US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 outbreak at the White House on February 26, 2020. - US President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his administration's response to the novel coronavirus, lashing the media for spreading panic as he conducts an evening news conference on the epidemic. (ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Leaked call: Pence tells governors to parrot Trump’s false claims downplaying rise of COVID-19 cases

"If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” Trump falsely claimed on Monday



Igor Derysh
June 16, 2020 2:51PM (UTC)

Vice President Mike Pence urged governors Monday to echo President Donald Trump's false claims that spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country are the result of increased testing in a leaked audio recording obtained by The New York Times.

"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. And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that's more a result of the extraordinary work you're doing," Pence said on the call. "But also encourage people with the news that we are safely reopening the country. 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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The call came on the same day that Trump falsely argued that "if we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any."

However, ceasing testing would not stop the new coronavirus from spreading but rather limit health officials' ability to contain its spread.

"Our testing is so much bigger and more advanced than any other country (we have done a great job on this!) that it shows more cases," Trump added on Twitter. "Without testing, or weak testing, we would be showing almost no cases. Testing is a double edged sword - Makes us look bad, but good to have!!!"

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"Are we still doing this?" Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, replied. "Testing doesn't cause cases. The virus cases causes. Yes testing helps you find cases. And then, if you trace and isolate, you can slow the spread. Our testing is not 'bigger' than any other advanced country. But our outbreak increasingly is."

Data shows that "in at least 14 states, positive cases have outstripped the average number of tests that have been administered," according to The Times.

"There are more concrete warning signs in some places. In 10 states, the seven-day average of the rate at which tests are coming back positive has increased more than 2 percentage points since the end of May," The Washington Post reported. "In 11 other states, the seven-day average for the number of new deaths is up at least 5% since the end of last month."

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Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at Harvard, said the data shows that "Pence is lying."

"POSITIVITY IS GOING UP, which means case rise outstripping testing volume," he tweeted.

Pence has repeatedly echoed Trump's attempts to downplay the risk still posed by the virus, even though several of his staff members have tested positive. The vice president came under criticism last week for posing for a photo with a crowd of maskless campaign employees. He subsequently deleted the photo.

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Pence is expected to appear with Trump at his campaign rally this week in Tulsa, Okla. The vice president echoed Trump's attempts to downplay the potential risk of infection to attendees by arguing that Oklahoma has "flattened the curve."

In reality, Oklahoma reported a record-high number of new cases on Saturday, and Tulsa County reported its highest single-day increase on Sunday.

Despite the attempts of Trump and Pence to assuage supporters planning to attend the event, the campaign will require everyone in attendance to sign a waiver promising not to sue if they contract the coronavirus.

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"I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn't as large a concern as it is today," Bruce Dart, the director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department, told Tulsa World over the weekend. ". . . I'm concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I'm also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe, as well."

Jha warned that the rally was "an extraordinarily dangerous move for the people participating and the people who may know them and love them and see them afterward."


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: iderysh@salon.com Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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Aggregate Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Health Mike Pence Politics Republicans

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