Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, urged Americans to be vigilant as the pandemic surges across the country, but Vice President Mike Pence said President Donald Trump opposes lockdowns and closing schools to curb spread of the coronavirus.
The task force briefed reporters Thursday at the White House for the first time since April with new coronavirus cases routinely exceeding 150,000 per day since last week.
“Every American needs to be vigilant in this moment because we know when you are, we can stop this spread together,” Birx said at the news conference. She also advised Americans to limit in-person gatherings to people they live with, with the Thanksgiving holiday a week away.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier Thursday issued guidance advising Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving or gather with people they don’t live with.
She urged Americans to wear masks and practice social distancing, two precautions that have been discouraged by the president and his closest medical adviser, Scott Atlas, who did not participate in the briefing.
Many governors have issued mask mandates and ordered restricted occupancy at businesses as cases and hospitalizations rise. New York City said Wednesday it would close its schools.
Pence said that Trump had told him to to make clear that the task force “does not support another national lockdown” and “we do not support closing schools.”
“We do not need to close our schools,” Pence added.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has endured periodic criticism from Trump, said that “we’re not talking about shutting down the country, we’re not talking about locking down.”
“We’re talking about intensifying the simple public-health measures that we all talk about: mask-wearing, saving distance, avoiding congregant settings, doing things to the extent that we can outdoors versus indoors,” he said.
He said those practices would “hold off” the virus until vaccines are available. A pair of vaccines that preliminary clinical trials have shown to be highly effective, byPfizer Inc. andModerna Inc., are nearing FDA approval.
“If you’re fighting a battle and the cavalry is on the on the way, you don’t stop shooting,” Fauci said. “You keep going until the cavalry gets here and then you might even want to continue fighting.”
General Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to accelerate vaccine development, said initial distribution of millions of the shots would be complete within 24 hours after Food and Drug Administration approval.
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