Press Briefing by Vice President Pence and Members of White House Coronavirus Task Force

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

5:28 P.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We just completed another meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. It’s been a very busy and productive day here at the White House.

President Donald Trump has no higher priority than the safety and health of the American people. And the President has directed our task force — employing the full resources of the federal government, in full partnership with state and local health authorities — to make that priority a reality.

As I stand before you today, we have more than 100 coronavirus cases in the United States. That is counting domestic cases and cases of coronavirus of Americans that were returned from China or the Diamond Princess. I’m pleased to report that most of those who contracted coronavirus within our care are continuing to recover. But, sadly, we received word today that another American has passed away and their family has our deepest condolences.

That being said, thanks to the President’s strong leadership and the professionalism of all of our federal agencies — Health and Human Services, CDC — and state and local health officials all across this country, the risk to the American public of contracting the coronavirus remains low.

To be clear: If you are a healthy American, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low. But it is still a good idea to engage in commonsense practices that are always recommended this time of year. So, as someone who has a mother who is 87 years of age, and who has married kids living around the country, a brief tutorial on prevention for yourself, for your family, and your loved ones:

It’s a good idea to stay home when you’re sick. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Cover your cough or sneeze with tissue; throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently. Wash your hands with either disinfectant or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

And let me say again, as we’ve said before: There’s no need for Americans to buy masks. And the commonsense practices that I just described are all available at CDC.gov.

Today, we — we had a series of meetings here at the White House and on Capitol Hill. We met with executives of the airline industry, the executives of commercial labs, executives of nursing homes. And our team also met with the Republican and Democrat caucuses in the House of Representatives. And we were pleased to learn that, just shortly ago, the House of Representatives passed a federal funding bill by a virtually unanimous margin. It’ll now move to the Senate.

And the legislation implements the President’s vision to ensure that not only do our federal agencies have the support and resources that they need, but also that our state and local partners have their support. And in my conversations with governors all the way through this afternoon, I know they’re grateful for the bipartisan spirit that has characterized this funding bill and we’ll continue to work through that process.

As President Trump said, we’re all in this together. And he deployed a whole-of-government approach, but, thanks to the President’s leadership, it has actually developed into a whole-of-America approach, and the meetings today with industry leaders is a reflection of that.

As Dr. Birx will — will indicate in just a few moments with some of the data that we’re evaluating from around the world, it does appear that the elderly are the most vulnerable and especially those serious health issues.

At the President’s direction, as a result, Seema Verma will describe that the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services has issued new guidelines for nursing homes nationwide. We have raised the bar regarding infectious disease control in our nursing homes.

And in addition, Administrator Verma will explain how we are going to focus all of our inspection resources for the foreseeable future on compliance with infection control standards.

Generally, we — we monitor our nursing homes for abuse and neglect. But at the President’s direction, we’re going to focus exclusively on ensuring that those who are in nursing homes — people operating the nursing homes, like many of the CEOs that we met with today — are complying with the new standards to keep our elderly safe.

The President also met today with airline executives and I’ll reiterate, as the President said, our profound gratitude to our partners in the airline industry. They have worked with us in, as we say, flowing Americans through particular airports, the screening. We’re working very closely with the airlines on contact information. If a person is tested as positive for the coronavirus, we’re working with the airlines to get all the information not just about that person, but about who they sat next to and who else was on the flight. And the President and I are very grateful.

As we announced yesterday, I’m pleased to report that, as of yesterday morning, in addition to the travel ban from China — we’ve suspended all travel coming in from China, we’ve suspended all travel coming in from Iran, and even foreign nationals who visit either one of those countries are barred from coming into this country for 14 days.

We also established a travel advisory for Italy — portions of Italy and portions of South Korea over the weekend. But even as importantly, as of yesterday morning, we fully implemented a screening process. All direct flights from all airports in South Korea and Italy are now being subject to multiple screens before passengers board to come to the United States of America.

State Department worked very vigorously to bring that about and we’re grateful for the cooperation with the governments of Italy, the governments of South Korea, as well as our airline partners in making that a reality.

Finally, with regard to testing, we had a meeting today that gave us great hope for great progress in the near future on expanding testing across the country. We have a ways to go yet, and I’m pleased to report, as we’ve been able to convey to state governments — governors around the country — is that, thanks to the good work with the FDA and Dr. Steve Hahn, who is with me here today, now all state laboratories, all university laboratories at the state level, can conduct coronavirus tests without any additional assets or resources from the federal government. They have the FDA-approved tests; they can conduct the test all across the country in all the states.

Beyond that, as we announced, through the efforts of HHS, 2,500 kits of tests are going out this week that — 2,500 kits including tests has gone out this week. That’s roughly 1.5 million tests that will be available this week. We’ll continue to build on that number.

But perhaps most significantly, thanks to Dr. Birx’s efforts and leadership, we brought together, today at the White House, the leaders of all of the largest commercial laboratories in this country — companies like Quest that have vast capabilities, logistics and testing capabilities. And we were pleased to report today that they have created a consortium to share information and to share resources and literally have told us that, as they go through what is called the “validation process” on testing that, by next week, individual companies will be able to do, as they said to me, thousands of tests of coronavirus if they are needed and required, and many, many multiples more of that in the not-distant future.

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