CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Vice President Pence Holds Press Briefing At Westminster Baldwin Park Facility
Westminster Baldwin Park
12:25 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks everybody. Good to be here with Governor DeSantis. Westminster Baldwin Park is really an extraordinary facility. Not a single coronavirus case in this facility. That’s a — that’s a testament to these extraordinary healthcare workers that we just had an opportunity to address. I want to thank Shirley and Fanley for the great work that you’ve done here.
Early on in this pandemic, we recognized at the White House Coronavirus Task Force that seniors with serious underlying health conditions were most at risk for heartbreaking outcomes to this virus.
And early on — it would be March 4th that Seema Verma at the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, at the President’s direction, actually ordered all of the infectious disease standards at nursing homes around the country to be raised to the highest level. We also deployed all 8,000 of our inspectors across the country to focus exclusively on making sure that our nursing homes were living up to those new standards to protect the most vulnerable.
And we are going to continue to make sure the people that are caring for the most vulnerable today, tomorrow, and every day in the future have the resources and the support that they need.
Governor, the boxes that we arrived with today were brought here on Air Force Two, but they’re just simply part of the delivery of similar personal protective equipment that’s going, as we speak, to 15,400 nursing homes across the country. And, Governor, our pledge to you is we’re going to continue to make sure that your healthcare workers, including those who serve in nursing homes and long-term healthcare facilities, have the resources to protect themselves while they’re protecting the most vulnerable.
But let me just say again to Shirley and to Fanley and the whole team here: Thank you for the extraordinary work that you’ve done. You really have set the highest standard here at Westminster Baldwin Park. I know the people of Florida are proud and grateful. But on behalf of your President and on behalf of people all across this country, thank you for caring, thank you for loving these people, and thank you for the standards that you’ve lived out here.
And with that, it’s a pleasure to be here with Governor Ron DeSantis. Governor DeSantis, from early on, made a priority of seniors here in Florida. Your administration recognized the unique challenges that seniors, particularly those with underlying health conditions would have, to coronavirus.
I know while we were raising standards at the national level, you were implementing limitations on people entering nursing homes. You created new standards; you enforced those. And let me just say, Governor: We’re really grateful for your leadership.
And now, as Florida begins to open up again in counties across the state, following — following your best information, your best analysis, we’re going to continue to partner with you to protect our most vulnerable but to get Florida and America back to work.
So, thank you, Governor. It’s great to be here with you. And thanks for your leadership.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Well, thanks, Mr. Vice President, for coming. Appreciate this. You know, we’ve really viewed — if you look at the statistics nation- — or worldwide now, probably 50 percent of more fatalities from this are coming in long-term care facilities. So we saw that data early, and we did do things like — and they’ve done it religiously — require everyone, all staff, to be screened every day: temperature check, ask questions, to make sure they’re not bringing it in.
We also prohibited COVID-positive patients from being sent back to these facilities. Obviously, some states forced that. I think that was a really bad thing. So we were able to do that here.
We also started sending a lot of PPE, and this is very important. And the thought was: Here we are, sending all this to hospitals, which is important, but if you can give the PPE to, really, the frontlines, these facilities, you will have fewer hospitalizations if they’re able to do that. So we’ve now, in Florida, sent more than 10 million masks, more than a million gloves, and more than half a million face shields just to long-term care facilities in the state of Florida.
We had — and this facility here has not had a single infection. We have over 4,000 facilities in the state of Florida, and I think at least 3,500 of them have not seen one single case. That is really phenomenal for them to do. What we did start seeing was some asymptomatic staff come in — so no fever, would pass the questions, and then you’d end up seeing spread, usually amongst the staff first.
So we did — so I created 50 National Guard strike teams. They partnered with the Florida Department of Health. And they go to the facilities, usually the ones that are the most risky in terms of their infection record. So you guys wouldn’t probably be on the list because you’ve done such a good job. So we send them there, they test, and then you’re able to isolate anyone who’s infected.
We also did the first mobile lab. We created an RV with a Cepheid 45-minute rapid test. So that mobile lab goes around Florida, they go out, they get samples, they run them. You get the results in real time. I mean, some of the labs take 24, 48, 72 hours, which is, okay, you want the result. You get that result right there. If you have a couple positives, you can isolate them appropriately. And so I think that that’s something that’s been very, very important for us with this testing. So we’re going to continue doing that.
And I can tell you, in the state of Florida, right now, today we reported — we reported a bunch of tests — like 75,000. I think there were 400-some positive, maybe 500. It was 0.67 percent positivity rate. And if you look throughout, you know, that’s been pretty consistent.
I can tell you, in Florida, particularly outside Miami and West Palm and Broward, when you see cases crop up, it’s usually related to a prison or a long-term care facility at this point. We’re not seeing any kind of spikes from the general public. And even Miami and South Florida, you definitely see a decline from where they were. Miami reported 69 cases today. At their height, they were at 500 in early April.
So that is really — but this is a discrete issue that requires certain focus. We’ve done that from the beginning. But I’ve told my folks in all the agencies, this has got to continue to be the tip of the spear.
So as we do do things to get people back to work, we’re not going to stop doing this. In fact, we’ll probably be doing even more. And I think that’ll make a big difference.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right. Thank you, Governor. And I really think Florida has set the pace. I mean, you have a large senior population here. And the way you’ve deployed testing, the way you implemented and echoed federal guidance is commendable.
And let me also say, as I recognize Seema Verma who leads the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and has done a phenomenal job seeing to the protection, particularly of seniors around America, let me also just say thank you to our seniors. You know, I was back in Indiana not long ago and wasn’t able to go see my mom. I mean, it’s been hard for people to forgo seeing their moms, their dads, their grandmother, their grandfather, a loved one.
But for the seniors, for family members who have been willing to adhere to the guidelines that have been issued at the federal and the state level, we just want to say thank you. Thank you for being a part of the success that you’ve had here in Florida.
We grieve for the loss of life here in Florida. We grieve for the loss of more than 90,000 Americans, and their families are in our prayers. But — but we know the steps that Americans have taken. We know the steps that people have taken to make sacrifices in the opportunity they have to be with family members, and the steps that seniors have taken have — have saved lives. And we admire you and are grateful for you every day.
Seema, did you have a quick word?
ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: Sure. Again, just want to say thank you to the staff here that’s done a terrific job. And Governor DeSantis, your leadership has been amazing to see you implement the federal guidelines. And you — you’ve just shown leadership in terms of separating patients, isolation, all of those techni- — techniques make a really big difference.
And we know that this has been particularly hard on families, being separated from their loved ones. Just this week, we put out reopening guidelines for nursing homes that will help guide state and local efforts to reunite families with their loved ones. I think those procedures are calling for testing and screening, a lot of the things that Governor DeSantis has already done in the state.
So we’re looking forward to families being reunited with their loved ones, and we know that that’s so important for quality of life. Thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Any quick questions —
Q Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — for me or for the governor?
Q Some states are not being so transparent about the cases in their long-term care facilities and other operations. Does that concern you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, from very early on, our administration has made a priority of protecting the most vulnerable, beginning with seniors with serious underlying health conditions, and having the best information about the conditions that people are facing has been absolutely essential to that.
And what I can tell you — and, Seema, you can respond to it — we’ve literally been working around the clock to get real-time information on hospitalizations and real-time information on compliance. As I mentioned, we have more than 8,000 inspectors around the country, and Florida has been a tremendous partner with us every step of the way. But we’re going to continue to work with every state in the Union to make sure we have that information so that we can — as the governor said, not just today, not just in this pandemic to this point, but going forward, we’re going to continue to surge supplies and testing, and do the kind of surveillance in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities that will prevent any outbreak among our most vulnerable.
ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: Well, I think President Trump has had a longstanding commitment to transparency — quality, transparency, price transparency — and this is no different.
We changed the regulations to require nursing homes to inform families and residents of the facilities if there’s COVID vi- — COVID virus in the nursing home. Very unprecedented. They — it’s never been done before. And we’re also requiring nursing homes to report information directly into the CDC. That information is just starting to be collected and we will be making that public at the end of the month.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Great. Any other questions? Go ahead.
Q Mr. Vice President, on that issue of transparency: Florida recently dismissed a worker who was adding data to the state website about coronavirus cases. I’m wondering, Mr. —
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: We should just have me take that. He doesn’t know about it.
Q Well —
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: So, let me just — first —
Q Well, can I ask my question first?
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Okay.
Q I know that you’ve addressed this before, but there is a question on why the state asked her to remove data that had already been put —
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Right. So, first of all — okay? — so, one, she’s not a data scientist; she’s somebody that’s got a degree in journalism, communication, and geography. She is not involved in collating any data. She does not have the expertise to do that. She is not an epidemiologist. She is not the chief architect of our web portal; that is another false statement. And what she was doing was she was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data. So she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors. She had many people above her in the chain of command. And so then — so she was dismissed because of that and because of a bunch of different reasons about she did it.
Come to find out, she’s also under active criminal charges in the state of Florida. She’s being charged with cyberstalking and cyber sexual harassment. So I’ve asked the Department of Health to explain to me how someone would be allowed to charged with that and continue on. Because this was many months ago. I have a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. So her supervisor dismissed her because of a lot of those reasons, and it was a totally valid way. But she should’ve been dismissed long before that.
Our data is available. Our data is transparent. In fact, Dr. Birx has talked multiple times about how Florida has the absolute best data. So any insinuation otherwise is just typical partisan narrative trying to be spun. And part of the reason is that because you got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York: “Wait two weeks, Florida is going to be next, just like Italy. Wait two weeks.”
Well, hell, we’re eight weeks away from that, and it hasn’t happened. Not only do we have a lower death rate — well, we have way lower deaths generally — we have a lower death rate than the Acela corridor — D.C., everyone up there. We have a lower rate — death rate than the Midwest: Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio. But even in our region — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia — Florida has the lower death rate. And I was the number-one landing spot from tens of thousands of people leaving the number-one hotzone in the world to come to my state.
So, we’ve succeeded. And I think that people just don’t want to recognize it because it challenges their narrative. It challenges their assumption so they got to try to find a bogeyman. Maybe it’s that there are black helicopters circling the Department of Health. If you believe that, I got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
AIDE: Last question.
Q Are you considering banning flights from Brazil as infections rise there?
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: I can’t do that. So that would be a question for the Veep.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We’re watching very carefully what’s taking place in South America, including in Brazil. We saw in recent days there was a significant spike in cases. And the President has made it clear that we — we’re considering additional travel restrictions not just including Brazil, but other countries.
I mean, it’s always important to say that before we had a single case of community transmission in the United States, President Trump suspended all travel from China in late January. It was at the same time he stood up the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
It’s undeniable — while that was partially criticized by many partisans, it’s undeniable that that bought us invaluable time to stand up a national response to partner with states to be able to take the steps that we’ve taken that we know saved lives; to partner with states and, more importantly, to partner with the American people to slow the spread. We have flattened the curve.
Florida has done a truly remarkable job here because the people of Florida stepped up. Your governor, your administration stepped up. You implemented the guidance not just for nursing homes, but for every American.
And — but travel restrictions were a part of our strategy early on. The President would not only restrict travel from China, but screen all passengers from there; screen passengers ultimately from South Korea, Italy; and then suspend travel from Europe, the UK, and Ireland.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: When you guys did the China restrictions, you know, there was thing in the media saying, “Oh, well, 40,000 or 50,000 Americans came back after that.” That’s true, but they were all monitored. And the —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: — Hubei people were all self-isolated. So I had Floridians on the West Coast waiting for 14 days, testing neg- — then they came back. The ones who were in other parts of China were allowed to come back to Florida, but CDC gave the information to our department of health and they were monitored for 14 days. And some were — ended up testing; fortunately, most of them didn’t come back positive. But that was something that was being done all across the country, even for the Americans.
And obviously, we want the Americans to come back, but it’s not like the floodgates just opened and people came.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: All those folks were being monitored. And, you know, the one thing I would also add just about, kind of, what we saw in Florida —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And 11 — 11 different airports were screening —
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Yeah.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — any Americans that were returning from the affected areas of China.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: In Florida, if you go back and look, you know, the hospitalizations in, like, the last week of February, we were probably about 88 percent full with all our beds.
At the height of the pandemic, we were closer to 50 percent full. I think we were 55 — you hover between 50 and 55 percent. So, you know, we actually gained capacity during the pandemic. We were never threatened with hospitals being overrun.
And today, we have the fewest numbers of COVID patients on ventilators that we’ve had since the — since the month of March. So those trends are obviously good for us.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me — let me say thank you again to the great team here, to Shirley and all the wonderful nurses. I hope you will give them our thanks and our gratitude, and give all the residents here our love.
And, Fanley, just thank you for this outstanding team. The way you’ve responded to federal guidance, to the state’s guidance has represented the highest level of care, and we want to commend you for that and thank you for that.
And we’ll keep the help coming and we’ll get through this. The truth is that as we see Florida and states around the country beginning to open up — all 50 states in America have now begun to partially open up — it’s because of what the American people have done, it’s because of our partnership with governors like Governor DeSantis, and it’s because of the leadership that President Trump provided from early on. We have a ways to go, but we can see light at the end of tunnel.
And, Governor, we thank you so much for your strong leadership here, particularly on behalf of our cherished seniors here in Florida. And to them again, I want to say thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices that you have made and your families have made during this challenging time. And God bless you all.
12:43 P.M. EDT
* This article was originally published here
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