After a months-long hiatus, the White House Coronavirus Task Force finally gave a briefing Thursday, pleading with Americans to trust a forthcoming vaccine and “remain vigilant” as the pandemic once again surged out of control—but answering no questions.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that Pfizer, one of two drug companies with COVID-19 vaccines that have proven to be effective in clinical trials, will be filing for emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. If approved, Azar said the White House is preparing to ship millions of doses as soon as possible.
“Take the simple steps that the doctors have talked about today, because there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Azar said.
The Thursday press briefing marked the first public appearance for the task force in over four months, despite cases and hospitalizations surging in at least 48 states. Notably, Trump’s favorite coronavirus adviser, Scott Atlas, whom The Daily Beast previously reported has been pushing back on state measures to control the deadly virus, was not there.
At the end of the nearly hour-long briefing, none of the doctors and health experts answered questions—earning shouts from reporters as they exited room.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, urged Americans to keep following public health protocols after officials warned the worst is yet to come with the holiday season and winter looming. To date, the coronavirus has killed at least 250,000 Americans and infected more than 11 million.
Earlier on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, and said residents should gather only with those in the same household (meaning anyone who has been in the same house for the past 14 days).
“Every American needs to be vigilant in this moment because we know when you are, we can stop this spread together,” Birx said. She said that while there are “more cases, more rapidly than what we've seen before,” the U.S. is now more prepared than ever. “We’re asking every American to remain vigilant.”
Birx added that increased test positivity rates showed that community spread was increasing, implicitly debunking the president’s “more testing, more cases” claim. She directly asked Americans to wear masks and practice social distancing—two safety precautions routinely touted by the public health community and discouraged by Atlas.
“In this moment of bringing people together, [we ask you] to really limit interactions indoors, to immediate households,” Birx said. “People are spreading the virus because they don't know they’re infected with the virus.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, took the podium to assure Americans of the “efficaciousness” of the two “extraordinary” COVID-19 vaccines. He pleaded with people to trust Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine candidates, noting that they were made quicker than anticipated but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be safe.
General Gustavte Perna, chief operations officer for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program, said initial distribution of the vaccine would begin within 24 hours after FDA approval.
“The speed of the process did not compromise safety or scientific integrity,” Fauci said, adding that data showed the two vaccines are almost “to the level of what we see with the measles vaccines.” “This is really solid.”
But while he stressed his excitement, he warned Americans to continue being vigilant. While the “cavalry is on its way, you don’t stop shooting,” he said. “You keep going until the cavalry gets here and then you might even want to continue fighting.”
Vice President Mike Pence said hospitalizations have skyrocketed and test positivity rates have risen nationally to 10 percent but the Trump administration doesn’t support a national lockdown or the closure of schools.
Just moments before the White House briefing, President-elect Joe BIden said in his own press conference that his incoming administration also doesn’t support a national lockdown.
“No national shutdown, because every region, every area, every community can be different,” Biden said Thursday. “And so there's no circumstance which I can see that would require total national shutdown. I think that would be counterproductive.”