University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
3:10 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Governor Abbott. Thank you for those good words, and thank you for your leadership.
From the very outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, represented here today by Dr. Deborah Birx and Secretary Ben Carson, has been working very closely with your administration. And we’re grateful for the — the partnership that we forged.
President Trump wanted us to be here today with the developments over the last two weeks — with the rising positivity, and the rising number of cases — with a very simple message, and that is, to you, to the people of Texas: We’re with you, and we’re going to stay with you. We’re going to make sure that Texas and your healthcare system in Texas have the resources, have the supplies, have the personnel to meet this moment.
The governor and I also talked today about the vital importance of testing. At this point, Texas is testing at an enormous scale across the state. But in our briefing today, we spoke about how we can accelerate testing, accelerate the returns on testing, and we’ll be carrying that back tonight to the Coronavirus Task Force, as well as to our private partners — companies like LabCorp and Quest — to make sure that Texas has the resources to identify this moment.
This has been a helpful ground report, and we’re going to take back the specific request, Governor, that you forwarded to us, your team has forwarded. But I — I want to also acknowledge that — that all along the way, from the time that we first unveiled the “45 Days to Slow the Spread,” cases in positivity in Texas were low and steady. You flattened the curve here in Texas. It’s a tribute to the people of this great state.
But, about two weeks ago, something changed. And we wanted to get a report from you directly about that and make sure that you have the counsel, the resources, and the support to meet this moment.
I also want to commend the governor for — for your decisive action. Reopening this economy, which began in early May, is a tribute to your leadership and the steady progress in — in putting Texas back to work. It’s something every Texan can be proud of.
But with the development of these new cases — as you said, going from 2,000 a day to 5,000 a day; positivity rate going from roughly 4 percent to 13 percent — we’re grateful, Governor, that you’ve taken the steps that you’ve taken to limit the kind of gatherings and meeting in certain places in communities that may well be contributing to the community spread that we’re seeing in Texas and in states like Arizona and Florida and California as well.
Let me add my voice to the Governor’s voice to say, when we — when we issued the Guidelines to Open Up America Again, we laid out a phased reopening plan. Texas took that plan and implemented it here in a safe and responsible way. But there was guidance throughout that applied to all of the phases. And chief among them was that people should continue to practice good hygiene — wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and wear a mask wherever it’s indicated or wherever you’re not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and we would strongly reiterate that today.
I know that roughly half the state is under local ordinances. Strongly recommend if your — if your local officials, in consultation with the state, are directing you to wear a mask, we encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas. And where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, and it will, we know, from experience — will slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Another aspect of this that we’ve observed — and Dr. Birx, I’ll — I’ll turn it over her in a second — is that we are seeing, in Texas and in Florida and in other affected states, a significant number of younger Americans that have contracted COVID. And that — it is a good thing that we know people have contracted it, not because younger Americans without underlying conditions are particularly vulnerable to a serious outcome, but because no American under the age of 35 would ever want to inadvertently infect a parent, a grandparent, an elderly neighbor, or an elderly friend.
And that’s what — that’s what I would say — what Dr. Birx said on Friday to all the wonderful, young people here in Texas is: This is a moment where you really have — you have to — we have to put our arms around and protect the most vulnerable among us, and particularly seniors with underlying health conditions are precisely those for whom the worst outcomes occur.
And so, as we deal with community spread, as we engage in the kind of steps that the Governor has directed here in Texas, we just — we just encourage particularly of all of the younger Americans among us: If you have a concern, whether you have the symptoms or not, go ahead and get tested. And, in any event, it’s a good time to steer clear of senior citizens and to practice — practice the kind of measures that will keep our most vulnerable safe.
But, Governor, again, I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for what you’ve done in this state. When we — when we hear that the — that Texas has the lowest number of fatalities of the major affected states, that’s a tribute to your healthcare workers, it’s a tribute to your people, and, frankly, it’s a tribute to your leadership. Our objective is to keep it that way. Our objective is to save lives as Texas continues to reopen your economy and help to lead this country back to work.
But I want you to be clear: We know we’re all in this together. And, Governor, you know I’m a phone call away. This team stands ready to work with you, to work with Senator Cornyn, and your great delegation in Washington, D.C. We’re going to make sure Texas has what you need, when you need it.
And with your leadership, with the cooperation of the people of Texas, and with God’s help, I know we’re going to — we’re going to blunt this outbreak and we’re going to protect our most vulnerable and we’re going to save lives.
So, thank you, Governor, very much. And with that, Dr. Birx will share a few reflections on what we’re seeing, and she’ll be having additional briefings later today. And she and I will be traveling to a number of other affected states over the next several days.
(The briefing on COVID-19 commences.)
(The briefing on COVID-19 concludes.)
Q Mr. Vice President, I was wondering: With the COVID test positivity rates rising and hospitalizations rising in Texas and in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, why is the federal government only pledging to extend federal funding for the community test sites for two weeks? Why not longer?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ve — when we stood up testing early on, we’d established a number of federally operated sites. There were five states that those were still conducted in, but —
And so, several weeks ago, we consulted with the governor’s office about transitioning what I think were six sites out of more than 600 sites that Texas is operating and operating with the private sector.
But, frankly, in consultation with the governor and at the urging of both of your senators, we’ll be extending that every bit as long as Texas wants us to. This is all hands on deck. We’re going to make sure not only do we continue the testing at those five sites, but if the governor needs additional public resources to expand testing, that’ll be made available.
We’re encouraged, on the supply side, that, in talking with Nim Kidd and the team here in Texas, that, on personal protective equipment, critical supplies that Texas has — believes that they have a significant and abundant amount of supplies. But we told them that, as we continue to build the Strategic National Stockpile, as we continue to operate our efforts at the federal level, that we’ll make sure and backfill anything Texas needs in that respect.
At this point, I think, Governor, you informed us that you suspended elective surgery in four counties. But it was encouraging to hear that only 20 percent of patients in Texas hospitals today have COVID, which means that hospitals have a great deal of ability to expand their capability here. But we’ll make sure that’s the case.
But on the testing front, we’ll — there was a fairly routine winding down of those first test sites that were operated by the U.S. Public Health Service, but that was — frankly, those decisions were set into motion before we saw what was happening in these states. And we’ll continue them every bit as long as Texas needs them.
GOVERNOR ABBOTT: Jack, I’ll add to that. So, beginning several weeks ago, Chief Nim Kidd was working with officials and federal HHS to be able to receive a hand-off of those testing sites so that the State of Texas would have operational control over not just those, but the goal and the capability was going to be able to expand even more testing sites and do even more testing.
So there is going to come a day when those testing sites will be handed over from the federal government to the state, with us being able to have the full capability to make sure even more testing is going to be able to be achieved.
I will add this also, and that is: a partner in this process is UT Southwestern Medical Center. They — they are working collaboratively — both with us, but on their own programs, especially here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — to do expansive testing.
And so there will be no shortage of testing either in Texas or in the DFW region in particular.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. I appreciate the question. Thank you. Please.
Q Mr. Vice President, Governor Abbott said on Friday that his biggest regret was reopening bars too soon. In that same vein, what part of the national response do you wish had been different or could have been better?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ll be honest with you. I serve alongside a President who is always eyes forward. He wanted us to be here in Texas today. I’ll be in Arizona and Florida before the week is out because we want to focus on where we are today.
But I will tell you, when — when you look at the sacrifices the American people made over all 45 days of “Slow the Spread,” I — I think it — it demonstrated the resilience and the character of this country, and, frankly, of the people of Texas.
And it gives us great confidence, as the Governor said, that having flattened the curve before here in Texas, that with the — with the steps the Governor has taken with regard to closing bars; preserving capacity by suspending elective surgery; encouraging everyone in Texas to wear a mask — and we encourage wherever it is indicated by local authorities as necessary or wherever anyone can’t engage in social distancing — it’s the right idea. We’re very confident that we’re going to get through this.
But it’s — we’re entirely focused right now in this moment, and we’re going to — we’re going to stay focused there, today and tomorrow.
AIDE: Last question.
Q Mr. Vice President, (inaudible) on the importance of wearing a mask, and you’ve all exhibited that behavior. Does that need to come directly from the President, from the top? And does it undercut the message of the task force when he has implied that wearing a mask could be a political statement against him? Does he need to actively encourage Americans to wear masks, as you guys have today?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President tapped me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and part of our guidance — Guidelines to Open up America Again — encourage people to wear facial coverings where social distancing was not possible. So, our administration is promoting the practice.
But when the Governor and I talked this week, we talked about the importance, in this moment, of calling on people across Texas: Wear a mask. First, if you’re in the — if you’re in the 50 percent of the state that requires it locally, we encourage you to adhere to local guidance and listen to your local health officials because they’re tracking what’s happening in their community every day, and the guidance they give about when to wear a mask, when it’s appropriate, when it’s necessary is important.
But for anyone: If you can’t maintain social distancing, which is that — if you’re going to be within six feet of people for more than 15 minutes, it’s just a good idea to wear a mask.
And I would add — I thought Dr. Birx made a very compelling comment. And that’s also to say to young people: With everything we see happening here, with the rise of cases, particularly among young people, if you’re going to go see mom and dad, if you’re going to see any elderly friends, it’s a good time to wear a mask just to make sure that no one would inadvertently convey the coronavirus.
So it’s an important message. We’re here to convey it on behalf of the administration, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and the President, and we’ll continue to do that.
But, Governor, I want to thank you again. Thank you for your leadership. We’ll be following up on the discussions that we had, and I appreciate — I appreciate the Senator’s support of the CARES Act legislation, resources. And I’ll reiterate the promise that he quoted, and that is: To you, to the people of Texas, we’re going to make sure you have what you need, when you need it, and we’re going to get through this.
When we look at the path of the coronavirus — everything the people of New York and New Jersey and Connecticut went through, and New Orleans and Michigan — and then the steady state that Texas managed until just the last few weeks, we know we’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get through this together.
So, thank you very much, Governor. Appreciate it.
GOVERNOR ABBOTT: Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thanks.
2:42 P.M. CDT