Vice President Mike Pence urged the nation’s governors to share misleading facts about ongoing coronavirus outbreaks in some states during a private call on Monday, according to multiple reports.
During the call, Pence, who leads the White House’s coronavirus task force, downplayed increases in COVID-19 diagnoses in some regions, claiming they were simply “intermittent” spikes of the virus. He later pushed the administration talking point touted by President Donald Trump that the higher figures were merely due to an increase in testing, not actually higher rates of infection. Data, however, shows that seven-day averages of new cases have increased in at least six states since May 31.
“I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing,” Pence said on the call, according to a recording obtained by The New York Times. “And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more resolved by the extraordinary work you’re doing.”
The Associated Press, which also obtained the audio, noted Pence told the state leaders to, with “proper gentleness and respect,” share the “progress that we are making.”
The call comes as the Trump administration continues to downplay the rise in coronavirus cases in some parts of the country. At least 22 states have seen rates of infection increase over the past 14 days as most regions across the U.S. have begun reopening large sectors of their economies.
Trump has also pushed misleading claims that infections are only increasing due to high rates of testing. He said earlier Monday, without evidence, that “if we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”
A readout of the call released by the White House later Monday acknowledges that some states had seen case increases and that Pence had told governors to “provide updates on these situations.”
Both Trump and Pence are scheduled to appear at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday despite calls that the event be delayed due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus among the thousands expected to gather at an indoor arena. Tulsa’s biggest newspaper slammed the event this week, saying it was the “wrong time” while noting it couldn’t “see any way that his visit will be good for the city.”
At least two states, Oregon and Utah, have pushed back their own relaxation of social distancing measures due to a surge in cases in recent days. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also warned residents he was prepared to reverse some regions’ reopenings should businesses flout guidelines meant to avert a second wave of cases.
Despite ongoing concerns about the spread of the virus, for which there is no proven treatment or vaccine, the Times noted Pence urged state leaders to focus on the positives of the nation’s response.
“Encourage people with the news that we are safely reopening the country,” he said during the call. “That, as we speak today, because people are going back to hospitals and elective surgery and getting ordinary care, hospitalization rates may be going up. But according to our most current information, hospitalizations for coronavirus are going down across the country.”
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