White House, CDC Call For Vigilance Amid COVID-19 Surge

By Kevin Stawicki
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Law360 (November 19, 2020, 8:18 PM EST) -- In a unified front, the White House's coronavirus task force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged Americans to remain vigilant amid a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases as the country awaits a vaccine that is expected within a month.

"Help is on the way," said Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the coronavirus task force, citing promising vaccine candidates that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to consider for emergency use authorization within the next few weeks. Nationwide distribution would begin shortly following approval.

"America has never been more prepared to combat this virus than we are today," Pence said during the briefing, highlighting increases in testing, personal protective protective equipment and medical supplies over the last 10 months. "We're going to work around the clock to keep it that way."

More than 1 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported just over the past week and more than 250,000 Americans have died as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Until a vaccine is available, now is not the time for anyone to drop their adherence to local, state and federal guidance regarding social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing, said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert.

"It's really a moment that we want to call on every American to increase their vigilance," Birx said, cautioning the nation to reconsider gathering in large groups and to increase testing of asymptomatic individuals.

Fauci praised the successful vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer achieved through support from the government's vaccine program Operation Warp Speed. On Monday, the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board said Moderna's candidate is 94.5% effective. Pfizer said Wednesday that its vaccine candidate is 95% effective.

"That is extraordinary," Fauci said of the vaccines' efficacy.

He was quick to eschew concerns by politicians and others about whether the vaccines' record development sacrificed safety.

"The process of the speed did not compromise at all safety, nor did it compromise scientific integrity," he said. "It was a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances in these types of vaccines, which allowed us to do things in months that actually took years before."

Fauci, Pence and CDC Director Robert R. Redfield also stressed that the federal government has not and continues not to recommend national lockdowns or school shutdowns, which have been taking place across the country.

"We're not talking about shutting down the country, we're not talking about locking down," Fauci said. "We're talking about intensifying the simple public health measures that we all talk about."

The White House briefing came hours after the CDC made a more pointed call for Americans not to travel during Thanksgiving to slow the spread of the virus.

"We're alarmed," Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's COVID-19 incident manager, said during a press conference Thursday morning, noting the recent spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. "Amidst this critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period."

The agency urged Americans to follow its updated guidelines warning people to reconsider gathering with members outside of their immediate family during the upcoming holiday and to reduce travel. But the guidance is not a requirement, Walke said.

"It's a strong recommendation," he said.

"There is simply no more important time than now for each and every American to redouble our efforts to watch our distance, wash our hands and, most importantly, wear a mask," Walke said.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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