Baton Rouge, Louisiana
President Trump asked me to be here to send a very clear message to the people of Louisiana: That we’re with you, and we’re going to stay with you until we put this coronavirus completely in the past and we open up this economy, open up our schools, and we move this state and this nation forward bigger and better than ever before.
I’m particularly, as I said, grateful for Governor John Bel Edwards for the partnership that we’ve enjoyed over the past four months. Louisiana is really in a unique position. As we’ve seen rising cases across the Sun Belt, it was here in Louisiana that the people of this state, your state leadership, your healthcare workers have already demonstrated that people of Louisiana know how to slow the spread. They know how to flatten the curve. They did it before, and we’re very confident Louisiana is going to do it again, as we see rising cases now across the state.
I also want to express appreciation to Senator Bill Cassidy and Senator John Kennedy for their strong support. The CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program, the direct support for families would not have been possible without their stalwart support in the United States Senate.
Let me also say how grateful we are to Louisiana’s House Minority Whip, Steve Scalise, for his great leadership, as well as other members of the delegation who have joined us for all of our discussions today: Congressman Garret Graves, Congressman Ralph Abraham, and Congressman Mike Johnson.
The people of Louisiana would be proud. And President Trump and I are truly grateful for the spirit of partnership with your elected representatives in Washington, D.C., but also with your governor and with this administration. It has — it has truly been inspiring, and we’re going to continue that partnership every day until — until we put this coronavirus in the past.
Let me be clear: The rising cases across the Sun Belt are serious, and we are going to continue to ensure that Louisiana and all of the affected states have the testing, the personal protective equipment, and the medicines to save lives, to slow the spread.
But while the rise in cases is serious, the people of this state and this nation deserve to know that our ability to respond to this pandemic is substantially better than two and three months ago, when the coronavirus first came to Louisiana.
Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, thanks to the strong partnership we forged with your governor, the support of these members of the Senate and the House, and the extraordinary healthcare workers here in Louisiana and all across this country, we are in a much stronger position to save lives, to protect the most vulnerable, to flatten the curve, and to continue to open up Louisiana and open up America.
Today, we had particular focus on education. And as I said, being here at the LSU campus, we’re — we’re grateful for the innovative efforts that LSU and that Louisiana, broadly, are taking to open up our schools.
As President Trump has made it clear, as we — to open up America, we got to open up America’s schools. We believe it’s absolutely in the best interest of students academically and in terms of every aspect of their personal wellbeing to get kids back in the classroom in K-12, and to get students back on campuses, like LSU.
And as we told the faculty here at this great campus, and we assured the governor today, we’re going to continue to make the testing and the PPE and the supplies available to support the reopening of schools all across this state and all across this country.
We’re also going to continue to scale supplies to meet this moment in Louisiana and beyond. And in just the last several days, the Administrator of FEMA, Pete Gaynor, was here in Louisiana. He’ll be visiting a local school, I’m told, with Congressman Scalise tomorrow.
This week alone, at the President’s direction, FEMA has deployed military medical personnel to some of the states most impacted. And we learned today that Louisiana will be making a request for medical personnel, much like those we provided to Louisiana earlier in this pandemic. And we’ll be moving quickly to respond to that.
We’ve been distributing medicines like remdesivir. We’ve deployed 19 HHS teams to metropolitan areas around the country impacted by this pandemic. There’ll be eight more teams deployed in the next several days. And we’ve been expanding testing and the supplies that support testing.
At the present moment, with the great work of Admiral Brett Giroir, as a member of our task force, we’ve performed more than 40 million tests nationwide, more than — there was a day in just the last week when we actually performed over 800,000 desks [sic] — tests in a single day. And we’re — we’re incredibly inspired by Louisiana’s innovation from very early on in expanding testing — well above the national average, and we’ll continue to support efforts in that regard.
Also, we were pleased to announce that we were unveiling three different surge testing sites in states around the country. One includes four locations in Baton Rouge, including LSU’s Alex Box Stadium. It’ll be for those with symptoms or those who believe they’ve been exposed. And we’ll be doing a quick turnaround on testing. This is part of our community testing and surveillance efforts. And we’ve already deployed those personnel and resources here in Louisiana.
There’s one announcement we informed governors yesterday of that I want to ask Seema Verma, the administrator of the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and Admiral Giroir to step to the podium to describe. We’ve often said the first mission of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the President’s direction, was to save lives. Our mission today is to save lives, to slow the spread, to protect the most vulnerable, to open up America and open up America’s schools.
But one of the ways that we protect the most vulnerable is by ensuring, as you’ve done so here in Louisiana, to make sure that those who live in long-term care and nursing home facilities have the testing and the PPE support. And we have a very significant announcement about the deployment of testing resources to our nursing homes, and I’d like to invite my colleagues on the White House Coronavirus Task Force to step forward and describe it.
ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. You know, from day one, as the Vice President said, we’ve had a focus on protecting the most vulnerable citizens, and that includes our nursing home residents. And it’s been a very difficult time for them — restriction of visitors, restriction of activities. But today’s announcement about providing point-of-care tests in every nursing home across the country is very significant.
This is going to allow our nursing homes to test their workers on a weekly basis and also test their patients as well. And this is important because when they identify a patient that could be potentially — that is infected with the coronavirus or even a staff member, it allows them to do the important work around isolating that patient. And this is also a significant step forward in reuniting patients with their families, because once we know that the facility is free of the coronavirus, it allows visitors to also come back in. So this is a very important step.
And thanks to Dr. Giroir for his efforts to make this happen.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great.
ADMIRAL GIROIR: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, Administrator Verma. As a native of Louisiana, it’s always great to be back here, and I really feel just wonderful being here in Tiger Stadium. I did want to say, by any measure, Louisiana, in terms of testing, is in the top 10 states nationally. And by a couple of measures, they’re either number one or number two — not quite good enough for Coach O, but you’re going to be there very soon. (Laughter.)
The announcement today is really significant, and let me amplify on Administrator Verma. It’s very important to protect our vulnerable. And we know that our elderly in nursing homes are among the most vulnerable, and that’s why we’ve leaned in so heavily with them. In order to protect them, we recommend that the staff be tested once a week to make sure that they don’t bring, unintentionally, maybe even without symptoms, the virus into the nursing home. That means 4 to 5 million tests per month. And, as you know, the turnaround times — because there’s so much testing — is getting a bit longer, and it’s also very expensive.
What we’re talking about today is providing a point of care — that means a rapid, on-the-spot, 20-tests-per-hour instrument, along with tests, to every single of the 15,400 nursing homes within this country. We’re starting next week with 2,000 of them, ranked by Administrator Verma and her team, that are at risk because of spread in the community. Seventeen of those are right here in Baton Rouge. We’re going to start that next week. This is a very, very significant moment to protect our seniors. Over the following ensuing weeks, we’re going to distribute to all the rest of the 13,400.
Just to make one comment: This is not an acquisition. It’s not just writing a check and doing it. This has been the culmination of about two months of work to develop the technology; to increase the sensitivity of the tests to make sure they’ll be highly protective of investments in manufacturing, in regulatory flexibility with the FDA; to bring it all together; and then, as part of a comprehensive plan, to protect our seniors.
So, I tell you, in the last two and a half years, I’ve been very honored to be a part of a lot of efforts of this administration. I can tell you this one is going to save thousands of lives. So this is a really historic moment. It’s a great moment for our seniors and for those 17 nursing homes in Baton Rouge who will be getting it next week. All hands on deck. We’re here to support you.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great.
So before I turn it over to the governor, let me just — let me just say on behalf of the President and our entire White House Coronavirus Task Force, that: Governor Edwards, we support your efforts here in Louisiana to slow the spread, to protect the vulnerable, to keep opening up your economy and opening up your schools.
But it’s important to remember we all have a role to play, so we want to encourage all the people of Louisiana and all those looking on to continue to adhere to the guidance of your state and local health officials. Put into practice those commonsense steps that flattened the curve here in Louisiana before and will slow the spread and flatten the curve again: wash your hands, practice good hygiene, wear a mask. Wear a mask whenever state and local authorities say it’s indicated or whenever social distancing is not possible.
Each and every one of us has a role to play. And we’ll be able to continue to open up. Now, Governor, I know you have made a decision to pause reopening, to stay at phase two, and we support your decision in that regard. We’ll continue to flow testing and PPE and resources to support the implementation of your policy.
But I want to assure everyone in Louisiana and all those looking on that we’re opening up America again, and we’re dealing with rising cases across the Sun Belt. It’s not either/ or. We don’t have to choose between continuing to open up our economy, making plans to open up our schools, and doing what each and every one of us needs to do to slow the spread and flatten the curve. Here in Louisiana, you did it before, and we’re very confident that you will do it again. Because here in Louisiana, you know what the American people know: is that we’re all in this together.
I read a — I read a verse in my devotions this morning that we’re called to run the race marked out for us with endurance and with faith. And I’m confident that with the endurance, the perseverance, and the faith of the people of this great state and this nation, that we’ll every day be one day closer to putting this coronavirus in the past.
And we pledge to continue to work with your governor, with your leaders in Washington, D.C., and with all the great healthcare workers of this state to hasten that day.
GOVERNOR EDWARDS: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I want to thank you for visiting Baton Rouge and Louisiana and bringing Ambassador Birx and Administrator Verma with you, as well as Secretary DeVos and Admiral Giroir. And I want to thank our congressional delegation.
You know, talking about how we’re number one or number two, and so forth, in testing, I will tell you: It wouldn’t be possible without the support we’ve received from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
And I will tell you that, this week, we will exceed a million tests that we’ve conducted since the beginning. We’re at 248,000 tests, to date, for the month of July, and that’s less than halfway through the month. And that’s critically important. But what the tests are telling us is we have more cases, we have rising positivity, and certainly we know from our hospitals that we have increasing hospitalizations as well.
And my commitment to the Vice President is the same as it is to the people of Louisiana: We’re going to do what’s required to get back in front of this virus and flatten the curve again, and make sure that we are protecting the most vulnerable, that we are saving lives. And the way that we can reopen our economy, reopen our schools are to do those things that are essential to make sure that we can be successful. And it’s — it’s really pretty simple at this point.
We don’t want to go backwards to phase one or to phase zero. So we can — we can continue in phase two, but we are going to have to make sure that we wear the mask, that we social distance, that we limit our social gatherings in terms of the number of people. And if we will do that, we’re going to be successful, and we don’t have to go — to go back. And we are going to open our schools and so forth.
And everything we’re going to do, we’re going to do in consultation with the CDC guidelines, the guidance that’s put out by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and certainly working with our own professionals here at the Office of Public Health. And we’re going to work with all of our local officials and the health community here, because they have been the true heroes.
And we’re going to be successful. We are going to get back on top of this. We’re going to flatten the curve. And we look forward to the day, as the Vice President mentioned — he and President Trump are working — that we put this virus behind us. And we’re going to work extremely hard.
And, please, Mr. Vice President, know we appreciate your visit. I appreciate the attention you’ve paid to this state, to the time that you’ve given personally to speak with me anytime that I called, and for all of the assistance that we have received. Our state is much better off today because of that assistance and because of your work and the work of your task force and our congressional delegation.
And while I know we have a lot of work to do ahead of us, I am optimistic that we’re going to get it done, and we’re going to come through this in fine fashion. And I’m also praying for that result as well. I believe in prayer, and I believe in work, and we’re going to do both here in Louisiana because that’s what we’ve done as long as we’ve been a state.
So I want to thank you again for being here. And I believe, at this point, we’re going to hear from our senior —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Inaudible.) Dr. Birx.
GOVERNOR EDWARDS: I’m sorry. Dr. Birx. I was going to say senior citizen, but she’s not a senior citizen. (Laughter.)
DR. BIRX: No, you had that right.
GOVERNOR EDWARDS: Thank you very much, Ambassador.
DR. BIRX: You had that right, Governor. Thank you, governor. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Thank you to our senators, our congressional members here today. And thank you to Courtney Phillips and her public health team.
The epidemic you’re facing today in Louisiana is different than the epidemic that you had in March and April that was very much centered in New Orleans and a little bit in Baton Rouge.
This particular epidemic, although the cases are still low, is spread across the state of Louisiana. And that’s why the Governor is correct: It will take everyone in Louisiana, every single person in Louisiana, to wear a mask. It will take all of those residents to social distance, to practice personal hygiene.
And as Coach O has explained to me, he was able to keep his football players safe and healthy and well here, and tested, until some might have wandered off to a bar. And after wandering off to a bar, they did become positive. And so he’s made it clear that that is not on, any longer, the itinerary for practice.
And so we are really calling on all Louisianans to not be going to bars, not to be even going to bars in people’s houses. Social gathering of more than 10 people right now is particularly difficult with the type of spread that you have. But it is this public health group and this governor who was able to stop a very serious epidemic in New Orleans.
And it’s why these cases are still low that we have the opportunity to change the future for Louisiana and be able to decrease the number of cases every day if each of us wear our masks, stay out of bars, make sure you don’t have large gatherings in your households, and really protect one another, and do what we always have said: protecting the most vulnerable in all age groups that may have comorbidities because of their higher risk of severe disease.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
SENATOR CASSIDY: I will speak as a physician who happens to be a doctor. And I compliment — one, I thank you all for being here. I compliment you for recognizing that this is a public health crisis, which has led to an educational crisis, which has led to an economic crisis, which has led to an employment crisis, a family crisis, if you will. And we only get out of the economic, the educational, the employment, the family crisis if we do something about the public health crisis.
Now, there’s a lot to be said about that, but I’ll just give the local inflection today that I was particularly proud of: LSU and Southern spoke about their partnership, about how they would wish to safely reopen their schools so their children — the students can come back and graduate, but not just that: recognizing that some of the risk factors for having a worse episode of coronavirus infection — the obesity, diabetes, hypertension, minority race — are represented in our state.
We have the ability to not only keep our state healthier, but to learn lessons that will benefit the rest of the nation and the rest of the world. And that will be our unique contribution to unraveling the public health crisis, which therefore makes the education, the employment, the employer, and all other aspects of this that much better.
So again, Mr. Vice President and your team: Thank you for coming. And we, in Louisiana, just look forward to working with you for those solutions.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator.
SENATOR KENNEDY: As I have said repeatedly today, Vice President Pence has been a powerful partner to President Trump, and he honors us with his presence today, as do — as does each member of his entire team. I’ve gotten to know Mike Pence well. He has been a rock, and he has been a rockstar for the American people.
Second and final point: Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, South Korea, Japan, even Vietnam, for God’s sakes, have opened their schools, and they’ve done so safely. And so can America and so should America.
We have lost 30 precious lives to the coronavirus of kids under the age of 15, and that is 30 too many. But the point is: Our kids don’t seem to be as susceptible to the virus as adults. If we used our head, we can open our schools safely. I can promise you that not opening our schools will do our children so much more harm than the coronavirus ever can.
In Louisiana, for many of our children, our schools are the most stable things in their lives, and that’s what we need to work hard on every single day.
Finally, our universities can help us. All of our universities in Louisiana are going to be open this fall. Our public labs have done a wonderful job. Our private labs have done a wonderful job. Many of our university labs have done a wonderful job. But I’m going to challenge our universities today, right here in Louisiana and elsewhere: Step up to the plate. Help us do more testing. That’ll get — help us get elementary and secondary education back on its feet.
Once again, thank you, Mr. President, and thank you to your entire team. And to the governor, I want to thank all of them for giving so much to Louisiana and to America.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Please, Congressman.
REPRESENTATIVE SCALISE: Well, I want to really welcome Vice President Mike Pence to Tiger Stadium. As an Indiana Hoosier, we appreciate that he’s come here today. But Vice President Pence has been here every time we’ve needed him. The Trump administration, top down, every time there’s been — whether it’s a shortage of PPE, additional relief packages — the Trump administration and this task force led by Vice President Pence have been nonstop working to make sure that we have the things that we need to continue to confront this pandemic.
It’s still out there, but we also know that we’ve got to start safely reopening, as Governor Edwards has led the way to show that we can open our schools; that we have to open our schools. It’s not a question of whether or not the schools will reopen; it’s how best to safely reopen.
And today’s roundtable was really informative, as we saw the heads of the LSU system, the Southern System, student body president representing the University of Louisiana system talking about the importance of safely reopening schools. It’s got to be our challenge to ensure that we’re there for our kids to make sure that they can go back to school and they can go back in a safe way. It’s not the same thing to be taught at home.
Not only do they need that instruction, but we’ve seen psychiatrists giving studies, we’ve seen pediatrics studies that have shown the damage it causes to our kids not being in school. So it’s our challenge to make sure that we put the protocols out there to safely reopen. And I appreciate Vice President Pence’s leadership in doing that.
And I also want to thank the Vice President and his whole team. Of course, Admiral Giroir, good to see you back here in Louisiana, but you’re doing a great service to our nation. And CMS Administrator Seema Verma — what they just announced today, don’t underestimate how important that is. When you look at the crisis and the deaths: Over 40 percent of America’s deaths from coronavirus have happened to seniors in nursing homes. They represent less than 1 percent of America’s population, yet account for over 40 percent of the deaths. And as we’ve dug into the data to find out who to protect and how best to protect people all across the country, we know the most vulnerable. And the fact that they’re going to be putting these testing facilities into every nursing home in America is a revolutionary breakthrough.
What you’ve done with Operation Warp Speed to find cures, to find vaccines, the testing that’s being done today, and the red tape that’s being removed by agencies like the FDA, I can’t thank President Trump and Vice President Pence enough for their efforts to lead us through this so that we ultimately find a vaccine, find a cure. But in the meantime — and, by the way, over 70,000 vials of remdesivir that have been allocated to Louisiana from the National Stockpile; thank you for that, Mr. Vice President — but we’re going to continue working at warp speed to address this.
But it’s critical that we reopen our schools, and I appreciate the conversation we had here today to get that done, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, Steve. And before we go to questions, I’d like the Secretary of Education, Secretary Betsy DeVos, to step forward. She has literally been traveling the country, working with states and school systems around America to get our kids back in the classroom.
SECRETARY DEVOS: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President, and thank you so much for convening us here today, for your and President Trump’s leadership during this time. I will just reflect again what so many have said up here in the last few moments: that our kids have got to get back to school. And it’s not a matter of if; it’s just a matter of how.
There are so many ways that we can think outside of the box how to address specific needs. But as — as has been noted, the question of a child’s health is a multi-dimensional one. And we know that too many kids today have been harmed by being at home these last several months. Their mental wellbeing, their social-emotional growth, and particularly those that are most vulnerable among us have been harmed by not being able to continue their learning and continue to be in classrooms with their teachers and their peers.
So I know that Americans are a people of great determination and action and can-do spirit. And this is a great opportunity for adults to step up and show and demonstrate and model grit and determination to ensure that kids can continue their learning come fall. And I and my team and, I know, this whole administration stands ready to help and support in every way we possibly can. And we look forward to all of the creative solutions that we’re going to see across this country.
So, thank you again, Mr. Vice President, for your leadership of this task force and your and the President’s continued commitment to the future of this nation.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Madam Secretary. With that, questions. We’ve got time for a few questions before we have to go.
Go ahead. Please.
Q Could you talk a little bit — you or anyone else up there — talk a little bit more about lessons learned in, sort of, the first wave of (inaudible) and why you’re so confident that Louisiana is better off today than it was in March as you prepared to take this step forwards?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you for the question. I think it’s a good one. And I think — I think the American people were inspired by the leadership of the people of Louisiana and by the collaboration that — that did slow the spread and flatten the curve.
I would tell you, from — from very early on in this pandemic, when we saw the coronavirus first emerge in the Northwest and then in the Greater New York City area, New Orleans was not far behind. And — and we saw a numbers moving very, very quickly. But because of the steps that your governor took, because of the testing resources and personnel we were able to deploy, we flattened the curve. And I’m confident that the people of Louisiana are going to do it again.
And let me say this: The rising cases, which are — which are happening all across the Sun Belt — are serious, but the people of Louisiana, I think, can be comforted to know that we are in a much stronger position to provide the testing, to provide the personal protective equipment, and to provide the medicines that will save lives and also equip our healthcare workers with the means and the capability to deal with those that have contracted the coronavirus.
This is a result, I would say, with the public-private partnerships that President Trump initiated; with the way we established, through FEMA, both an air bridge and also working with suppliers around the country and around the world to create masks and gloves and gowns.
We’ve worked with some of the major manufacturers in this country. We will very soon have constructed more than 100,000 ventilators in 100 days in this country. And when you look at the fact that we’re now at 40 million tests having been conducted, when, early on, it was just the CDC old-style and state labs that were doing tests on a very slow basis; when you look at the hundreds of millions of PPE supplies, which we heard again today are very, very strong in the hospital system across Louisiana; and, as Congressman Scalise said, when you look at the progress that we’ve made in developing therapeutics like remdesivir, like convalescent plasma, like other resources that are literally, literally saving lives all across the country and the progress we’re making on vaccines, I think the American people — I think the American people can be encouraged, particularly the people of Louisiana, that — that while we were there for you before — we made sure the testing and the resources and the supplies and the personnel were all there to see you through — see you through the first fight — that we are in a much better place to be there for Louisiana and for every state that’s experiencing rising cases today.
Question. Go ahead.
Q Yes. Wes Muller with the Louisiana Illuminator. Can you be more specific about the schools reopening? Will it be virtual, in person? (Inaudible.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m happy to let the governor speak about the plan here. We are very encouraged today that Louisiana is making plans to open your K-12 schools on time. And I know, here at LSU and in the Southern System, they produced a roadmap on Friday of last week for bringing students back. But, Governor, did you maybe want to speak to that?
GOVERNOR EDWARDS: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. It is a great question. So, our plan is to open as many schools — K-12, higher education — for in-person instruction, on campus, as we can safely do. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today, I believe, is promulgating rules that will be disseminated down, or guidance that will be disseminated down to the various school districts. I haven’t had a chance to review those, and so I’m not going to try to comment specifically on what they say.
But what I will tell you is: We are going to follow CDC guidelines. We heard from Dr. Redfield yesterday, who heads up the CDC, on a video telephone conference, and he talked about situations that are particularly applicable here in Louisiana, where you have a high degree of community spread of coronavirus and you’re going to open schools. He said one of the things you really have to do is focus on mask usage, especially in those areas where you cannot get the physical distance that you might otherwise want. The universal — and I think he used the word “universal” — mask usage is going to be critically important for the safety of the children, but also of the adults, the faculty, and the staff as well.
We heard from higher education today: It’s going to be a combination of virtual and in-person instruction, and they may be platooning so that if you have a Tuesday/Thursday class, you may be in class on Tuesday, and it may be virtual on Thursday, and so forth.
But — but we can do this. It’s not — it’s not going to be easy. And, quite frankly, it won’t be without controversy. But this is — this is what the situation demands, and we’re going to reopen our schools, Lord willing, on time. And we’re going to do that in just about a month from now.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And let me also say, CDC, from as early as March, issued guidance for — for safely operating schools and has been issuing additional guidance since then. And later this week, we anticipate that Dr. Redfield and the team at CDC will issue additional guidance for parents, for the operation of facilities. But to be very clear: We don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools; that we’re going to respect whatever decisions are made on campuses like this, across the state of Louisiana.
All of us — all of us are going to put the health of our kids, of our faculty, and families first. But as the governor said, we believe we can do this. We know that the risk the coronavirus presents to people under the age of 18 is very low. But we also want to make sure that we have measures in place that protect faculty that may be vulnerable and also prevent kids from — from exposing others or bringing home the virus. So, that guidance will continue to be developed and produced, and we’ll be working very closely with states and school systems around the country to implement plans.
But we — President Trump has said it, we’ll say it again today: We got to get our kids back in the classroom. Go ahead.
Q Mr. Vice President, I was curious: (Inaudible) today talk about getting back to the return of football. It was emphasized by other people. I was curious: What are your personal thoughts on how that might — obviously the setting, how do see that happening?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m very confident that — that our universities can develop plans to safely reopen campuses and restart sports programs.
And as Coach O and I discussed today, I think it’s important — it’s important not just for the student athletes, not just for schools like LSU, but it’s important for America.
I mean, I don’t have to tell all the SEC fans in the room that the American people love football. We love our sports. And we all — we all are prepared to work with — with athletic directors, with universities around the country to make sure that they have the support, the resources, and the guidance to be able to move forward.
But as the Coach said today, they’ve — I think they’ve had their coaching staff back on campus for a couple of months. They’ve had athletes on for a number of weeks. And they’re doing the kind of testing and taking the kind of countermeasures to put health first, and we’re confident we can do that, and we’ll be here to support.
Q The governor has issued a state-wide mask mandate here. Do you think that’s an appropriate step given the level coronavirus cases here? And do you think that’s an appropriate step to mandate schools, either K-12 or college campuses?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think Dr. Birx reflected on some of our guidance for schools, that some of the CDC guidance for schools involves encouraging children and faculty to wear masks where social distancing is not possible.
But with regard to the wearing of masks and the governor’s decision, we’ve had a standing policy since the outset of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and that is that we’re here to support states, and we’re here to support the decisions that are made on a state-by-state basis.
I mean, the reality is that there are many states in the country, many counties across the country where it would not be necessary to wear a mask. But we think it’s always been important from the very beginning to recognize the unique circumstances of each state and each community.
And that’s why I came here today: to make it clear to the people of Louisiana that we support Governor John Bel Edwards and his health officials’ decisions, and we encourage people to heed the guidance of state and local authorities.
And with regard to — to wearing a mask, it’s just always a good idea. It’s a good idea to — to wear a mask, to wash your hands, to practice personal hygiene. And it is — it is the way we can slow the spread, and each one of us can do our part to put the health of others first.
How about one more here?
Q So right now there is an enormous backlog of testing across the country. We are talking to people who are waiting 12 days-plus for their results in Georgia; 23 days in Arizona; 8 days (inaudible) in Washington, D.C.; 10 days-plus in Florida. We just heard from Dr. Birx saying that areas like this where there are certain to (inaudible) gatherings of more than 10 people at a time. We also just saw new internal documents that show the stockpile is incredibly thin.
At a time like this, when these are the circumstances, how is it possible for the Trump administration to demand that people go back to schools? And those larger schools districts that we see that have now said that they will not be going back to school, what are — what is the administration going to do about that? Are they going to withhold funding?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just suggest that some of your facts are simply not correct. The Strategic National Stockpile is very strong, getting stronger every day. I think we have close to 60,000 ventilators alone that are on hand at the Strategic National Stockpile. And we monitor very closely the availability of PPE, not only on a statewide basis, but also in hospital systems. And we’re going to continue to ensure that we have a strong supply of PPE.
But, look, make no mistake about it: With the latest rise in cases, there’s been greater demand on testing. And I’m going to ask Admiral Giroir to speak to that issue in just a moment, because we are — we are encouraging and we’ll be promoting what’s called “pooling” of testing — which he can describe for you — which will allow multiple samples that are taken from individuals to be tested at the same time. And this will allow us to scale testing at a much more rapid rate.
But, look, we — as I said before, we — I think Louisiana is demonstrating today that you can continue to open up your economy and make plans to open up your schools and do all the things that are necessary to protect the vulnerable and flatten the curve. We can — we can slow the spread and continue to open up if all of us continue to do our part.
But make no mistake about it: When it comes to schools — and Secretary DeVos made this point; and the American Academy of Pediatrics made this point very strongly a week ago, some 60,000 pediatricians across the country — is that kids are better off, in terms of their overall health and wellbeing, in school than out of school. The risk of the coronavirus to young people under the 18 — end of the age of 18 is very low.
But it’s important to remember that — that services for kids with special needs, services for kids with mental disabilities, nutrition services are delivered, by and large, at our schools. And so, to make sure that we’re taking care of our kids and meeting all of their needs — as well as making it possible for working families to get back into the workforce, and I think particularly of single parents in this regard — we got to open up our schools. And that’s why President Trump and I and our task force are going to continue to work with governors like yours to get our kids back in the classroom, to get students back on campuses like this one.
But let me — let me let Admiral Giroir come up and speak to the testing issue, because we’re — we’re working literally around the clock to expand testing and make it more available to more Americans every day.
ADMIRAL GIROIR: So, thank you, Mr. Vice President. And really thank you for asking that question, because there’s so many misconceptions about that. So today’s data: Almost 42 million tests have been run in this country. It’s up 700-, 800,000 every day. Twenty-five percent of those tests — approximately 25 percent, come back within 15 minutes. That’s not in the data that you talk about or anyone else talks about.
Another 25 percent of those tests are done at hospital laboratories, and typically that’s returned back within one shift, and certainly within 24 hours.
So we’re talking about the 50 percent of the lab testing, that’s primarily done at the large commercial laboratories, who have done a spectacular job for us thusfar. We follow — every morning, every night — the average, the standard deviation, the range, in every state — state by state and, in many states, county by county. There is no state that the average return time is over five days. Ten states are between four and five days. Ten states are between two and three. And the rest of the states are between three and four.
So, yes, there are outliers. You can find a person who waits 10 days or 12 days, or if they’re doing at another testing site that is sort of not within the system, it’s possible. But the great, great majority of tests are coming back — of those 50 percent — within that window.
What are we doing about it? We are actively working on pooling technologies that are being implemented right now at some of the large commercial labs. That means four tests or five tests done at a single time that will greatly decrease the turnaround times.
Number two, what we just told you about nursing homes: Remember, our testing right now requires about 4- or 5 million tests a month just for nursing homes. That is usually sent to those big labs. So this is going to go from multiple days to 15 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes. This not only improves that turnaround, but it also takes that burden off the big labs.
So, we are going to — in the ideal world, everybody would have a test result right when they got it. And by September and October, the point-of-care tests will actually dominate the market. So just to put it in perspective: Half — half the test within 24 hours; 25 percent of that 50 percent, or half of the half, is within 15 minutes; and we’re moving more and more that way. We are going to constantly improve our testing turnaround.
And just in terms of PPE, 75 percent of states have 60 days-plus in their state stockpiles of all PPE. Seventy-five percent of all hospitals have 15 days-plus of PPE in their supplies within their hospitals. And that doesn’t mean they run out in 15 days; they keep getting supplied. Less than 2 percent of hospitals — we get this report every day — have three days or less, and we focus and target those hospitals specifically.
So this is very data driven, very supply driven. And —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s great.
ADMIRAL GIROIR: — that’s it. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just say thank you again to Governor John Bel Edwards, to Senator Kennedy and Senator Cassidy, and Congressman Scalise. It’s been an informative visit. We look forward to going back and working on the issues that they raised. Particularly, Governor, we’ll be working to identify medical and military personnel that were previously deployed here to Louisiana, and be prepared to make sure your healthcare workers know that help is on the way.
But to every member of Louisiana, on behalf of your President, just — and on behalf of our whole White House Coronavirus Task Force team, we just — we want to make sure you know we’re with you and we’re going to stay with you every step of the way until we put this coronavirus in the past, and we open up this state, open up our schools, and open up America again.
Thank you all.