WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday offered an upbeat assessment of the status of the coronavirus in the U.S., despite a surge in cases, hospitalizations and more than a quarter of a million deaths.
Pence said President Donald Trump directed that Thursday’s briefing be held. He made his first appearance at the White House podium in many weeks in his role as head of the White House coronavirus task force.
Pence said America “has never been more prepared to combat this virus than we are today.”
During his appearance at the podium, Pence said the task force does not anticipate another U.S. shutdown.
“I’ll say again, no national shutdown. No national shutdown, because every region, every area, every community can be different,” Pence said.
Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, also spoke during the meeting.
“It’s really a moment that we want to call on every American to increase their vigilance,” she said.
Additionally, Birx stressed the importance of wearing masks.
“It is because of spread that we have asked people to wear masks indoors, and to ask people to wear a mask when among others. But sometimes when we go indoors and we’re with friends and family, we just assume that if you look OK, you are OK. And now we know that over 50% of the individuals, particularly among those under 35, many could be infected and unknowingly spreading the virus,” she said.
Hear Birx’s full comments in this video:
Also speaking from the podium was Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. He spoke about vaccines being developed by Moderna and Pfizer, saying both have showed “extraordinary” results.
Still, he encouraged people not to let their guard down.
“We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we are waiting for that help to come, which will be soon,” Fauci said. “If we do that, we’ll be able to hold things off until the vaccine comes.”
RELATED: Biden chides Trump for lack of cooperation on vaccine
This week the companies said their vaccine was 95% effective. Pfizer and BioNTech will seek emergency government approval for their coronavirus vaccine, as the U.S. aims to begin administering doses by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. — a reminder that the nation’s testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.
The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.
Laboratories warned that continuing shortages of key supplies are likely to create more bottlenecks and delays, especially as cases rise across the nation and people rush to get tested before reuniting with relatives.
In recent months, federal health officials have distributed roughly 60 million rapid, point-of-care tests that deliver results in 15 minutes. Those have helped ease some of the pressure on large labs. But not enough.
Since Sept. 15, the daily count of U.S. tests has increased nearly 100%, based on a seven-day rolling average. However, the daily average of new COVID-19 cases has increased over 300%, to more than 161,000 as of Wednesday, according to an AP analysis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
News4Jax anchor Mary Baer contributed to this story.