Pence absent from Covid-19 planning calls for more than a month

When Vice President Mike Pence first took charge of the White House’s coronavirus task force, among his earliest moves was establishing a standing call with all 50 governors aimed at closely coordinating the nation’s pandemic fight.



a man wearing a suit and tie: Vice President Mike Pence is not expected to be on the line again Friday, when the group holds its first governors call since Oct. 13.


© Patrick Semansky/AP Photo
Vice President Mike Pence is not expected to be on the line again Friday, when the group holds its first governors call since Oct. 13.

Yet as the U.S. confronts its biggest Covid-19 surge to date, Pence hasn’t attended one of those meetings in over a month.

Pence – who has been touting the Trump administration’s response effort on the campaign trail for weeks – is not expected to be on the line again Friday, when the group holds its first governors call since Oct. 13, said a person with knowledge of the plan. It’s a prolonged absence that represents just the latest sign of the task force’s diminished role in the face of the worsening public health crisis it was originally created to combat.

Once a driving force behind the White House’s coronavirus messaging, the group hasn’t held a collective press briefing in months. Inside the West Wing, task force members’ growing alarm over the virus’ resurgence has gone largely ignored. And among health officials on the front lines, there is mounting consensus that the federal government has little new aid to offer – leaving states to face the pandemic’s third and potentially worst wave increasingly on their own.

“There’s not any acknowledgment or appreciation of the severity of the surge,” said an official in one governor’s office long frustrated with the federal response. “The stark reality that we’re facing is the White House – from top to bottom – has stopped governing and is only campaigning.”

The task force’s shrinking stature comes amid warnings that the nation is headed toward its darkest days since the beginning of the pandemic, as cases hit record highs and hospitals across several states struggle to deal with a fresh crush of Covid-19 patients.

After peaking at more than 85,000 cases in a single day last week, the U.S. is now averaging around 71,000 new daily diagnoses – the highest point so far this year. Hospitalizations are on the rise too, reaching numbers not seen since mid-August.

It’s a more expansive outbreak than during previous waves, when the coronavirus swamped the Northeast in April and tore through the South and West in July. On Thursday, cases were increasing across three dozen states.

Hospitals in states like Idaho, Utah, Texas and Wisconsin, which had been left relatively untouched by the pandemic in its early days, are now at risk of being overrun – with governors preparing to have the National Guard repurpose convention centers as field hospitals. In Montana, the nearly 300-bed Kalispell Regional Medical Center found itself so short-staffed earlier this month that it stopped quarantining employees exposed to Covid-19.

Indiana, meanwhile, has nearly 1,700 people in its hospitals and 470 patients in the ICU, the latter figure up 70 percent

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Illinois starts planning for COVID-19 vaccine as cases surge

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — While battling a recalcitrant coronavirus pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday started laying plans for distributing a safe and effective vaccine.

But other than saying that a vaccine would go first to health care providers, long-term care residents and other vulnerable populations, Pritzker, at his renewed daily COVID-19 briefing, offered few details, saying much depends on what the federal government ultimately approves to prevent the virus.

“The challenge of designing a plan now, of course, is that there’s so much about the vaccines that we don’t know,” Pritizker said in Chicago. “The most defining characteristic of this plan is that it’s adjustable as we go forward and learn more.”

Details such as whether a vaccine will require one or more than one dose to be effective, whether it needs refrigerated storage or could be stored at room temperature, and even how vaccine delivered in large containers will be broken down for specimens to be shipped to small health care facilities will affect the state plan, Pritzker said.


Talk of a coming vaccine offered a bit of good news rarely available from the Democratic governor in the past week, after record-setting days for new infections and tighter restrictions starting in the coming days for parts of the state.

The Illinois Illinois Department of Public Health reported 69 new COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday, the highest single-day total since June 16, among 4,352 new infections, the next-to-highest single-day total.

Deaths now total 9,345 among the 355,217 confirmed cases.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration has suggested that the earliest a vaccine would be available is by year’s end. That simply would mark the start of the rollout process for the states, said Dr. Ngoze Ezike, state health department director.

“Vaccinations, once they arrive, will take many, many months at the minimum to actually get into the arms of the people of Illinois,” Ezike said. “So this will unfold in phases, with initially only a small amount of vaccine available, and as production ramps up more individuals will be able to avail themselves of this countermeasure.”

Health care centers will register to be vaccine providers and order it through the state, Ezike said. The vaccine will not be required, but the health department will publicize its availability and its benefits. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of the population will need to be vaccinated to establish an acceptable level of “herd immunity” to prevent ongoing widespread illness.

There will be no charge for the vaccine, she said.

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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