The US had just hit a single-day record for new coronavirus cases. More than half the states were seeing increases in the rate of new cases. Multiple states were dealing with record numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations. Texas had announced hours earlier that it had to shut down in-person service at its bars again.
And Vice President Mike Pence told Americans that things were going well.
At a Friday press briefing by the White House’s coronavirus task force, the first in nearly two months, task force leader Pence painted a rosy picture of a country steadily getting safer and back to normal.
It was a picture at odds with reality.
Leaving out critical information, Pence delivered a more polished version of the upbeat, all-is-well dishonesty that was a hallmark of previous briefings by President Donald Trump, who did not attend the Friday session.
“Despite what you heard, we are in the middle of a public health disaster,” CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said on air after the briefing.
Pence boasted that “we flattened the curve” – though the curve for the number of new confirmed cases has headed sharply upward again in June after a decline and then plateau in April and May.
Pence said that “what we’re observing today” in Sun Belt states is that many young people who “have no symptoms” are testing positive – though Texas, Arizona, and Florida communities willing to report data keep hitting new highs for people with symptoms serious enough that they need to be hospitalized.
Pence described the Sun Belt situation as particular “outbreaks” occurring in “specific counties” and “specific communities” – declining to emphasize that, as expert Dr. Peter Hotez noted on CNN after the briefing, the places experiencing a “massive resurgence” include some of the most populous counties in the country.
“This is a tragedy, and what’s more, it’s not presented as a tragedy – it’s presented as, ‘We’re doing a pretty good job and now there are a couple of hotspots.’ These are not ‘hotspots’ – these are the largest metropolitan areas in the United States,” said Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.
Pence also claimed that “all 50 states” are “opening up safely and responsibly” – even though about 30 states were experiencing increases in the rate of new cases, and though states reopened without having met the administration’s recommended safety milestones.
And Pence claimed that “to one extent or another, the volume of new cases coming in is a reflection of a great success in expanding testing across the country” – yet many states are seeing rising percentages of positive tests, which are indicative of genuinely rising levels of infection in the community.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that the true number of US cases is likely 10 times higher than the number cases found by testing. Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post on Thursday that “something’s not working” with the current approach to testing. And, as Gupta has pointed out, true success with testing should mean that the number of cases falls over time as infected people are found and isolated.
Perhaps Pence’s most egregious claim of the briefing was his suggestion that the country is finished with the painful part of the pandemic.
“As we see new cases rising – and we’re tracking them very carefully - there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to that place that we were two months ago. That we’re in a time of great losses and great hardship on the American people. The reality is we’re in a much better place,” he said.
Though Pence was right that the current number of daily deaths is substantially lower than it was at its peak, the pandemic is still killing more than 500 Americans a day. The May unemployment rate was 13.3%.
In other words, the loss and the hardship continue.
CNN’s Maggie Fox contributed to this article.