WASHINGTON — As COVID-19 cases spike all across the country, members of the White House coronavirus task force are addressing the public Thursday afternoon.
Vice President Mike Pence is offering an upbeat assessment of the status of the coronavirus in the U.S., despite a surge in cases, hospitalizations and more than a quarter of a million deaths. And Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to allay fears some have about taking a quickly-produced vaccine.
Pence says President Donald Trump directed that Thursday’s briefing be held. Trump did not attend.
Pence says America “has never been more prepared to combat this virus than we are today.” The vice president said Trump had called for the briefing so they could describe the ongoing work of the coronavirus task force and partnerships with states and private partnerships. Pence said that vaccines will be able to be shipped out from manufacturers on the day after a vaccine is approved.
Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, said the efficacy of vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna which have completed clinical trials is "extraordinary" -- 94.5% to 95%.
"That is almost to the level of what we see with measles, which is 98% effective," said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
But Fauci said the only way to truly know how effective it will be in curbing the spread of coronavirus on a large scale will depend on how many people take the vaccine.
"The process of the speed did not compromise, at all, safety nor did it compromise scientific integrity," Fauci said, trying to allay fears for people reluctant to take the vaccine once it is rolled out. "It was a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances in these types of which allowed us to do things in months that actually took years before."
The press briefing is the first with task force members in months. Online records from the White House show that members of the coronavirus task force were last involved in a press briefing in mid-July in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Trump, himself, has been silent on the recent spread of the virus after falsely saying during the campaign that “we are rounding the turn” and that the virus would be little discussed after the Nov. 3 election.
Coronavirus cases have been increasing again, leading several states to bring back restrictions meant to stop the spread. With the outbreak worsening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged Americans against traveling for Thanksgiving.
On Wednesday, the U.S. passed 250,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The total number of U.S. cases approached 11.7 million Thursday. Both numbers are the highest in the world.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, defended the use of masks, social distancing, handwashing and staying away from large groups as ways people can mitigate the spread of the virus now.
Redfield also said K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning safey and responsibly, saying that view is based on looking at the data.
"The infections that we've identified in the schools, when they've been evaluated, were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community and in the household," Redfield said. He added that small, family gatherings where people are comfortable and remove their face masks is where a lot of the spread happens.
"It's not intra-school transmission. The truth is, for kids K-12, one of the safest places they can be, from our perspective, is to remain in school," Redfield said.
More than two weeks after the Nov. 3 election, the Trump administration is refusing to let President-elect Joe Biden receive detailed briefings on national security and pandemic planning that leaders in both parties say are vital to ensure Biden can govern effectively on Day One.
Pence and the task force took no questions from reporters, but some started shouting them at the end of the briefing -- asking not only about not working with Biden's team but also the ongoing efforts by the Trump campaign to reverse the results of the election.