Press Briefing: Vice President Pence, Members Of The Coronavirus Task Force March 10, 2020 5:43 P.M. EDT

President Trump, Vp Pence Give White House Update On Covid 19 Response, Oakland Grand Princess Info
(Last Updated On: March 10, 2020)

PRESS BRIEFING
BY VICE PRESIDENT PENCE
AND MEMBERS OF THE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

5:43 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. We’ve just completed today’s meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts of the men and women standing behind me or all of those standing behind them.

President Trump said from early on that this would be a whole-of-government approach. And today gives evidence of the fact that it is also a whole-of-America approach. We’re bringing the full resources of the federal government and the full resources of — of this great economy and our great business sector to bear in protecting the American people and protecting American families.

A few updates from today: As we continue to expand testing availability across the country — testing is now available at all state labs. By the end of this week, there will be more than 4 million more tests made available in jurisdictions around the country; 1 million are already in place. And thanks to the good work of our top commercial labs that the President Trump brought together yesterday, LabCorp and Quest are in the process now of distributing and marketing coronavirus tests all across America. And we’re working with state local officials to ensure that that happens as rapidly as possible.

But as the testing is expanding, we wanted to make sure the American people knew that testing was available to them and that cost would not be a barrier.

Today, President Trump assembled the top health insurance executives in America. And, as we announced earlier today, all of our major health insurance companies have now joined with Medicare and Medicaid and agreed to waive all co-pays; cover the cost of all treatment for those who contract the coronavirus; they’ve committed to no surprise billing; and they’ve committed to encourage telemedicine.

It was a year ago that Medicaid actually expanded to pay for telemedicine. Medicare pays for telemedicine. So now, for seniors who may think that they are either at risk or have contracted the disease, they can get medical advice without having to go to the doctor or go to an emergency room.

I know I speak for President Trump when I say how grateful we are to see our health insurance industry step forward to meet this need so that — that no American should be concerned about — about being able to pay for or afford the cost of a coronavirus test if they deem and their doctor deems it to be appropriate and necessary.

The President also went to Capitol Hill today to meet with members of the United States Senate Republican caucus. There, he talked about an economic package, including a call — he’s calling for payroll tax relief. And I think, most important to the President’s heart, we want to make sure that hourly workers — hardworking, blue-collar Americans that may not have paid family leave today — that small- and medium-sized businesses in America would be afforded the resources to provide paid leave so that no one would feel that they have to go to work if they might be infected or if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus.

We had a good reception on Capitol Hill. Our legislative teams have fanned out. We’re going to be working with Republican and Democrat leadership to move an economic package. Larry Kudlow will be reflecting on that in just a few moments.

We also talked about what are known as N95 masks and we’re working — Senator Deb Fischer and others have important legislation that would extend temporary liability protections so that masks that are made for industrial use could be sold to hospitals to ensure that our healthcare workers are properly protected and outfitted. And we’re grateful for growing bipartisan support for that measure, and we’re going to be working earnestly with Republicans and Democrats to move a reform that would make more N95 masks available.

I’m also pleased to report that we did receive, this afternoon, a comprehensive proposal from the cruise line industry — a proposal that includes advanced screening, improving medical services on ships, providing for airlift evacuation and land-based care at the expense of the cruise lines for anyone that might be not only infected with the coronavirus, but with any serious illness. We’ll be reviewing that in the next 24 hours. The President’s objective is for us to make cruise lines safer, even as we work with the cruise lines to ensure that — that no one in our particularly vulnerable population is — is going out on a cruise in the near future.

I’m going to recognize Dr. Fauci to talk about where we are.
And Dr. Birx will give us some research that she’s done on the scope. We’ll have other updates. But let me say once again: This is a whole-of-government approach and from early on, President Trump has insisted that our — that our government at the federal level, all of our partners at the state level work in concert to protect the American people.

And, as we stand here today, the risk to the average American of contracting the coronavirus remains low, but we’re absolutely determined to give every American the tools and the information that they need to protect themselves, their families, their — their workplace, their schools. And — and we’re going to work together. We’re going to work together to see our way through this. And — and working with leaders in both parties in Congress, working with — with leaders at the state level all across this nation, I’m confident we will.

With that, Dr. Tony Fauci for an update on the status.

DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. Just to give you a very brief sketch of what we do every day: The cases continue to increase globally. We’re parti- — paying particular attention to the cases in Europe in Italy and France, in which we’re starting to see that up at the same time as the relative number of new cases come down from China. What we’re seeing in Europe is that Europe is in that upslope. So that’s something that is expected. That’s the way these kinds of outbreaks go. This is not a surprise to anybody if you look at the history of infectious diseases outbreaks.

In the United States, we continue to have new cases. As of this morning, there was 712, I believe, with 27 deaths. Guaranteed, by the time of this evening, that’s going to be up and there’ll be several more. And tomorrow, there’ll be several more.

So we realize that this is something obviously that we’ve been saying all along that we’re taking very seriously. Now, the question is, what are we going to do about that? And there are a number of things that one can do in order to blunt it. If you look at the curves of outbreaks — you know, they go big peaks and then they come down. What we need to do is flatten that down. That would have less people infected; that would ultimately have less deaths. You do that by trying to interfere with the natural flow of the outbreak.

So what we’re saying today is that although we keep coming in and saying, appropriately, that as a nation, the risk is relatively low, there are parts of the country right now that are having community spread in which the risk there is clearly a bit more than that. And you know the places: you know, Washington State, California, New York, and Florida.

But what I want to talk to you about today, just for a moment or two, is that we would like the country to realize that, as a nation, we can’t be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago. That it doesn’t matter if you’re in a state that has no cases or one case, you have to start taking seriously what you can do now. That if and when the infections will come — and they will come. Sorry to say, sad to say they will. But when you’re dealing with an infectious disease — you know, we always have that metaphor that people talk about that Wayne Gretzky, you know, he doesn’t go where the puck is, he’s going where the puck is going to be. Where we want to be: where the infection is going to be, as well as where it is.

So what we have here — if you could see that here what — is here is that if you go to Coronavirus.gov — remember when Dr. Birx, yesterday, mentioned some of the things that we put together? These are really simple: keeping the workplace safe, keeping the home safe, keeping the school safe, and keeping commercial establishments safe. This should be universal for the country. Everyone should be doing that, whether you live in a zone that has community spread or not. When you have community spread, you obviously are going to ratchet up the kinds of mitigations that you have. But at a minimum, this is the minimum that we should be doing. So everybody should say, “All hands on deck. This is what we need to do.”

So I’ll stop there and later I’ll be happy to answer questions.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr. Fauci.

Dr. Birx?

DR. BIRX: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, and thank you, Dr. Fauci, for that clarity. We continue to monitor the situation across the country and across the globe. And we are very fortunate — between Dr. Fauci and I, we have long-term contracts out there in many of these countries that are experiencing current outbreaks.

We continue to review all the scientific literature to look for insights and to really determine who’s at the greatest risk. And that’s why we’ve talked to you about people with immunodeficiencies at any age, people with medical conditions, and the elderly, and how important it is all of us to take these precautions in the household to protect others because we have circulating flu and other respiratory diseases at this time.

We all have to act like all of those diseases — any respiratory disease can be transmitted to others. And as we said yesterday, we’re hoping that decreases all the respiratory disease we’re experiencing.

Finally, we got new reports out of China, who had nine pregnant women during an acute COVID infection and all nine were infected. Both — and they delivered while they were infected and all nine babies were healthy and the mothers were healthy. So we continue to look for data like that to be reassuring to the American public. At the same time, ensuring that every single person is participating in this response to this virus and taking those precautions that we should be taking every day.

If we start doing this today, we will be ready next year for any of our respiratory diseases because I think we’ll be able to show that these simple — simple household, simple work, simple school, simple business approaches across the country can change all of our respiratory diseases.

So we thank you for getting the message out. We thank you for the participating and ensuring in your households and in households around America that we’re protecting all of those who need our support right now.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Excellent. Thank you, Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci. And this information is available at Coronavirus.gov.

And as we said, we can’t say often enough, the risks of contracting the coronavirus to the average American remains low. But for senior citizens with serious underlying chronic health conditions, the potential for serious consequences is very real. And make no mistake about it, by practicing these habits in your home, your school, and your business, you’re not only protecting your health, but you’re also protecting those that are most vulnerable.

With that, for an update on our — the progress that President Trump made today with our health insurance companies, I’d like to recognize Seema Verma.

ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: As the Vice President said, we had a terrific meeting with the insurance companies, a real example of a public-private partnership where they agreed to waive co-pays for testing, not do any surprise billing, and also cover the costs of the COVID virus associated costs.

The other things that they did is they asked the President for more flexibility in Medicare Advantage plans and the President agreed to do that. And so today, we issued guidance to our Medicare Advantage plans that not only can they waive the costs for the tests, but they can also go further to removing prior author- — authorization requirements. They can waive prescription refill limits. They can allow for mail delivery of prescription drugs and expand more access to telehealth services if they weren’t offering that in their plan.

Also, at CMS, we continue to work with healthcare providers around infection control practices. We met with home health agencies and also hospitals, and today we issued guidance to dialysis facilities, as well as home health agencies around infection control.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: There’s been a great deal of attention about the Grand Princess. And HHS, working with the Coast Guard and with the Department of Defense, is currently working through disembarking American passengers, returning foreign nationals to their country. And I wanted to ask Secretary Azar to speak and update us on the progress.

SECRETARY AZAR: Thank you. So with regard to the Grand Princess, I wanted to first express our appreciation to Governor Newsom, to the Mayor of Oakland, the people of Oakland, the longshoremen, the stevedores who’ve helped with bringing it in and clearing the — clearing the dock area so that we can do all of our operations there. We’ve got Admiral Abel here with us today, who’s been leading the Coast Guard efforts. And then Deputy Secretary Biegun from State has done incredible work with our foreign partners to help with the repatriation of their nationals who are on board the ship.

As of — our data that I’ve got is as of noon, Pacific Time, today. So this will have increased quite substantially since — since my last update. But as of noon, Pacific, we had 548 individuals who have been offloaded from the ship. Two hundred and twenty-eight Canadians are already back in Canada — flown there, I believe it was overnight. A hundred and seventy-one Californians were taken by the government of California and are now at Travis — Travis Air Base. Twenty-six individuals were sick, and they’re being — they are being treated for various — it could be from the novel coronavirus, it could also just be we had some frail individuals who are sick that needed treatment.

Our goal is to get all of the citizens of California off today to be in the care of the California State Government, as well as to get the UK citizens off today so that they could be repatriated to the United Kingdom. We continue to work with other countries on all of those maneuvers. We will have non-California residents who will be in transport to the bases at Dobbins and at Lackland today, we hope, but — or tonight.

So everything is progressing. It seems to be progressing well. We’re using the highest isolation quarantine procedures, medical screenings possible to ensure the safety of not just the passengers but also of the local communities and all of the healthcare workers and others — emergency responders who are helping. So thanks to all of our partners for this — their help with this very complex operation.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well done. Good report. And let me echo the Secretary’s appreciation to Governor Gavin Newsom, the State of California, the City of Oakland. It has literally been a seamless partnership. Everyone on that ship will be tested, isolated, and quarantined as appropriate and provided with treatment. The crew on the ship, other than those who were ill, will be quarantined on the ship offshore. But it really represented the kind of partnership and cooperation from every level of government that — that every American, I know, is grateful to see.

With that, on the economic front: Larry Kudlow.

MR. KUDLOW: Thank you, sir. All right, yesterday, in a meeting in the Oval, the President — acknowledging there are going to be challenges on the health and economic side, he mentioned that he intended to bring the full power of the federal government to deal with these challenges. And accordingly, as the Vice President said, up at the Republican Senate luncheon today — and he mentioned it in this room yesterday — President Trump has unveiled his proposals — strong proposals — for a temporary payroll tax cut holiday, which I think he would prefer to last through the end of the year.

Also, administratively, as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and others have suggested, we are trying to — we will use assistance to unpaid sick leave people — a very important point; also small and medium businesses — another important point. And also, possibly, to some distressed industries or sectors in the economy, maybe tax deferral might be a useful tool and other means.

So this is strong, across-the-board package. We are consulting with leaders in the House and the Senate, with respect to this package and particularly the payroll tax holiday.

Let me just say, coming into this difficult period, the economy is in fundamentally in good shape. We saw a blockbuster jobs report last Friday. Today, for example, the Small Business Confidence Index — the NFIB Business Confidence Index registered a very strong number, keeping its near-record high. The unemployment remains low at 3.5 percent. Other indicators look pretty good. We had a lot of momentum in the first quarter. Good thing.

I recognize the challenges and that is why we are proposing these fiscal measures to combine with monetary measures that have already taken.

And again, I will repeat the President’s words — it just struck me, as his determination — he intends to bring the full power of the federal government to deal with these health and economic challenges.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Larry. Well said. And a word from Surgeon General Jerome Adams. General.

SURGEON GENERAL ADAMS: Good evening, everyone. As Surgeon General, whether it’s opioids or cigarettes or the coronavirus, my job is to help the American people understand how to live a healthy life. And I’m asking all of you — I’m imploring all of you to help share my prescription for America to overcome this coronavirus situation that we’re in.

There are three parts to it. Number one: Know your risk. As you’ve heard many times but it’s still important to impress upon America: If you are immunocompromised, if you have chronic medical conditions, if you are over the age of 60, you are at higher risk. If you are a child or young adult, you are less likely to be impacted by the coronavirus.

Number two — the second part of the prescription: Know your circumstances. Are you in an environment where you can telework? Are you planning on going to large gatherings like church? Do you live in a community that is being particularly impacted by the coronavirus? And you can find out this information from your state or local health department. Does your state have a hotline that you can call into to help you assess symptoms? Again, knowing your circumstances.

And number three, and this is the most important part: Know what you can do to stay safe. And we have really leaned into Coronavirus.gov. Please send people to that website. We’ve put the tools on there for individual groups, specific audiences, so that people can understand how to stay — stay safe. If we follow this prescription, we will — we will overcome the coronavirus.

As Dr. Fauci said, we will see more cases. Unfortunately, we are likely to see more deaths. We have not hit the peak of this epidemic quite yet, but if we follow this prescription, then we will decrease the number of people who are impacted, we will decrease the number of people who will die, and we will more quickly get to the end of this situation. Thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great job. Great job. Questions? Please.

Q Mr. Vice President, that poster right there, it says to avoid crowding, consider rearranging large activities. So will the Pence-Trump campaign suspend campaign rallies and other activities?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that’ll be a decision that’s made, literally, on a day-to-day basis. I thought Dr. Fauci spoke to that yesterday very well, that we’re going to — I’m very confident that the campaign will — will take the very best information and make the very best decision going forward.

But these proposals are — are things that every American can do all across the country that — that will reduce the risk of either contracting or being exposed to the coronavirus.

Q Mr. Vice President, on the economic package, the word “unveiled” was just used, but so far the public has not seen it. How big is this package? How big is the payroll tax cut going to be? When is the general public going to see what you all have put together?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Larry?

MR. KUDLOW: We are working out details right now, so I don’t want to quote any numbers ahead of a time. You know, you make a proposal, we’re checking with the leaders of both parties in both Houses and see what is doable, and where the, you know, tough knots are going to be. So I don’t — I don’t want to get into any detail.

I think the outline of the thing is very important. The payroll tax holiday is probably the most important, powerful piece of this. But on the other hand, I want to draw attention — we can use administration and executive authority, again, to help unpaid sick leave people, which is very important. We can use it for the medium and smaller businesses, which is very important. Other distressed sectors. We have some leverage on tax deferral.

We know — I mean, look, I will say again, as I have for quite some time: The economy is strong. We also know there are going to be problems ahead. We know there are going to be challenges ahead. We don’t deny it. We’ll see. I want to take that a day at a time and a fact at a time, a statistical release at a time.

But anyway, this will be the broad package. And at some point in the — in the near future, we will outline a more detailed package for you.

Q Actually, maybe while Larry is still up here — unless you want to answer it, Mr. Vice President.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. You can go right ahead. (Laughter.)

Q The President proposed to the GOP policy lunch today to remove the entire payroll tax from both employers and employees. That would be a 12.4 percent reduction. Back in 2010, we had a 2 percent reduction. Can you basically eliminate, for however number of months, the payroll tax without blowing a huge hole in the budget? And, furthermore, the President told the lunch he — he’d like to make that cut permanent. How do you do that?

MR. KUDLOW: You know, the payroll tax holiday is a bold move. It’s a very bold move, and this has always been a bold President. And we’ve been cutting taxes and rolling back regulations and changing trade deals and opening up the energy sector and doing things that nobody thought we could do before, John. We’ve had pretty good economic results for it. We’re in a challenge period now; I get that.

So, with respect to your question on the specifics, I think there’ll be a big — a big growth payoff. I — I think it’ll help deal with whatever challenges occur in the next few months. I think, beyond that, ameliorating the tax burden on the middle class — the so called blue-collar boom that I talk quite a bit about — that’s what this is aimed for. That’s really what the payroll tax is principally about. By lifting the burdens of those middle-class folks, I think we’re going to get a big growth kicker.

We’ve had a terrifically strong labor market, as you know. It may stall a bit or not. I’m just speculating on the — on the challenges of the — on the health side. But I think, over time, we’ll make it up with much better economic growth. And I will remind also that, later on, way down the road — probably later this summer, early fall — we will unveil another package of tax cut and tax reform proposals.

But, yeah, it’s a bold proposal, and this is a bold President, and I think it’s paid off.

Q If you were to make it permanent, can you backfill from general revenue to make up for — I mean, the — in fiscal year ’21, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and Medicare Part A revenues are $1.23 trillion. Can you find that money somewhere else?

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I would just say, we’re not talking about Medicare at this point. I’m going to — the an- — by the way, the answer is yes. You can backfill it. And that has been done before because we’ve had other payroll tax cuts, and you mentioned one of them in 2010 or 2011.

So, the answer to that is yes. And the answer is we will always maintain a solvent Social Security system. But, you know, tax reform is very important. Economic growth is very important. Incentives for middle- and lower-income workers are very important. And I would just add: You know, in terms of the boldness of this President’s policies, despite what some of our critics think, actually it’s the middle and lower-middle people that have done the best in wage growth terms. And I think this is absolutely consistent. This lifts tax burdens on the middle class. I think it’s absolutely consistent with his earlier policies.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: And let me — let me also say, John, if I can, that the other piece of this is — is what the doctors have said to us. What the experts have said is: If you’re sick, if you have reason to suspect that you may have coronavirus, we want you to stay home. And the President is absolutely adamant — working with Congress or using his executive authority to ensure that hourly workers, people working for small- or medium-sized businesses that don’t currently have paid family leave, will — will be able to stay home and be confident that they’re not losing a paycheck.

I think every American can identify with that concern. And — and we’re going to work forward, whether we do it legislatively or the President has some — some resources in his executive authority to act. We’re going to work to make sure that that hourly workers don’t feel like you have to go to work sick because you’re risking a paycheck. Get home, stay home, take those couple of weeks to get better.

Eamon.

Q Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I want to drill down on something that Larry just said though. Because in 2018, according the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, federal payroll taxes generated $1.17 trillion. It’s an enormous figure. Larry, you’re suggesting that you can make that up from general revenue. Where are you going to get a trillion dollars from?

MR. KUDLOW: You know, let us put the proposal out in concrete details and flesh that out, and we’ll have much better answers. Right now, I want to stay in my lane. And I think the health story, the coronavirus story, is — is very, very important here.

We will do the best we can, Eamon, to give you specific plans and details once we flesh them out.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, please.

Q I have a question about the increased testing capacity. We’re — we’re still seeing reports of severe rationing in many cases because of the limited supply. It appears to be close to impossible for average Americans to get tested without being hospitalized first. So when can the American people expect to see these test kits available at doctors’ offices, in urgent care, at minute clinics, that sort of thing — specifically when?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to have the Secretary step forward and address that. But let me say we’ve made great progress over the last week. A million tests are in the field. Every state lab in America can do coronavirus tests. If you — if you’re concerned that you have coronavirus, your doctor can contact the state lab, can have a test processed.

By the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed. But to your very important question, we’re working day by day with the largest commercial labs in America. We had — we had some good discussions today with outside experts as well, who said that when the President brought the commercial labs in, he did exactly the right thing because it’s those big companies that have logistics, infrastructure all over the country, have labs all over the country, that can distribute the tests, process the tests — whether it’s Quest or whether it’s LabCorp.

And we believe that, in the days and weeks ahead, we’re going to continue to see the availability of tests dramatically rise, and we’re driving toward that every day.

Mr. Secretary, did you want to add to that?

SECRETARY AZAR: Sure, and maybe Dr. Redfield can add in also.

So, by the end of this weekend, we had 1.1 million tests that were actually shipped. We have another 1 million that are either in transit or waiting for orders. So we actually have a surplus capacity already of tests that have been produced. And, as the Vice President said, by the end of this week, there will be another 4 million tests. So the tests are out there, the tests are in every public health lab in the country; they’re in hospitals; they’re in labs.

But I think there’s a false premise in your question, which is the notion that just because I, as a person say, “Oh, I’d like to be tested for the novel coronavirus,” I should be going to a minute clinic or some other facility and just walking in and saying, “Give me my test, please.” That’s not how diagnostic testing works in the United States or, frankly, almost anywhere in the world.

Q But isn’t that what President Trump said on Friday? He said, “Anyone who wants to get tested can get tested.”

SECRETARY AZAR: It always — if their doctor — we’ve always been clear: If their doctor or public health physician believes they should be tested, it needs to always be clinically indicated to receive a test.

So it’s a false premise — go to your doctor if you — first, actually, don’t go to your doctor; call your doctor’s office if you believe you may have the novel coronavirus. Call the clinic, call the hospital, call the doctor’s office, so that you don’t just walk right in. Follow their infection control procedures for doing that.

And then they will decide, working with you, whether a test is appropriate to be done. But there are millions of tests out there now and it’s going to — as the Vice President said with Quest and LabCorp getting it at the doctor’s office, swabbing their distribution and transport system, it’s going to be an even better, closer-to-the-patient experience as I prom- — as I talked to you on Saturday, when we met together.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s very good. And to answer you, I’m going to ask Dr. Birx to speak to this too because she’s just done a tremendous job bringing our commercial labs to bear on this.

But to your other point, the President directed us to essentially change the criteria that CDC was giving labs around the country. We heard from governors around the country that people that were only mildly symptomatic were being told that they couldn’t be tested. We changed that; we changed that description. And so, as the President said, anyone who, on a doctor’s order, wants to be tested can, at a doctor’s indication, be tested now.

We’re working to fill that need. And we’re making great progress every single day. But I wanted Dr. Birx to speak to it as well.

DR. BIRX: Yeah. I just wanted to talk to you briefly about what happened in decreasing barriers. I’ve been a lab person, I’ve been a vaccine developer, I’ve been a doctor — I’ve been all those things, but I’ve never, in my lifetime of government service, have worked with the CDC in a way that, every time the state or local government calls and says, “I have this barrier. I need a modification to the regulations,” that has happened almost daily.

And the reason we have commercial labs willing to step in immediately is because the FDA has created that ability and posted on their website — I don’t know if you’ve been there — this unbelievable waiver system and the clear definitions there. Every single hospital, every single university can utilize this testing algorithm. And that’s highly unusual, but it’s also what’s bringing the super large, high-throughput companies to the — to the table.

And I just want to — this has been unique for me to be able to see this unbelievable dialogue between what states need, what local governments need, and federal government being responsive with changing those regulations. And that has been really wonderful to watch.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr. Birx. Did I get you right here?

Q Yes, I wanted to ask — I guess the administration has really touted the success of the travel ban on China and Iran. Why has it not extended those bans to South Korea or Japan or Italy? And is it still under consideration or has the administration really shifted to mitigation from containment?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to let — I’m going to let Dr. Birx speak to that in a moment. But there is no question, as Dr. Fauci said just a few days ago, we would be in a very different place if President Trump had not suspended all travel from China.

And we would also, I suspect, be in a very different place if we hadn’t issued travel advisories for portions of Italy or portions of South Korea, and initiated screening of all passengers on all direct flights into the United States from both of those countries.

I will tell you, we had a very — we had a very thorough discussion today of the prospect of recommending to the President additional travel advisories. What we’re doing, particularly as Dr. Fauci said, is we’re following the facts. And — and we’re going to bring those recommendations forward in the time and manner that we, as the White House Coronavirus Task Force, determine are appropriate.

But let me tell you, it is literally a day-to-day consideration. And we’re going to continue to put the health and safety of America first.

Dr. Birx, did you want to amplify that or —

DR. BIRX: I think that was perfectly said.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Dr. Fauci, did you want to?

How about you?

Q Thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure.

Q Tom Bossert, who used to be a part of this administration, had an op-ed where he basically said that the U.S. has 10 days before hospitals could be overrun. He recommended that schools be shut down for maybe eight weeks. What does the administration think about that? Does it agree that we — that the U.S. could be at the point where there could be a turning point in the next 10 days or so? And what about keeping schools open? Should they be kept open?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, the recommendations that you have and that every American now has at Coronavirus.gov apply to every jurisdiction in the country, every state and every community, irrespective of whether or not there’s been a coronavirus case established.

I will tell you that we’re working very closely with California, Washington, New York, Florida to develop community-specific recommendations for those areas where we have had what is known as community spread: a number of coronavirus cases that appear that is being transmitted in the community.

In the next 24 hours, working with those states, we’ll be publishing CDC’s recommendations for what ought to be done. But I want to turn it over to Dr. Fauci to tell you that we really think the most important thing here is that we continue to bring the facts forward to the American people. And that — and that our proposals and our recommendations, while — while all of these apply to everybody in the United States and it’ll help reduce the infection rate of the coronavirus — that, for those communities that are being impacted, we’re going to develop specific recommendations that’ll make the most sense for them.

Dr. Fauci?

Q Thank you. And, Dr. Fauci, can you say whether — is it — can you wait until there’s community spread to make some of these decisions?

DR. FAUCI: Well, it depends on the degree of community spread. I mean community spread could be just a small amount or you could start to see multiple generations.

But getting to your individual question — that everything is on the table for consideration. So the idea that we’re not closing all — I mean, I think, for the country right now to say we’re going to close all the schools in the country, I don’t think would be appropriate.

With school closures, the appropriate — depending upon not whether you have already — the horse is out of the barn — but when you start to see, “We’re getting a little bit danger here, so let’s do it.”

So it’s incorrect to say, “Now everything has happened bad, let’s close the school.” And it’s incorrect to say, “Let’s just blanket close the schools in the entire country tonight.” I don’t think that that would be appropriate. But I do think it would be appropriate to carefully try and do things like closing, but there’s other things besides closing.

To do real mitigation sometime before you think you really need it — that gets back to what I said a few moments ago about where the puck is going to be. But you want to make sure you’re not so far ahead that you overshoot.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great.

Q Just real quick, should the President stop shaking hands with people? He just did it at the Medal of Freedom ceremony a few moments ago. On this sign up here, it says you should stop handshaking if you’re at your workplace and in your school or in commercial establishments. Should the President set that example? I noticed you’ve been opting for the elbow bump.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’ve been shaking hands too. (Laughter.)

Q What — what do you make of that? Is that necessary, do you think, at this point?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, look, as the President has said, in our line of work, you shake hands when someone wants to shake your hand. And I expect the President will continue to do that. I’ll continue to do it.

What — what this is, is a broad recommendation for Americans. But a really good recommendation is to wash your hands often. And — and all the experts tell me that, while people want to — want to get the various sanitizing lotions, washing your hands with hot soap and water for 20 seconds is just as good as any lotion you can buy.

So, how about right there? How about one or two more?

Q So is it a plan to coordinate a response with other countries?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry, say again?

Q Is it a plan to coordinate a response with other countries in the continent? President Trump met President from Brazil, Bolsonaro, this weekend. Did they talk about coronavirus?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know that they spoke about a broad range of issues, and I’m confident that coronavirus was discussed.

What I — what I can tell you is that our focus is on the health and wellbeing of the American people. We’re going to continue to communicate with nations across this hemisphere and across the country. But what the President has given us as a mission of the White House Coronavirus Task Force is to see to the health and wellbeing of the American people, and we’ll continue to make recommendations to do just that.

How about one more?

Q Thank you. Mr. Vice President. Two questions. One on Washington State. They made a request of strategic stockpile for, they said, 233,000 masks. And they received half of that. Wondering if — if that report is inaccurate, please speak to it.

And, secondly, on cruise lines: Are you looking at a bailout for cruise lines? Several of these companies are tax-exempt.

SECRETARY AZAR: So — so they got half of the shipment from the Strategic National Stockpile initially. And then, when the Vice President actually went out to the state of Washington, that’s when the second half of the shipment arrived.

But I have spoken directly with Governor Inslee, with whom we’ve had a superb working relationship, and he has informed me that there are some additional personal protective equipment needs that a couple of their hospitals have. And we’re working through the Strategic — Strategic National Stockpile to make sure we are directing and fulfilling shipments to them as needed.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. I want to echo, again, our gratitude to Governor Inslee and — and all the health officials in the state of Washington. I was there last week. Our teams are working very closely together. We’ll follow up on that public report that the Secretary has indicated.

But, look, we’re in — as I said, in the next 24 hours, we’ll be working with not only Washington State, but California, with New York, with Florida, and — and unveiling our recommendations, CDC’s recommendations, to those areas that have been impacted by community spread. And then we’ll continue to come alongside those communities to do everything in our power to mitigate the spread.

But let me just say again, as a resource — thank you all; we’ll be back here again tomorrow — Coronavirus.gov. Practical information for every American. Details for state labs that may yet have questions about performing their own tests. We have specifics — enzymes, agents, ingredients that — where they can be acquired and how — for the performance of coronavirus tests.

But for every American, I just want to say again: Remember the — the risks to the average American of contracting the coronavirus remains low. But, however, the risk to senior citizens with serious underlying chronic health conditions is very significant, and it’s important for all of us to continue to take all the steps necessary to look after the most vulnerable, to look after our health. And I’m confident that we’ll get through this together.

Thank you.

END 6:26 P.M. EDT

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