Pence blames COVID-19 spikes on increase in testing and younger, asymptomatic infections

The White House’s novel coronavirus task force pegged a massive spike in COVID-19 in 16 states on more infections among younger people as well as increased testing.

Speaking at the White House on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence pushed back on whether the record-high numbers in states like Texas and Arizona are due to reopening state economies too soon, even as states pull back their reopening plans.

So far, hospitals have not reached surge capacity, and supplies are still available, he said.

“I think there will be a temptation for people to look at the sunbelt states reopening and putting people back to work and then suggest the reopening has to do with what we are seeing in the last week or so,” Pence told reporters Friday. “They reopened almost two months ago.”

Pence said that what federal officials are observing in Florida, Texas and some other states is more people under 35 years old testing positive.

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“In many cases, they have no symptoms but they are coming forward and confirming they have contracted the coronavirus,” he said.

The task force identified 16 states that are seeing major spikes in cases. Florida, for example, reported that nearly 9,000 people tested positive for the virus, a record high.

Pence’s comments that reopening isn’t to blame comes as the states heavily impacted by the spikes pull back on some of their reopening measures.

Florida, for example, announced Friday that bars can no longer serve liquor. Texas told hospitals they had to suspend elective procedures that systems have been slowly restarting.

There could also be more hot spots than the 16 the task force identifies. Kaiser Family Foundation reported Thursday that there are 26 states with upward 14-day trends in testing positivity rates from June 10-24.

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Governors in the most impacted states have told the task force their hospital capacity “remains strong,” Pence said. “At this point in time, we are told that in all of the states most deeply impacted that hospital [capacity] remains broadly available.”

He said that two months ago they saw that 15% of new cases were being hospitalized, and “now that number is averaging 5% around the country.”

An analysis from The Washington Post published Tuesday found seven states including Arizona and Texas hit new highs for hospitalizations.