- The Washington Times
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday the federal government will swiftly dispatch doctors and nurses to Arizona after Gov. Doug Ducey pleaded for 500 additional personnel to tame an explosion of COVID-19 cases and a rise in deaths.

“Help is on the way,” Mr. Pence said after a stop in Phoenix, part of a weeklong tour of states that are getting walloped by the coronavirus and will be critical to President Trump‘s fortunes in November.

Arizona on Wednesday reported 4,878 cases and 88 deaths from the previous day. Both numbers are single-day highs for the state.

More than one-fifth of tests in the state are coming back positive, suggesting widespread transmission. Experts say the positivity rate should be 10% or less to ensure public health agencies are detecting enough cases.

Mr. Pence said hospital capacity in the state “remains manageable,” but he was directing the Department of Homeland Security to send personnel.

“We’ll be moving out on that very quickly,” Mr. Pence said. “We’re going to make sure Arizona has whatever it takes.”

The Arizona crisis is part of a broader trend across the Sun Belt. Florida, Texas and California also are reporting major increases in cases, underscoring the perils of reopening economies before a vaccine is available.

Pfizer Inc. reported progress on that front Wednesday. The drug manufacturer said it is “encouraged” by data showing its vaccine produced antibodies, especially in participants who received two of its 10-microgram or 30-microgram shots and showed high levels of antibodies after 28 days.

“We remain hopeful that even before the end of this year, we’ll have a vaccine available for the American people,” Mr. Pence said.

Pfizer, whose stock price rose on the news, is one of several companies reporting good early results in the race for a vaccine that can return life to normal.

While they wait, governors are retreating from plans to reopen their economies in the face of a pandemic that has killed nearly 128,000 in the U.S. and more than 500,000 worldwide.

Mr. Ducey, a Republican, closed bars and gyms and limited large gatherings through at least July 27.

“Our message to Arizonans today is clear: They are safer at home,” Mr. Ducey said. “If they do go out, we want them to mask up. We want them to physically distance. We want them to wash their hands. We did take some actions to slow the spread of this virus.”

The vice president urged Arizonans to do their part by wearing masks “when indicated by state and local authorities or when social distancing is not possible.”

“The more we all do and to support the public health measures that have been put into effect, the faster we can get Arizona’s economy growing and get kids back to school,” Mr. Pence said.

Mr. Trump said Wednesday that he doesn’t have a problem with masks and he would wear one if he found himself in a crowd without enough distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Democrats and public health experts have called on Mr. Trump to issue a forceful endorsement of masks as reported transmission rises in about two-thirds of the states.

“I’m all for masks. I think masks are good,” Mr. Trump told Fox Business.

“If I’m in a group of people where we’re not 10 feet away — but usually I’m not in that position,” he added. “And everyone’s tested, because I’m the president they get tested before they see me. If I were in a tight situation, with people, I would absolutely [wear one].”

Mr. Pence wore a mask as he visited Dallas for an update from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday. He is scheduled to meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday.

Florida and Texas are among several states seeing a positivity rate for COVID-19 above 10%, according to the covidexitstrategy.org tracker.

By contrast, New York saw a positivity rate of 1.1% from tests conducted on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The state reported 625 cases and 18 deaths.

It’s not clear whether the Empire State, which saw the most deaths by far at the height of the pandemic, can maintain its positive trends as it attempts to reopen. Mr. Cuomo said New York City will not reopen indoor dining as planned this week, citing fears it would drive transmission.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is set to face Mr. Trump in the November election, is among high-level Democrats faulting the federal response amid the surge. He accused the president and Mr. Pence on Wednesday of trying to “wish this pandemic away.”

“Americans made the sacrifice of shutting this country down for several weeks to give the government time to put a plan in place to reopen safely. The president didn’t do that, and everyone is now paying the price for his refusal to lead in a crisis,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said.

A CNBC/Change Research poll released Thursday showed Mr. Trump trailing Mr. Biden, 51% of 44%, in Arizona.

The same poll found voters in Arizona and five other states critical to Mr. Trump‘s electoral fortunes give him poor marks on his handling of the coronavirus, with more than half saying he pushed states to reopen their economies too quickly as a way to improve his reelection prospects.

While Sun Belt states see a spike in cases, 35% of voters in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin blame Mr. Trump for an increase in hospitalizations caused by the virus.

The poor grades underscore the peril the pandemic poses to Mr. Trump‘s campaign, which was upended by the virus discovered in Wuhan, China, in December.

The president had been planning to run on a strong economy but is now forced to cheer on a recovery from the pandemic, even as the U.S. records more than 40,000 new cases per day.

Mr. Trump has defended his efforts, saying his decision to restrict travelers from China at the start of February saved lives. He also has highlighted the number of tests the U.S. has performed compared to other countries.

The administration also says it’s advanced medically, with drugs such as remdesivir showing promise in treating the disease.

The U.S. this week said it had secured nearly all of Gilead Sciences’ supply of remdesivir through September. Other countries are reportedly miffed by the news, as they battle their own outbreaks.

“They’ve got access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there’s nothing for Europe,” Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University, told The Guardian.

A vaccine is considered to be the only tool that can stamp out the virus completely. Mr. Trump started a campaign, “Operation Warp Speed,” to improve collaboration between the government and the pharmaceutical industry on a vaccine.

Pfizer said it is hoping to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of 2020 and potentially more than 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

Another company, Moderna Inc., said in May that participants in a Phase 1 trial showed antibodies on par with that of coronavirus survivors. Researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, who are working with AstraZeneca, also have reported a positive immune response to their candidate.

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.