we were. Doesn't mean that it's mission accomplished, but we are in a much better place now with PPE and with other supplies. With steroids, remdesivir, and convalescent plasma, if you get COVID-19, we are in a much better position to get you out of the hospital safely.
But public health is all about prevention. And I'm a leader in the Public Health Service Corps. So, I want to talk about prevention. My Surgeon General's prescription – which I first announced to you all way back in March – three things: Number one, know your risk. Are you at high risk? Are you at low risk? Are you at intermediate risk for COVID-19?
Number two, know your circumstances. Are you in a community where rates are going up? Are you in a community where rates are going down? Are you going to a place where you can take precautions like being outside and social distancing?
And number three, know how to stay safe. And that includes everything from making sure we're taking basic precautions, to staying home if you're at high risk or you're going to a high-risk place.
The fact is, we're seeing an increase in cases and an increase in hospitalizations in those under 40. So we need everyone to follow our preventive guidelines. Stay home if you're sick. Stay at home if you're vulnerable. And again, we know people are more vulnerable as they get older, but they're also vulnerable if they have hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently went out. Maintain six feet of distance between you and others when you're out. And please, please, please wear a face covering when you go out in public. It is not an inconvenience. It is not a suppression of your freedom. It actually is a vehicle to achieve our goals. It adds to your convenience and your freedom because it allows us to open up more places and it allows us places to stay open. When you do not wear your face covering, we end up in a situation where you see higher rates of disease spread and you end up having to close places. This mask, this face covering, actually is an instrument of freedom for Americans if we all use it.
Young people, I just want to close by asking you to work with us, please. Work with us because I know that many of you feel like you're not at risk or you're not as high of a risk, but we need all of you to help protect the most vulnerable, but also to protect yourselves and to give you more options.
If you want the return of college football this year, wear a face covering. If you want a chance at prom next spring, wear a face covering. I had a interview earlier with a North Carolina radio station; if you want to see North Carolina beat Duke in person this year, wear a face covering. And I grew up in Maryland and in Indiana, so sorry, Duke, but I – as long as somebody beats you, I'm okay with that. (Laughter.) If you want to go on spring break next March, next April, wear a face covering.
I want you all to understand that this is not meant to be pessimistic. I am actually confident, based on the data we've seen around the country and around the world, that if we do the right things, we actually can reopen and stay open.
COVID time is a long time. In just a few weeks, we can drastically see things go in the wrong direction, but we also can drastically see things improve. If you all will commit to wearing these face coverings and taking basic public health precautions, as the nation's doctor, as America's doctor, I want you to know I have every confidence that we can very quickly see these new case counts go down, and we can reopen, we can get back to school, to work, to worship, and to college football.
But we've all got to do our part. It's up to you, America. If you join in and we all do our part, we all win.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr. Adams. Thank you so much. We've got time for a few questions.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. We've heard a lot about masks today, and we've seen cases rising. Is there any consideration for making masks mandatory or penalizing states that aren't following the CDC guidelines properly?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the – the success that we have had from early in the coronavirus is we have followed the model that – that we described from early on, which was to have a national response that was federally supported, state managed, and locally executed; make sure the people on the ground delivering healthcare services, the people most impacted by the disease had what they need; that states would manage the unique circumstances; and that we would marshal the resources of the federal government and the private economy to support that.
And we'll continue to use that model, respecting the decisions that governors are making. There have been states that have delegated authority to local communities, with regard to facial coverings, and we support those decisions by governors.
But, as you can see, there's 12 states that we're watching very carefully now that have both rising cases and rising positivity. There's four states where 50 percent of all the new cases are happening. And so what we want to do is make sure that that the governors, the health officials in those states have the ability to respond in the ways that are most effective there.
And – and that's been a key to our success thus far, making sure, as this pandemic has made its way – first in the Northwest, then in the Northeast, then New Orleans, Michigan, other parts of the country – we've made sure that the governors and health officials had what they need, when they needed it, and we've expressed and continue to express our full support for the measures and decisions that they've made.
So, go right ahead.
And we've expressed and continue to express our full support for the measures and decisions that they've made.
So, go right ahead.
Q Thank you very much. I'd love to ask Secretary Azar a question about schools, but first I wanted to ask you: You know, Dr. Fauci said today – just to preface this, I think everyone realizes that we're in a better position now than when all of this started.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In a much better place.
Q But Dr. Fauci said today, quote, "We're going in the wrong direction." I'm sure that you've seen all of those charts. You know, you look at all of these wealthy countries. You see these curves, and it goes up and it goes down. And then you look at the U.S. curve, and it kind of started to go down, and now it's going back up. How is that not a failure?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, when you think about the coronavirus pandemic and the way it's impacted the United States – we first observed a case emerging in Seattle, and then in the Northeast, then in New Orleans, then in Michigan. And each individual area had its own impact.
And by instituting the guidance and the measures that we instituted supporting governors, we were able to flatten the curve in each of those areas. And we're confident that we will be able, with the cooperation of the American people and the efforts that are taking place in states across the country, that we'll be able to slow the spread and flatten the curve in the south as well.
But I think what's important to understand is that while, in these outbreaks, there – we've seen some instances of agricultural workers, we've seen some instances of discrete populations, that according to what they tell us out of Florida and Texas is roughly half of those people that are testing positive are under the age of 35 and, in most cases, asymptomatic.
And because of the extraordinary success that we've had with testing, we've been able to test people all across this country who are asymptomatic. It – you know, I think it – it's worth knowing that, early in this process, we focused testing exclusively on people that were vulnerable or were healthcare workers or people that had symptoms. Now we literally test anyone who comes to a testing site or comes to their local pharmacy.
And it's inarguable that some measure of the new cases that we see are a result of the fact that we're testing 500 to 600 thousand Americans a day. That being said, I think the Secretary made this point: that it's a good thing to know who's been exposed, who's contracted the coronavirus, to be able to ensure that we – we're able to slow the spread in communities and protect the most vulnerable.
But when you look at the extraordinary success the United States has had, the historic success we've had in testing, it's – you do well to understand that that's contributed – that's contributed, in part, to the fact that we were dropping precipitously in the number of cases, frankly, until several weeks ago. But because of the scope of our testing, we were able to see that something was changing two weeks ago, and we're able to respond to that in a forceful and in an effective way, marshaling not only state governments' efforts, federal resources, but the cooperation of the American people.
And it gives us great confidence that we'll be able – as we did before in other parts of the country – that we'll be able to slow the spread and flatten the curve again.
SECRETARY AZAR: Did you have a –
Q Thanks very much. Yeah. So, you know, as we talk about people being able to go back to work, if you are a working parent and your kid is not in school, that is pretty much an impossibility.
So as we're starting to hear different schools presenting their plans for the fall – it sounds like there'll be a lot of staggered schedules; maybe kids will go to school certain hours; they might go to school every second day – what is the federal government doing to help schools, to help parents – investing in hiring more teachers, investing in building new school classrooms, developing programs for parents so that they have somewhere to leave their kids during the school day? What are you doing to help everyone?
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, so what we're – what we're doing is providing guidance out to CDC to make sure that our schools can have the best information possible about how they could bring kids back safely. So, for instance, you don't need to – you don't need to have everyone in auditoriums. You can have – some of those congregate settings, you would not – you would avoid. You might have fewer kids in each classroom, have the desks be socially distanced within the classrooms. Instead of having the kids eating in a cafeteria, have them eating at their desks.
So there's steps that we can take that are very consistent with what we've talked about here: social distancing; facial coverings when you can't social distance; of course, ensuring good personal hygiene. These are the kinds of just very commonsense steps. And then, on top of that, we're going to want to make sure we have very robust surveillance systems at our schools, at our higher education, as well as our K-through-12, so that we have early – early spotting if we're seeing any emergence of disease in these institutions.
And so that's part of what Admiral Giroir has been working on, is really enhancing these surveillance systems and testing systems. For instance, the pooling that he spoke about that can allow us to leverage very large-scale, surveillance-type screening there with pooling, with follow-up in the event of any positive cases in a large group of people.
Q I understand the guidelines. But in terms of the resources, so that if you're a school district that already has crowded classrooms, you don't have the space for kids to be able to spread out in their classrooms (inaudible).
SECRETARY AZAR: Well, I'd defer to the Secretary of Education on that one. But we'll provide the health support for them.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And Dr. Redfield reported to the task force today that we published today guidance for higher education – colleges and universities – as well as K-through-12. And at the present time, 47 states have already issued guidance about reopening their schools. And I can tell you that President Trump and I, and our entire administration, are absolutely committed to getting our kids back to school this fall. It's – we've got to go back to school. We do.
In the back.
Q Yes. Thank you very much. Dr. Fauci went as far as to say he can see the number of cases rising to 100,000 a day if the current trajectory won't change. What is your plan to tackle that? Because I'm hearing that everything seems fine, from your perspective.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first and foremost, I hope what you heard today is: We're ready, and we're more prepared than ever before. And I want the people, particularly in the 12 states that we see rising cases and rising positivity, to know that we're with them.
And we're going to make sure that we expand testing, working with our governors and health officials, to identify people in communities that have contracted the disease, including people that have no symptoms. And we're going to make sure and distribute personal protective equipment, although you heard from Admiral Polowczyk that hospitals in all of the affected areas have abundant supplies of personal protective equipment.
We're going to make sure that ventilators and other critical medical apparatus are available. And this week, we're distributing the last tranche of remdesivir to all 50 states to make sure that that medicine is available.
So my answer is: We're ready. We're ready to respond, and we are responding all across the country, working with the governors across the country.
But to answer the core of your question – you know, we literally saw cases declining precipitously because of what the American people had done. There was a – there was some discussion about the fact that this was a result of states reopening, but Texas and Florida and other states involved here reopened very early in May. They implemented the phased guidelines that we published to open up America again.
And through the course of the entire month of May and into early June, their cases were low and steady, and their positivity rates weren't rising. But something changed about two weeks ago. And because of the extraordinary capacity we have for testing, we were able to observe that and to work with governors. And what we're doing now is responding and providing the information with governors, providing the support.
And again, you see governors making strong decisions in their states that have our full support, that we believe will – – as those measures did before – that will have the effect as the American people put all these principles into practice, that will have the effect of slowing the spread and flattening the curve. But we're – we're leaning into this effort and we'll continue to lean into it.
Q (Inaudible) treatment?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: How about – how about – right over here. Go right ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. So we've seen a really renewed emphasis about wearing masks. But it seems that, as July 4th is coming around and Americans all over the country are getting ready to celebrate the independence, there is a, kind of, inconsistent public health message with the President going to South Dakota for this event where there won't be any social distancing; people won't be required to wear masks.
Vice President Biden, himself, he said that this a point of patriotism and responsibility to wear a mask. And I'm wondering, you know, if you see the President's example when he wears a red hat, why can't his example of wearing a mask also have an impact across the country?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President has worn a mask in public, as have I. And you've heard a strong encouragement about mask wearing.
But let me say: We believe that Americans should wear a mask whenever state and local authorities indicate that it's appropriate, or whenever social distancing is not possible. And we'll continue to convey that message.
But, you know, this is a – the American people have already demonstrated, in the way that we saw the extraordinary progress in the Greater New York City area, the incredible progress in the Greater New Orleans area, in Detroit and other places – we know that when the American people are equipped with knowledge about how they can play a role to protect their family members and neighbors and particularly those most vulnerable, the American people will put those into practice.
But we're going to continue to respect the right of every American, but encourage them to listen to state and local authorities, the guidance that they have.
But we honestly – we honestly couldn't be more inspired by what we've been able to do so far. And as we see in these 12 states that have rising cases and rising positivity, we're – we remain confident – confident not only in the resources that we're able to bring to bear because of the whole-of-government, the whole-of-America approach that President Trump initiated, but we're confident that the American people will respond, and they'll put the health of their families and neighbors first, even as we continue to open up America.
MS. MILLER: Last question, guys.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. And thank you for taking our questions and for your leadership. I'm today's print pooler.
First, you say we're in a better place now than we were two and four months ago. And, in many states, the data does back this up. That said, are you and the task force members content with the length of time it's taken to get us to this point? And I'll have follow-up, if you'll indulge me, please.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I couldn't be more proud of what the American people have done in the course of this coronavirus pandemic, beginning with the President of the United States.
I mean, we didn't have a single case of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus when President Trump suspended all travel from China at the end of January and stood up the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
He initiated efforts that – that would set into motion, at the FDA, the development of a vaccine that was able to go to its first clinical trial in record time of 62 days.
He pulled – he initiated, through the task force, bringing together private sector firms – literally, an effort to reinvent clinical testing in the United States of America.
We stood up not just an air bridge, but what Admiral Polowczyk calls a "control tower," where we marshalled all the resources of the private sector, and we were able to direct billions of personal protective equipment – masks and gloves and gowns – to the point of the need, which you've heard many times throughout our response has been that, at the President's direction, we made sure that states had what they need, when they needed it.
It's – it defined our approach to this pandemic, as it – as it had its heartbreaking impact in New York State and in New Jersey and Connecticut and the environs. And it's that approach, focusing particularly on those 12 states today, that we see rising cases in positivity that we'll continue to drive forward to meet this moment.
But I'm very proud of the partnership we've had with governors around the country. I'm proud of the – of the whole-of-government approach President Trump initiated.
But I'll be honest with you, I'm just most proud of the American people – of the resilience, the compassion, the cooperation, and the faith that I've seen all across this country. And it gives me great confidence, as we go forward, that we see this new outbreak in states across the South, that, once again, our healthcare workers, our partners at the state level, this great team at the federal level, and the American people are going to meet this moment. And we're going to slow the spread, we're going to flatten the curve, and we're going to save lives.
Thank you all very much.
5:34 P.M. EDT
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