WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence warned Friday of a "precipitous" rise in coronavirus infections across the country, 10 days after he dismissed data on rising cases as a media distortion.
Pence urged people, especially young Americans, to take on the personal responsibility of limiting transmission. Pence said half of new cases had occurred in people under 35 years old.
"Now is the time for everybody to do their part," Pence said.
Case numbers are rising in 26 states, and those states account for 62% of the U.S. population, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, with crisis-level hospitalizations in several southern states. This week, the number of U.S. daily infections rose to its highest rate since late April, when hard-hit New York was experiencing a surge.
Pence dismissed the possibility of a new surge of cases in a Wall Street Journal opinion column 10 days ago.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made a plea to Americans to recommit to wearing masks, washing their hands, getting tested and staying at home as a matter of patriotism.
"If you get infected, you will infect someone else, who will clearly infect someone else. ... Ultimately, you will infect someone who's vulnerable," Fauci said.
Fauci said while it's understandable that people feel pent-up, he discouraged crowding into bars or congregating on beaches.
"You have an individual responsibility to yourself, but you also have a societal responsibility because if we want to end this outbreak, really end it — and then hopefully when a vaccine comes, it puts nail in the coffin — we've got to realize that we are part of this process," Fauci said.
Fauci underscored that the virus can spread easily and quickly across state borders. He warned that the new surges in community transmission in the South and Southwest could compromise gains in other parts of the country.
"What goes on in one area of the country could ultimately have an impact on other areas of the country," Fauci said.
The message clashed somewhat with remarks at the same news conference by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who stressed that the picture of rising cases is not as bad as it appears when drilling down to the county level.
Azar said the administration was most focused on the "just 3% of counties that represent hot spots" and urged people to monitor infection rates in their states.
The new urgency of the White House on addressing the coronavirus comes after reports that President Donald Trump has not been engaged with key members of the coronavirus task force for weeks.
The press briefing was the coronavirus task force's first in almost two months. The president did not attend. Trump is scheduled to depart Washington on Friday for his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to his public schedule.
Pence reminded the public about the White House's "Opening Up America Again" guidelines for states resuming economic activity and described the guidelines as a success despite the rising cases.
Those White House recommendations for individuals, which Pence repeated before television cameras Friday, do not include mask-wearing although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges people to wear masks in places such as stores, pharmacies and other spots where social distancing is difficult.
A growing raft of evidence shows masks are among the few public health interventions, along with practices such as keeping distance and washing hands, that can reduce viral transmission before the discovery of a vaccine.
A meta-analysis in The Lancet of 172 observational studies in 16 countries found that the use of multilayer cloth masks could reduce the risk of infection, while a Health Affairs study found that mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia was associated with as many as 450,000 fewer cases over five weeks.