Pence Says Coronavirus Task Force Could Disband in the Next Month
Citing "tremendous progress," the White House said it plans to shift responsibilities to states as they begin to reopen — but COVID-19 cases are still increasing daily
The White House’s coronavirus task force could start to disband in the next month, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Tuesday, pointing to what he called “the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.”
Over the past two months, the task force, led by Pence and consisting of senior White House officials and public health officials such as Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, has laid out plans for social distancing, shared information about COVID-19 and made plans for testing — with varying degrees of success.
And now, as states begin to reopen after governors instituted stay-at-home orders that closed non-essential businesses, Pence said that the responsibilities will begin to shift entirely to federal agencies and states.
“I think we’re starting to look at the Memorial Day window, early June window as a time when we could begin to transition back to having our agencies begin to manage — begin to manage our national response in a more traditional manner,” he said at a Tuesday briefing.
Pence said that he thinks the U.S. has made enough progress for the task force to begin to wind down.
“As I’ve said before, as we continue to practice social distancing and states engage in safe and responsible reopening plans, I truly believe — and the trend lines support it — that we could be in a very different place,” he said. “And by late May and early June — and that probably represents the timetable.”
However, current data does not support such an optimistic outlook. As of Tuesday, there are at least 1.2 million confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 70,000 Americans have died, though the true numbers are believed to be higher than what is known due to a lack of testing. And while the numbers of deaths and hospitalizations are going down in New York, the state with the largest outbreak, the number of cases nationwide are growing by 2 to 4 percent every day, and the number of deaths are still around 1,000 a day.
Additionally, an internal White House document obtained by The New York Times last week showed possible numbers more grim than those publicly reported. President Trump had repeatedly told the country the government projected a death toll of 60,000 through August. The number is now well above that, at 70,000 — and the internal document put the number of expected deaths at 100,000 by June, with an increase of 3,000 cases a day.
Pence said at the briefing Tuesday that they’re having “ongoing” conversations about how to shift the task force’s responsibilities to different federal agencies, including FEMA. He also said, after he was asked about Birx’s role, that they plan to “keep Dr. Deborah Birx around every bit as long as we need to.”
Birx, who was also at the briefing, promised that they would continue to monitor the numbers.
“We’ll still keep a close eye on the data because we have very good data now. It took us a while to build that capacity. And we’ll make sure that, you know, we’re watching that at a federal level,” she said.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.