- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 28, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday told Texas it will get whatever it needs to expand testing and combat a coronavirus surge that’s forced Gov. Greg Abbott to close bars and scramble for hospital beds after a nation-leading push to lift lockdown rules.

“We’re with you, and we’re gonna stay with you,” Mr. Pence told Mr. Abbott, a Republican, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “We’re going to make sure that Texas and your health care system in Texas have the resources, have the supplies, have the personnel to meet this moment.”

Mr. Pence visited Dallas as part of a tour of states that are seeing a huge spike in COVID-19 cases, raising questions about the speed with which governors in those places reopened. The vice president will head to Arizona on Tuesday and Florida on Thursday.

Mr. Pence on Sunday praised Mr. Abbott for taking aggressive measures to reopen Texas for business, though acknowledged that things have taken a turn for the worse.

“Two weeks ago, something changed,” Mr. Pence said.

Cases have spiked from an average of 2,000 per day to more than 5,000 a month ago. Over 13% of Texas tests are returning positive, up from around 4% a month ago. Health experts say a rate of 10% or more suggests officials aren’t detecting and isolating enough cases within the community.

“We need to understand that COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks,” Mr. Abbott said.

“If you don’t need to get out,” he said, “there’s no reason to go out at this particular time.”

Worldwide, coronavirus deaths topped 500,000 Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

About 1 in 4 of those deaths — more than 125,000 — have been reported in the U.S. as the country has recorded a series of single-day records for cases and surpassed 2.5 million infections overall on Sunday.

The Sun Belt spike is partly due to increased testing but has come with surging hospitalizations and high percentages of people testing positive. Many of the cases are in younger people in their 30s, meaning they are less likely to die than older people who fell victim to the disease months ago.

Young people may interact with a vulnerable person, however, and scientists fear any infection can cause long-lasting problems in survivors.

Like Mr. Abbott, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to close bars in his state amid fears that young people were not obeying social distancing rules.

Mr. Pence on Sunday said the U.S. is in a better situation than it was in March and April, when the virus ripped through the country.

“We’re in a much better place to respond to these outbreaks than we were four months ago. Today we are now testing 500,000 Americans a day,” Mr. Pence told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Speaking at First Baptist Dallas, a megachurch led by Pastor Robert Jeffress, the vice president was equally optimistic, saying “each day we are one day closer to the day we put this pandemic in the past.”

“We’ll bring Texas and America back bigger and better than ever before,” he told the church at its annual “Celebrate Freedom Sunday.” “We will put the health of the people in the Lone Star State first and every single day we will work to reclaim our freedom and our way of life.”

Democrats say the administration needs to buckle down and focus on stamping out the virus instead of being cheerleaders for the economy.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been criticized for a now-scrapped March directive that sent thousands of recovering COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes, said that the White House was “basically in denial about the problem.”

“They don’t want to tell the American people the truth and they don’t want to have any federal response except supporting the states,” Mr. Cuomo told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that the country is “long overdue” for a national mask-wearing mandate to combat the novel coronavirus.

“My understanding is that the Centers for Disease Control has recommended the use of masks but not required it because they don’t want to offend the president,” Mrs. Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week.”

She said that President Trump needs to wear one to set an example

“Real men wear masks,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “Be an example to the country and wear the mask. It’s not about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting others.”

Mr. Pence wore a mask during his Texas visit, except when speaking publicly, and urged Americans to wear one when they cannot maintain social distancing. He also said people must follow local rules on mask-wearing.

Even as Democrats blasted the administration’s response, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar repeated Mr. Pence’s assertion Sunday that the nation is in a far better position now than when the pandemic was declared in March.

“Things are very different from two months ago,” said Mr. Azar on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We now have three therapeutics. We have hospital capacity. We have reserves of personal protective equipment. We’re speeding our way towards having vaccines. So this is a very different situation.”

At the same time, Mr. Azar stressed that “the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control.”

Mr. Jeffress’ church encouraged congregants to wear masks and take other precautions at Sunday’s service, and many did, though former Vice President Joseph R. Biden faulted Mr. Pence for promoting a large indoor gathering amid the pandemic.

“Vice President Pence’s trip to Dallas epitomizes the dismissive attitude this administration has taken in addressing this crisis from the onset,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign said. “Our leaders should be tackling this pandemic head-on and laying out concrete recovery plans for the American people — not jet setting across the country to hold events that go against basic public health guidance.”

Mr. Pence received better reviews from Mr. Jeffress, who told Mr. Pence to stay in Washington four years from now.

“We are praying that when you have finished your term in 2024, we don’t want you moving out of the West Wing, we just want you to move down the hall a few doors and continue to build on the legacy of the most faith-friendly president in history,” the pastor said.

Beaming from the stage, Mr. Pence told congregants to let their faith guide them through an unprecedented challenge for America.

“It is good to be back in church,” he said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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