Pence, Abbott Address Texas' COVID-19 Response, Urge People to Wear Masks

Vice President Pence and Gov. Greg Abbott were joined Sunday afternoon by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Dr. Deborah Birx and Sen. John Cornyn

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was joined Sunday by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force to address the state's response and needs amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

They appeared together at a news conference from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The governor and Pence, along with Dr. Deborah Birx, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) all reiterated the importance of wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.

"We need to understand COVD-19 has taken a very swift and dangerous turn in Texas over the past few weeks," said Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott addressed the measures he took last week to halt the reopening of the state after hospitalizations increased from more than 2,000 to more than 5,000.

When he announced his plan to open Texas in late April, Abbott pointed to the state's positivity rate, which had dropped to about 6% down from a high point of 15.85%. He cautioned that a sustained trend above 10% would be a "red flag."

The rate, which indicates the percentage of positive cases reported over a given period of time, had climbed back up to 13.23% on Friday when Abbott announced a plan to close bars and scale back restaurant dining.

"Despite the increase, and the spread of the coronavirus, Texas still has the second-lowest death rate of the top 27 most affected states in the country," Abbott said.

The task force said they've seen an increased rate in hospitalizations among people between 20 and 40, who could then go on to infect older populations and others who may be more vulnerable.

Birx, addressing the concerning rise in cases, said people in that range are the primary asymptomatic group, which tells them there are many infections among that demographic and that they are hitting vulnerable people.

As the task force convened at UT Southwestern, Dallas County released its coronavirus case numbers for the day, which have climbed steadily upward.

The county reported 570 new positive cases and one death, and echoed Birx with a note that an increasing proportion of cases are being diagnosed in people between 18 to 39. Since June 1, more than half of the cases in the county have been in that age group, officials said.

"I'm really appealing to every Texan to wear a mask," Birx said. "We know now there's scientific evidence that masks both keep you from infecting others but may also partially protect you from getting infected."

"I know that roughly half of the state is under local ordinances, strongly recommend that if your local officials in consultation with the state are directing you to wear a mask, we encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas," Pence said. "When you can't maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea."

Pence arrived at Dallas Love Field around 10 a.m. and spoke on the tarmac with Abbott, Cornyn, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Carson before heading to First Baptist Dallas for a “Celebrate Freedom” event.

Following introductions from Carson and First Baptist's Robert Jeffress, Pence took to the microphone at the church’s event, which is described as “an annual celebration of America’s freedom and spiritual foundation."

Jeffress, the pastor of the 14,000-member Southern Baptist church, is one of President Donald Trump’s leading allies among conservative evangelical Christians.

During his speech, Pence spoke about his faith and commended Abbott for his "courageous and compassionate leadership for the people of Texas during this challenging time." He also talked about law enforcement and said that "most of those who put on the uniform" are the "best people in this country."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was joined Sunday by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force to address the state’s response and needs amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.

On the death of George Floyd, Pence said that there was "no excuse" for what happened and "justice will be served."

Floyd died in May after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

He then went on to say that there was no excuse "for the rioting, looting and violence that ensued" in the aftermath of Floyd's death.

"Burning churches is not protest. Tearing down statues is not free speech. There will be no tolerance for vandalism or violence in the United States and we will prosecute those who do it to the fullest extent of the law," Pence said. "That's how we defend freedom."

Pence said Friday during a briefing by the White House's coronavirus task force that he would be visiting Florida, Texas and Arizona to receive a "ground report" on spiking cases of COVID-19 across the region. The three states' Republican governors have come under criticism for pushing for aggressive reopening after virus-related lockdowns as cases in the states rise.

Confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Texas continued to surge on Sunday with the state reporting 5,357 new cases.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the new number of cases reported Sunday brought the state's total to 148,728 confirmed cases. Also Saturday, health officials said 27 more deaths were reported from the virus, bringing the state's total to 2,393.

Pence called off campaign events in Florida and Arizona this coming week as the states experience a surge in new coronavirus cases.

Pence will still travel to those states, which have set records for new confirmed infections in recent days, the White House confirmed, saying he will meet with governors and their health teams.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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