US Vice-President Mike Pence sounded a note of optimism yesterday about the novel coronavirus pandemic, saying that 34 states show a measure of stabilising numbers of new cases, but encouraged people to continue social distancing and other strategies to help contain the spread of the virus.
The White House coronavirus task force led by Pence, which was a fixture of the US response to the pandemic months ago, held its first press briefing in nearly two months yesterday.
He said that 16 states are seeing an increase in infections and that the federal government is focused on rising cases in the South.
“As we see the new cases rising, and we’re tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to that place that we were two months ago, that we’re in a time of great losses and great hardship on the American people. The reality is we’re in a much better place,” Pence said.
“The truth is we did slow the spread. We did flatten the curve,” he added.
In about four months, more than 2.4mn people have been confirmed to have the coronavirus in the United States and over 124,000 have died of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Pence also encouraged people to follow local, state and federal guidance on containing the virus, saying that they should avoid touching their faces, disinfect frequently, wash their hands, stay home when they feel sick, and practise social distancing.
“We still have work to do, so we say to every American, particularly those in counties and in states that are being impacted by rising cases, now is the time for everybody to do their part,” Pence said.
He later defended President Donald Trump’s decision to resume large campaign rallies despite the pandemic, saying that Americans had a right to freedom of speech and assembly.
“Even in health crisis the American people don’t forfeit our constitutional rights,” Pence said about the campaign actions, adding that people “choose to participate”.
Leading government expert Dr Anthony Fauci said that the US is facing a “serious problem” as southern and western states experience a surge in coronavirus cases.
“We are facing a serious problem in certain areas,” he said, noting that while some places were currently faring far better than others, the entire country was “interconnected” and remained at risk.
“So people are infecting other people, and then ultimately you will infect someone who’s vulnerable,” Fauci said. “And that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, uncle, who is on chemotherapy and who’s on radiation or chemotherapy or a child who has leukaemia.”
“We are all in it together, and the only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together,” he added.
He spoke at the news briefing by the coronavirus task force led by Vice-President Pence.
The task force briefing was called after a surge in new cases of the virus in southern and western states, including Florida and Texas.
The two states announced new restrictions yesterday to curb surging coronavirus cases amid growing concern that the nation’s health safety and economic reopening are under threat.
The decision to reimpose restrictions by Florida and Texas is a backtrack for the state’s governors – both Republican allies of President Donald Trump – who have resisted lockdown measures.
Florida is shutting down the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption at bars, while Texas ordered bars to close and lowering restaurant capacity from 75% to 50%.
“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” Governor Gregg Abbott said in a press release.
He stressed that he wants restrictions to be for a limited time.
Data from Florida’s health department showed that coronavirus cases ballooned to over 8,900 on Thursday, over 3,000 more cases than the previous day.
Earlier this week Texas paused its reopening plans, with Houston, a major city, seeing worrying that hospitalisation rates are pushing hospitals towards capacity levels.
New York is placing restrictions on visitors coming from places like Florida.
The surge in cases is most notable across the southern and western states, where many of the states had less stringent lockdown measures.
California, the most populous state, which did institute severe coronavirus closures, also saw record cases this week.
The US broke its single-day new infections repeatedly this week, with well over 39,000 new reported cases on Thursday.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that young people are making up a disproportionate number of the new infections.
This likely means that the most vulnerable populations are being protected, which is good for hospitalisations and the mortality rate, but they could end up spreading the virus more widely.
Trump has largely downplayed the recent resurgence of the virus, after a long period in which new infection rates were actually flattening and even moving down.
Trump, who does not encourage mask wearing, says that expanded testing is behind the rising caseload, even as governors of badly-hit states have admitted the extra diagnostic capacities cannot alone explain the spikes.
While increased coronavirus testing is partly contributing to the rise in numbers, rising positivity rates among those tested in states like Florida, California, and Texas mean the virus appears to be infecting more people.
Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee to run for president against Trump in November, told CBS News that he would enforce mask wearing by executive order if he was elected.
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