As cases surge, Vice President Pence misleads on coronavirus pandemic

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing on Friday.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing on Friday.MICHAEL A. MCCOY/NYT

Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic at a news briefing Friday and sounded notes of optimism, while acknowledging that cases were rising “precipitously” in the South.

Here’s a fact check of some of his claims.

What Was Said

“As we stand here today, all 50 states and territories across this country are opening up safely and responsibly.”

False. While most states are continuing with their reopening plans, several have paused or reversed course this week as the number of new cases nationally surged to new highs and the virus spread at worrisome rates in a number of places.


On Friday, Texas ordered its bars and rafting and tubing businesses to close, limited restaurants with dine-in service to 50% of indoor capacity, and generally required gatherings of at least 100 people to seek approval. Florida has also banned drinking at bars, while Maine postponed reopening indoor bar service.

Louisiana extended its Phase 2 of reopening for an additional 28 days, maintaining occupancy limits and social distancing requirements for most businesses and houses of worship. North Carolina and Nevada also extended Phase 2, while New Mexico delayed entering it.

Idaho announced this week that it would remain in Stage 4, the last phase of its reopening plan, for at least another two weeks.

What Was Said

“We flattened the curve.”

False. This claim, while true in earlier months, is now outdated. Cases are now rising in the United States. While the seven-day average of new cases had declined and held steady from late April to May, the number began to climb in recent weeks. The U.S. reported 36,975 new cases Wednesday and 41,113 new cases Thursday — setting daily records both days.

Flattening the curve generally “refers to avoiding a collapse in the health care system, which we were able to do in March and April,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, a professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University. “What we’re seeing now is a new surge in cases and more than just cases, it’s serious illnesses.”


Sharfstein pointed to the announcement this week by the Texas Medical Center in Houston that all of its beds in its intensive care unit were occupied as a sign that “we’re in a very bad situation here in June.”

What was said

“In the midst of all of that, I think it always bears saying that because of the great work of our health care workers and because of American manufacturing, no American who required a ventilator has ever been denied a ventilator in the United States.”

True. The New York Times was unable to find any news reports about any patients who were unable to be treated with a ventilator. As of late April, representatives of 30 states told PolitiFact that they were not aware of any cases. A spokesman with the American Health Association said Friday that Pence's claim was accurate "to the best of our knowledge."

What Was Said

“As we reported early on, 34 states across the country though are experiencing a measure of stability that is a credit to all of the people of those states, and when we speak about stability, we are talking about not necessarily states where there are no new cases, but these would be states where there are either no new cases and no rising percentage or no combination of those two things.”


This is exaggerated. Data compiled by The New York Times shows that, as of Friday, the number of new cases are rising in 29 states and Guam, while they are steady in 11 and decreasing in 10 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

What Was Said

“We want the American people to understand it’s almost inarguable that more testing is generating more cases. 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.”

False. Ramped up testing alone does not account for the uptick in cases. Rather, the virus' spread is generating more cases.

“Several communities are seeing increased cases driven by multiple factors, including increased testing, outbreaks and evidence of community transmission,” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified to Congress this week.

If the rise in cases was solely attributable to more testing, the rate of positive test results would decrease or at least hold steady. But while the number of daily tests performed has steadily increased from under 100,000 in March to 460,000 to 640,000 this week, the positive rate had fallen from 10% to 20% in early March to about 4% in early June before climbing back up to 5% to 7% this week.

Increased testing in other countries has not produced the uptick in the positivity rate seen in the U.S. Russia, for example, has ramped up its testing to about 300,000 a day in recent weeks from about 200,000 in May. But its positive rate has continued to hover at around 3% to 5%.


In states with the most severe outbreaks, that trend is starker still. Positive rates in Texas and Florida have increased to 10% to 20% this week from rates that were generally below 10% in May — a reality the Republican governors of both states have acknowledged.

“Clearly you’re seeing this, this is real,” Gov. Rick DeSantis of Florida said during a news conference Tuesday. “Now they are testing more than they were for sure, but they’re also testing positive at a higher rate than they were before. And so that would tell you there’s probably been an escalation and transmission over the last seven to 10 days.”

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas acknowledged the same point.

“If you look at the growth or even the decline in the number of people who were testing positive as well as the positivity rate all the way through the early part of May, Texas was moving in a very productive position,” he said Monday. “Then around the time of Memorial Day, there was an increase, and that increase has maintained for several weeks now, necessitating that next steps be taken.”

What Was Said

“Fatalities are declining all across the country.”

This is misleading. While official death counts are most likely underreported, Pence is right that nationwide, deaths are continuing to decrease, though fatalities are rising or holding steady in several states such as Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.


Moreover, public health experts have urged caution that this will continue to be the case. Asked whether still declining fatalities were because of younger, healthier people contracting the disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told Congress this week that it was “too early to make that kind of link.”

“Deaths always lag considerably behind cases,” he said. “You might remember that at the time that New York was in their worst situation where the deaths were going up and yet the cases were starting to go down, the deaths only came down multiple weeks later,.”