James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
5:41 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. We just completed today’s lengthy meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and, at the President’s direction, have continued to implement his whole-of-government approach to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to confront the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.
Let me begin, as always, by saying that according to all the experts gathered here and on our task force, the risks of the American public of contracting the coronavirus remains low. But that being said, we’re continuing to lean into this effort in full partnership with state and local health authorities around the country to ensure that we do everything to prevent the spread of the disease, to mitigate its expansion, and to provide necessary treatment to Americans that have been impacted.
But first, let me turn my attention — before we speak about some of our broader efforts and hear from some members of the task force — to an issue that I know is on the hearts and minds of people across the country. The Grand Princess cruise ship has been moored off the coast of California since Wednesday night. I want to commend the efforts of our Coast Guard that heroically flew coronavirus tests to the ship. And we received those results.
Working in close consultation with Governor Gavin Newsom and the state of California, we have developed a process for addressing our findings and resolving the circumstances facing Americans and people from around the world and the crew on the Grand Princess.
First the results: Among those tested, 46 persons were swabbed, 21 of those on the ship tested positive for the coronavirus, 24 tested negative, 1 test was inconclusive. Again, let me say: Twenty-one — twenty-one individuals on the Grand Princess tested positive. Among those were 19 crewmembers and 2 passengers. And it’s important —
Q Among the positive?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s important to note —
Q Sorry. Among the positives?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. Among those positive for coronavirus were 19 crewmembers and 2 passengers. It’s important to note that the Grand Princess actually was on its second tour and we know of coronavirus infections from the first tour as well with very, very difficult results.
In the wake of these findings today, we’ve been working through the day with Governor Newsom and his administration — through their unified command efforts in California, CDC, and HHS — and we have developed a plan which will be implemented this weekend to bring the ship into a noncommercial port. All passengers and crew will be tested for the coronavirus. Those that need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those that require additional medical attention will receive it.
Let me assure the American public, as we did so with Americans returning from China and those returning from the other cruise ship: We are taking all measures necessary to see to the health of the Americans and those involved on the Grand Princess and, just as importantly, to protect the health of the American public and prevent the spread of the disease through communities in this country.
It is — we are instituting the strongest testing protocols to ensure that not only those on board receive the treatment that they need, but that the American people can be confident that there will be no erosion in our preventative measures and efforts to keep the coronavirus from spreading throughout our country.
I want to express our gratitude to Governor Newsom and the state of California for their full partnership. Not just in dealing with the Grand Princess, but throughout the advent of the coronavirus, California has been a strong partner. And as I just told the governor a few moments ago, we will continue to work very closely with his administration and we will continue to put the health and safety of America first.
With that, let me turn my attention to the issue of testing, which has been much in the news of late, and the President spoke about it just a few moments ago at CDC. It’s very important to note that, because of President Trump’s decisive leadership, that the risk to the American public of contracting the coronavirus does remain low.
But nevertheless, in Washington State, where I visited yesterday with members of our team, and in California, we have seen, as Dr. Fauci often describes, community transmission still less than 200 cases across the country. And the good news is most Americans who’ve contracted this disease are being treated and recovering and on the road to recovery.
Sadly, we all know of the loss of life and we grieve that along with their families. But the American people deserve to know that we are ready and that, because of the President’s leadership and because of extraordinary efforts by CDC and Health and Human Services and our partners in state labs around the country, we have the testing necessary to be able to provide tests to all the states that have requested it.
As I said yesterday, we’ve been able to provide tests to all the state jurisdictions and labs that have requested it. And I’m pleased to report that all state labs have the test. And now, because of the change that President Trump implemented at the FDA a week ago, now state labs can actually conduct coronavirus tests themselves.
Beyond that, between March 2nd and 5th, we distributed more than 900,000 tests across the country, including 200,000 that could allow 75 individual patients — 75,000 individual patients to be tested.
As the Secretary of HHS just described, by tomorrow another 200,000 tests will be shipped. And by the weekend, another million tests will be shipped around the country, with the expectation that at the end of next week, 4 million tests will be shipped.
We’ve been able to respond to the request of states that have been impacted by the coronavirus. But as I said yesterday, to meet future demand, this week, the President brought together the leading commercial labs in America and asked them to, in effect, partner with the United States in developing tests for the American people.
And I’m proud to say that, just in the last 24 hours, LabCorp, Quest — two of America’s leading commercial laboratories — have announced the test will be available by Monday of this week. The reason that’s important and the reason that meets future demand is because the enormous capacity of these commercial laboratories and others in the country are precisely how we will make coronavirus tests available for your local doctor, available to your pharmacy, and broadly available to the American public.
Tomorrow, Dr. Steve Hahn at the FDA will come to this room and brief in specific our efforts with regard to testing to assure the American public that every effort is being made to provide testing resources not just for state laboratories, not just for universities, not just for hospitals in affected areas, but with the announcement of these major commercial labs, we trust, in a matter of weeks, the coronavirus tests will be broadly available to the public and available to any American that is symptomatic and has a concern about — about the possibility of having contracted the coronavirus.
We’ve made great progress, but there is much work to be done. Over the course of this weekend, I’ll be traveling to Florida to meet with cruise line executives. We’ll be discussing with them, in particular, what additional measures our cruise lines could take to ensure the health and safety of the American public, and I look forward to those conversations tomorrow.
I want to introduce Dr. Fauci for comment, and then I’ll also introduce the Admiral and Bob Kadlec about — about our plans with regard to the cruise ship.
But let me make — let me make one last comment, if I may, before we hear from other members of the task force. I’ve said it twice, let me say it again: The general risk to the American public remains low. But if you are an individual with a serious underlying health condition or — and are elderly, it’s important to take precautions and use common sense, particularly as it relates to travel.
We want to recognize, from the experience now of two cruise ships, that cruise ships represent a unique challenge for health officials, and so we would ask elderly Americans to use common sense and caution in planning any cruise ship vacation in the future. But they can be assured we’re going to be working closely with some great American companies in the cruise line industry to enhance and strengthen the screening procedures that take place as passengers board and as they disembark.
With that, let me — let me yield it for a few moments to Dr. Fauci and then we’ll hear from other members of the task force about the Grand Princess, as well as testing.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. I just want to take the opportunity, very briefly — last time I was here at the podium, we were talking about what the Vice President said about the risk of getting infected and how we need to distinguish that from if you are infected. Like the unfortunate situation that we’ve seen in Seattle and what we’re seeing on cruise ships is that, in that group of people who get infected, the ones who are clearly the most vulnerable to getting the complications of serious disease and even death are people with underlying conditions, particularly among the elderly with underlying conditions, and those are heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes, et cetera.
So what I’d like to do today is sort of like publicly answer a question that I get asked all the time now — is that if you are a person with an underlying condition, the conditions that I just mentioned — particularly if you’re an elderly person with that — as the Vice President said, beyond even cruise ships, to just use the common sense of trying to protect yourself because you’re the most vulnerable. That is often referred to as “social distancing.”
And what we mean by that is: If you’re a person who is in that category, think twice, even before you get on a plane for a long trip or you want to travel or you want to go to a place that’s crowded where there may be people who, in fact, have an infection of any sort. That doesn’t necessarily have to be even coronavirus; it could be influenza or anything like that.
So I want to publicly answer the question that I keep getting asked in a private situation. If you’re in that category or if you’re the family of individuals in that category, take care to try and take care of the most vulnerable among them.
And there are simple things that you can do — practical, common sense — about not putting yourself in a situation, whatever that might be, that might increase the risk, given your situation.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr. Fauci.
With that, I’d like to introduce Vice Admiral Abel, who — again, the Coast Guard did heroic work transporting tests to the Grand Princess and is going to play a key role as we implement — as we implement the process of resolving the impasse on the ship.
VICE ADMIRAL ABEL: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. First of all, we’d like to send our appreciation out to the members of the 129th Air Rescue and Recovery Wing California Air National Guard that played a key role last night in getting the test kits out to the ship, retrieving those test kits. It’s great to have shipmates like that, that stand by our side when the nation needs it.
The Coast Guard looks forward to operationalizing the best risk mitigation plan that’s developed on medical science from the state, local, and federal level, and we use our captain of the port authorities to direct to ship to execute that plan.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And Bob Kadlec is the Assistant Secretary who’s been —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KADLEC: Thank you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — coordinating the preparedness and the response to the Grand Princess.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KADLEC: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President, and good evening everyone. I just want to just say, first of all, thanks to Governor Newsom and his staff at the state health office and emergency management in California. They’ve been extraordinary, great partners not only during this event, as we’re developing a concept of operations and planning to, if you will, disembark passengers from that ship safely and effectively, ensuring that their safety as well as the community that they will be coming into will be protected, but I just want to say that they’ve been great partners throughout this.
They’ve been critical in our repatriation efforts from Wuhan, as well as from the Diamond Princess ship in Japan. And, again, the details are becoming more apparent and we’ll brief you as those become more firm.
But I just want to say: This is a whole government of effort. We’re working with Department of Defense, with the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, our colleagues at CDC, as well as the state and local authorities in California to ensure that we can bring those people home safely, as well as and as quickly as possible.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great.
Dr. Birx, did you want to speak to our plan with regard to that?
DR. BIRX: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. So this will be a comprehensive plan that, like our other — Diamond Princess — was a comprehensive approach to ensure the health and welfare of all of our citizens.
As Dr. Fauci discussed, we know many of the people on the cruise ship are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and we want to make sure — as we know that that’s a more vulnerable group — that we pay special attention to anybody who has any comorbidities or other conditions.
And so we’re working very hard with the people on the ship and the medical team there to make sure that their health and welfare is prioritized.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good.
And Dr. Stephen Hahn, with the FDA, for the latest on the availability of testing.
DR. HAHN: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
Just as a reminder about this test: This is a swab test, not a point of care test. We discussed that yesterday, but that’s the component of this test. It is a test that’s been developed by the CDC, based upon their first obtaining the genetic sequence of the virus. That test is very high quality. We have high confidence in that test. That test is now available in all public health labs, as described by the Vice President.
In response to the demand that we’re seeing for the test, we are increasing the supply of this test as described by the Vice President. And we believe that that will be available significantly across the country, and I can provide more details tomorrow just for specific numbers, if you will.
As of yesterday, the CDC test was shipped out — 900,000 tests. We have another 200,000, which we expect to be shipped out tomorrow, and they’ve gone through the quality assurance process. Another 1 million tests will be quality assessed this weekend and we expect those to go out early next week.
We expect further surge test capacity beyond that, by the end of next week. And again, I’m really happy to provide details.
Q How many have been tested so far? Can you say that?
DR. HAHN: So I think that’s a question that should probably be addressed to the CDC for the most accurate number. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Great. And state labs.
Q Where do you expect the — where do expect these people to be quarantined? And why — of 19 crew members, 2 passengers, why so many crew were infected?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re going to get to the bottom of it, but it’s very likely that the crew on the Grand Princess was exposed on two different — two different outings. And we know the coronavirus manifested among the previous passengers. And so we’ll — we’ll find that out. But we will be testing everyone on the ship. We will be quarantining as necessary. But with regard to the 1,100-member crew, we anticipate that they will be quarantined on the ship, will not need to disembark.
But let me — let me refer to Secretary Kadlec to respond. We’re working, literally, hour by hour with the Department of Defense and with the state of California to identify the military bases where we’ll do the testing of the remaining passengers.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KADLEC: Yes, sir. Thank you. And it is truly evolving right now. Obviously, there’ve been bases that’ve been identified before — Travis, Lackland. And we’re working with the Department of Defense to identify the appropriate settings — again, realizing that we’re trying to ensure both the safety of the passengers and the safety of communities that are around them.
So, happy to answer any more questions. Thank you.
Q Vice President, AIPAC, in just the last little while, send out a notification to people who attended the conference to say two people from New York who attended the conference have tested positive for coronavirus. Are you concerned that the virus is now here in Washington, D.C.? And as a lot of members of Congress attend AIPAC, are you concerned that some members of Congress may have contracted the virus?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say that’s the first I’ve heard of it, in the midst of a busy day. And we will be engaged, I’m confident, in the same contract — contact tracing that we are for any case.
But maybe — maybe Dr. Fauci could speak to the concern about the nation’s capital that you raised.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah. You know, again, when you have lack of information, it’s tough to make anything definitive. But, obviously, if you have someone who is here, I mean, the risk of there being a major outbreak, obviously — which everybody thinks about.
But what will happen is that those individuals that were infected will have contact tracing. And that’s the public health “weapon,” if you want to call it, that we have — namely, to get those people isolated and to do the contact tracing.
We don’t have enough information now because this is the first that I’ve actually heard about it also, with a busy day. So, as soon as we get further information, we’ll be happy to share that with you.
Q Mr. Vice President, the President, just a short while ago, said that anybody that needs a test can have a test; they’re all set. Can we drill down on that? When exactly will a person who feels like they may have coronavirus, can they go into their doctor’s office and get a test?
In addition to that, Mr. Vice President, just a short while ago, the President described Governor Inslee of Washington State, who you just met with yesterday, as a “snake.” He also described the coronavirus test — compared it to the phone call that he had with the leader of Ukraine. Is the President addressing the situation with the seriousness it requires?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I promise you, President Trump has no higher priority than the health and safety of the American people. And he’s assembled an extraordinary group of Americans and agencies.
I’m a little more than a week into leading the White House coronavirus effort, and I couldn’t be more proud and more impressed with the team that the President assembled.
But I think your first question is a very important one, Jim, and I appreciate it. The President is exactly right that, for the state laboratories, for the communities that have been impacted that have concerns about the coronavirus, we have been able to respond to requests for tests.
And, literally, you can hear that the tests that’s been made available since the first of this month literally amounts in the hundreds of thousands and millions of tests.
But for the American public to have access to the coronavirus test, it’s the reason why President Trump brought in, this week, all of the CEOs of the top commercial laboratories in the country. They’re the ones that we believed could spin up a new test very rapidly. They have enormous logistics and manufacturing capabilities. And we said to them, “We want you to work together,” because while all state labs can now conduct their own tests — and as I’ve described and as Dr. Hahn described, we’ve distributed hundreds of thousands; in fact, over a million tests around the country — to get it all across the American people to your local doctor, to your pharmacy, to what when my kids were little, we used to call the MedCheck. It’s going to require these commercial labs.
And the good news is — it didn’t get too widely reported — but both LabCorp and Quest, two of the largest commercial labs in the country, just announced that, by Monday, they will have tests available for distribution and sale across the country.
Q And if I could just follow up. Mr. Vice President, if somebody is feeling ill this weekend and they go to the doctor on Monday, can the doctor request a coronavirus test — any American in the country? Or are we not at that point? I just want to make sure that it’s crystal clear in terms of what the expectations are.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think for any American that is symptomatic, speaking to your doctor if you have reason to believe that you have been exposed to the coronavirus.
I have every confidence that your physician would contact state health officials and have access to the state lab. We’ve made those tests available to the state labs. I’ve spoken to Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina today. I spoke to Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia last night. And we’ve been working hard to make sure that where we have suspected cases, that we’ve been making tests available. But you make a very fair point about — the wider availability to doctors and physicians and clinics will happen, we believe, because of the collaboration that President Trump forged with our commercial labs. And the great news is, as they announced yesterday, by Monday, two of the largest commercial labs in America announced they will have tests and begin to take them to market.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Two questions if I could: one on workers and one on families. The first one on workers. There are a lot of Americans who are worried about losing wages if they’re forced to stay home because they’re not on a regular salary. Is the White House preparing any sort of economic mitigation effort for workers who suffer wage losses here?
And the second one is on family, which is: You’re telling people to stay home if they feel sick.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q What’s your advice to parents of children who might have a lot of vulnerable people in their households? Should they be quarantining themselves with their children in the house, or do they need to be quarantining themselves somewhere else, away from their own families and children?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, with regard to your first question, I will tell you that I’ve been very inspired at the response of businesses around this country and their sensitivity and decision-making about Americans who are potentially impacted by the coronavirus.
But I will tell you, in the days ahead, when I was on Capitol Hill this week meeting with Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, we talked about should this become much more a — much more widespread in the country. There were recommendations from Congress, which I know we would carefully consider.
But let me — your second question, I think, might be the most important one asked, and that is: For families, what are the best practices at home? And I’d like to ask Dr. Birx to address that.
DR. BIRX: That’s an excellent question. I come from a multi-generational household. I have nine-month-old, two-year -old grandchildren. My parents live in the same household — they’re 91 and 96 — and my daughter and husband are there. And I think this is a very critical question and it’s why, over the last week, we’ve really been focused on who is the most vulnerable and who needs to be protected, and ensuring that every family understands that.
And I think your question is critical because it comes back to what Dr. Fauci said. If they follow good handwashing techniques; if they ensure that everything is washed, that is used with the grandparents; if they ensure that the children, if ill, are kept away from the grandparents and somewhat separated in the household with strong cleaning and other handwashing and hand-touching pieces, this is what social distancing can occur in the household. And that’s really the focus that we have: that every household has the capacity in order to ensure the health and welfare of their elderly and others with medical conditions.
And I don’t want to — I want to make sure we’ve also emphasized that, because anyone that has an immunodeficiency, independent of age, is someone else that we have to be very careful with in ensuring that we’re protecting them.
Q Should they be sending those family members who are not infected to stay somewhere else? So if you’ve got a couple of kids, one who’s infected and the other ones are not, should you send the ones who are still healthy somewhere else, or do you need to quarantine everybody in the family in the same house at the same time? Because that sounds a little scary.
DR. BIRX: I’m looking at Dr. Fauci, and I think that’s a great question. And we’re going to — we’re going to talk about that, and I don’t want to give you — (laughs) —
DR. FAUCI: I don’t — I don’t think there really is a decisive answer about that. It depends upon the feasibility of do you have some place to put the child. I think that if you’re in a situation where you really cannot do it, then you just sort of say, well, I’m going to keep them both together, realizing that with children — and this gets back to what I just said a little while ago — the risk of there being a problem of infection with the children is really very low, if you look at all of the reports from every place — from China, from Italy, from Korea. It’s the same.
Q Mr. Vice President, following on an earlier question: If, today, any American who wants to test cannot currently get a test, when do you — when is that target date? When do we expect any American who wants a test to, same day, be able to get it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me ask Dr. Hahn to respond to that. But when we met with the major commercial labs, in addition to — I want to emphasize that again: Because of the — because of the changes that the FDA made, now all state labs can perform a coronavirus test.
And I spoke to one governor about that today, and we clarified that with them. We’ve distributed these kits — hundreds of thousands, and over a million tests and more to come.
But to get the test widely distributed across the country, I couldn’t be more grateful that our commercial labs have already announced — two of the leading commercial labs in America — that they’ll create a product.
But let me talk to — let me let you talk to Dr. Hahn because the FDA is in the process of working with those companies, and see if Dr. Hahn has a sense. But I remember that they told us, given their enormous production capability, that in a matter of weeks, not months, that we could be seeing a coronavirus broadly distributed around the country and then growing literally by the day.
Dr. Hahn, is that about right?
DR. HAHN: That’s correct. Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
Q And also, if might I add to that, do you have some idea of how many test kits we are going to need total?
DR. HAHN: So I’m going to use the term “tests,” not “kits” so that we can be clear about, you know, sort of the lexicon that we’re using.
So, as I mentioned, as of tomorrow, we expect 1.1 million tests to have been shipped to laboratories, and those would have gone to mostly non-public health laboratories.
In answer to your question — because I’m thinking like a doctor here — if I were with a patient who came in and I wanted to test, what I would recommend to that provider is to contact, as the Vice President said, their local public health group, because they’re going to be able to know about availability in that state.
But as the Vice President says, with these large commercial labs having the ability to now scale up those tests, this is a critical part of this. In addition to the millions of test kits — tests — tests that we’ll be sending out this upcoming week as well as what we’ve already done, we expect that to surge substantially.
Q And how many do we need? Are we talking we need a test available potentially for every American? What is our target?
DR. HAHN: So we’ll talk a little bit about this tomorrow. It’s a complicated answer to your question, and I don’t want to mislead the American public. But one test doesn’t necessarily equal one patient. And so that equation, I think, is worth discussing in more detail.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me maybe follow on that with two things.
Number one, the President has directed a whole-of-government approach. We’re leaning into this effort, and we’re going to work with our commercial partners, we’re going to work with the CDC, and we’re going to meet that need for the American public. And I’m confident of that, particularly as I see the way — frankly, see the way state governments, state health departments, public laboratories, and our commercial laboratories have stepped up.
Let me also say, as I said yesterday when we were in Washington State: One of the things that CDC has done is, in the midst of these numbers that can get a little blurry at the time, we’ll make sure you have all of them in detail. And Dr. Hahn will detail it tomorrow.
We have prioritized areas of the country where we have community transmission. And the recommendation of our experts is we’ve been focusing tests in California and in Washington State, and I’ve had those conversations with both of those governors, and we’ll continue to do that even as we work to build a wider availability.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. You have encouraged caution and social distancing for elderly Americans and people who have preexisting conditions. Just looking at the government statistics, people who are over 65, that’s 50 million Americans; people who have preexisting conditions, that’s another 50 million to 100 million Americans. Are you essentially saying that a third of the country, maybe up to half of the country, should have caution before traveling? And if that’s the case, should major events, major conferences, political rallies just be canceled at this point because they would include a large percentage of elderly Americans and people with preexisting conditions?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me try it again. A lot of facts and a lot of information, so let me be as clear as I can. What I want to say today is — in consultation with these experts — is that as we look at the data, initial data in this country and data coming in from around the world, that elderly with serious underlying health conditions are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Let me say that again: That elderly individuals with underlying health conditions are the most vulnerable to serious results from the coronavirus.
And so, today, we say with great respect that it is a good time for any American who is elderly, by however they define it, and has a serious underlying health condition, to think carefully about travel. And I think Dr. Fauci was clear on that and I’d like him to have the last word.
DR. FAUCI: So, the numbers and the statistics you said are correct, but there’s really a difference between an underlying condition and a serious underlying condition that would actually compromise you.
So let me explain. By the numbers that you said, someone who has high blood pressure, is on a blood pressure medication and has got it down pretty well, has an underlying condition. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that might require intermittent oxygen is a serious underlying condition.
There’s a big difference between somebody with controlled hypertension and somebody with congestive heart failure and chronic pulmonary disease.
So although your numbers are correct, it isn’t really one third of the American population.
6:17 P.M. EST