Vice President Mike Pence delivered a new presentation to the Daily Caller and other media outlets Tuesday on the latest strategies and data the White House task force is employing to combat COVID-19.
Pence first addressed his Monday call with all 50 governors, during which plans to reopen state economies and expand testing capacity were reviewed by Dr. Deborah Birx and other members of the task force.
“The American people should be very proud of what they accomplished over the past few months,” Pence told the room. “The sacrifices that families, businesses large and small made have slowed the spread of the virus.”
Birx added the U.S. will be emphasizing a sentinel surveillance strategy to get a better picture of where and how the disease is spreading in the U.S. She also told reporters that asymptomatic spread is much higher than previously understood, making workplace testing and the monitoring of nursing homes all the more necessary.
“We want to find an outbreak before it occurs,” Birx said. “That’s why you have to actually do sentinel surveillance, not just diagnosis and contact tracing of the people who present with symptoms, and so a lot of our data every day is is based on doing that.” (RELATED: Asked Whether China Censored Early Coronavirus Data, Senior WHO Official Said He ‘Didn’t Look’)
Sentinel surveillance is a more focused method of data collection in which only specific, highly-qualified labs and clinics are recruited to report on “specific health events that may be generalizable to the whole population.” One such health event, for example, would be determining the prevalence of asymptomatic spread.
The Vice President noted that as testing scales up, total infections will also surge. He clarified, however, that the overall positivity rate will decrease, as is happening in every major metropolitan area except Chicago. Pence also pointed to a decrease in new hospitalizations for coronavirus as a sign mitigation efforts are working. The first week of April saw 40,000 new coronavirus-based hospital visits compared to less than 25,000 during the month’s final week.
The the task force is also investigating ways to speed the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Trump said the initial timelines put forward by drug companies were “unacceptable,” according to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. As a result, the administration created Operation Warp Speed, a Manhattan Project-style program that will provide funding for and compress the timeline for private sector vaccine efforts.
“We don’t want to rely on a single vector, or a single technology,” Azar explained at the briefing. (RELATED: White House Bars Coronavirus Task Force Members From Testifying To Congress In May)
Trump’s goal for the program is to produce a million COVID-19 vaccine doses by fall 2020 and 300 million by January.
“That is a goal that would be unprecedented and historic to achieve that,” Azar said. “It is important to remember this, it would be unprecedented and historic to achieve this, in bio medical development, [it has] never happened before.”
Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and Azar added that the compression efforts will see the administration accelerating approval for successful candidates based on preliminary efficacy data, so that mass production and later stage clinical trials take place at the same time. Both Azar and Hahn assured Daily Caller that the government has the facilities to potentially manufacture hundreds of millions of doses simultaneously to meet the president’s delivery goals, and that all safety measures would be followed in producing the vaccines.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid administrator Seema Verna additionally announced at the meeting that in accordance with the White House’s reopening guidelines, CMS is taking extra steps to ensure the safety of nursing home residents. Not only will CMS ship personal protective equipment to 15,400 nursing homes across the country, but will also increase reimbursement for testing costs and coronavirus therapies in nursing homes.
Finally, Pence addressed reporting from New York Times suggesting the White House has plans to scale back the task force’s oversight in the coming weeks. Pence confirmed that discussions on a Memorial Day window for winding down the team are taking place but stressed they are all preliminary and that nothing has yet been finalized. He added that Dr. Birx would likely remain in her role as task force response coordinator even if the task force is disbanded.
This is a developing story and will be updated