Is the glass half full or half empty? Do you accentuate the positive or own the bad facts? Do you mention bad news once and then move on? Those were the choices members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force faced during Friday’s public briefing, its first since late April. As it turned out, the briefing contained a mixed bag of information. This was consistent with earlier briefings.
The administration’s political communication strategy seemed designed to put distance the briefing and the fact that the country leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths. In addition, on the same day that the US set a record for most reported daily cases (40,000), one of the White House's goals was to show concern for the virus, but not to the extent that the country should reconsider reopening.
Some of the tactics included holding the briefing without the president. Moreover, the briefing was held at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), not the White House.
Indeed, blocks away, the president was at the White House overseeing an event about job creation.
A Plea for Responsible Behavior
During the briefing, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged the situation's severity. “As you can see, we are facing a serious problem in certain areas,” he said.
Still, he presented his case diplomatically. Fauci refused to place blame for the country’s recent upward-rising curve. Instead, he pleaded with people aged 40 and younger to act responsibly.
"If you get infected, you will infect someone else, who clearly will infect someone else," he said. "Then, ultimately, you will infect someone who is vulnerable - that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, [an] uncle who's on chemotherapy, [an] aunt who's on radiation, or a child who has leukemia."
He added that each person must understand they have "an individual responsibility to yourself but you [also] have a societal responsibility…we can be either part of the solution or part of the problem."
Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx was similarly diplomatic. "No one is intentionally spreading the virus. They don’t know that they're positive. They don't know that they have the virus.” She urged young people to get tested.
Keep on Keeping On
Birx and Fauci urged everyone, including younger adults, to wear masks and practice social distancing and proper hygiene.
Task Force chief VP Mike Pence and HHS Secretary Alex Azar mostly accentuated the positive. Dr Azar said the country has made "remarkable progress [against the virus] ...thanks to President Trump's leadership...[and] every American should feel proud."
Pence’s prepared remarks were similar to Azar’s. “As we see new cases rising, and we’re tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to the place that we were two months ago...The reality is we’re in a much better place.”
More Testing More Cases
Pence also said the country’s increase in testing to 500,000 daily was responsible in part for the rise in reported cases.
During the Q&A, Pence had the difficult task of justifying recent large, indoor events where President Trump spoke recently. One was a campaign rally in Tulsa, the other a gathering of young people in Phoenix June 23. At both venues, mask wearing seemed spotty as did social distancing. Phoenix has mandated mask wearing, though it was ignored at the youth event. OK health officials urged the president to postpone the June 20 rally without success. Cases in OK and AZ were rising as those events were held.
Remaining calm throughout, Pence justified the events. Even during a pandemic, he said, the constitution protects free speech. “We still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process.” In addition, he said the president took “proper steps” in holding the events.
Yesterday, the White House confirmed that Pence will forego large campaign events scheduled for this week in FL and AZ “out of an abundance of caution.” Both states reported rises in cases. As scheduled, Pence flew to Texas today. The Lone Star State posted record cases Saturday.
Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider. Follow him @skarenstein
This story is part of PRNEWS' ongoing coverage of the pandemic.