“To be clear, if you are a healthy American, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low,” Pence said during a press conference at the White House. “But it is still a good idea to engage in common-sense practices that are always recommended this time of year.
“It’s a good idea to stay home when you’re sick. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.”
California reported its first death from the virus, raising the U.S. death toll to 11 on March 4.
President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the number of coronavirus cases in the United States increased to 129 on March 5.
“With approximately 100,000 CoronaVirus cases worldwide, and 3,280 deaths, the United States, because of quick action on closing our borders, has, as of now, only 129 cases (40 Americans brought in) and 11 deaths,” he said. “We are working very hard to keep these numbers as low as possible!”
The Trump administration ordered sweeping travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease, barring all foreign nationals who have been to China in the past 14 days from entering the United States.
The administration later expanded the existing ban on travel from Iran in response to the increasing coronavirus cases in that country.
And as of March 3, the administration fully implemented a screening process for travelers from Italy and South Korea. Passengers coming to the United States from all airports in South Korea and Italy are now subject to multiple screenings before boarding a plane.
Elderly More Vulnerable
Pence, who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, met with airline industry executives on March 4 to get more data on airline passengers exposed to the disease.
“If a person is tested as positive for the coronavirus, we’re working with the airlines to get all the information not just about that person, but about who they sat next to and who else was on the flight,” Pence said.
He said he would also meet with cruise-line executives in Florida on March 7.
Based on the data collected from other countries that are most affected, “it does appear that the elderly are most vulnerable, especially those with serious health issues,” he said.
Consequently, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services issued new guidelines to protect the nation’s seniors. The new measures include limiting visitors to nursing homes.
“Reassuringly, in South Korea, no one has died under 30,” said Ambassador Debbie Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, during the press briefing. “And the median age in Italy was 81, of those who succumbed. Those who became ill, the median age was 60.”
Overregulation Played a ‘Dangerous Role’
The task force has also ramped up efforts to expand the country’s testing capacities, which are critical to detecting and fighting the virus. Testing restrictions were lifted on Feb. 29.
“Now, all state laboratories, all university laboratories at the state level can conduct coronavirus tests without any additional assets or resources from the federal government,” Pence said.
“But our objective, ultimately, and as quickly as possible, is to have tests made through these commercial laboratories and commercial providers so that your local doctor, your CVS, your MedCheck is able to have a coronavirus test. And that isn’t there yet; we’re working to make that a reality.”
According to Roger Klein, a health policy expert and policy advisor to the Heartland Institute, overregulation of diagnostic testing “played a dangerous role” in the U.S. fight against the coronavirus outbreak. The rules caused delays in delivery of testing kits, slowing the process of detection of cases, he said in an op-ed in City Journal, a public policy magazine.
“For weeks, the CDC operated the nation’s sole diagnostic laboratory for coronavirus, while testing in the rest of the world proceeded apace,” he wrote. “Complaints about the lack of testing access compelled the FDA to resolve what has become a self-inflicted crisis.”
On Feb. 29, the agency issued guidance expanding the number of laboratories that may use tests that they had independently developed prior to FDA review.
Pence traveled to Minneapolis on March 5 to meet with Mike Roman, chairman and CEO of 3M. The company, a leader in the production of face masks and respirators, has ramped up its production recently as the U.S. market faces a severe shortage of masks.
Pence also traveled on March 5 to Washington state, where coronavirus has killed 10 people so far. He met with government officials and toured the state’s Emergency Operations Center.
Pence told reporters in Minneapolis that the government expanded the testing around the country, but he said, “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”