White House task force warns protests may cause spike in coronavirus infections
Washington — Administration officials on the White House Coronavirus Task Force told governors Monday they are concerned the nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in late May could lead to a rise in coronavirus infections.
During a conference call with governors, an audio recording of which was obtained by CBS News from a participant, Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said they're closely tracking coronavirus cases in the wake of the large-scale demonstrations.
The Daily Beast first reported the contents of the Trump administration's call with governors.
"It's an issue our team is following and there is concern," Pence said in response to a question from Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo about outbreaks stemming from the protests. "We respect the right of every American to exercise their First Amendment rights, but we want to encourage them to do so safely."
Birx told governors most major metropolitan areas were experiencing a significant decline in new cases through May and into June. But she said the efficacy of masks worn by shouting demonstrators is unknown and not all protesters were wearing masks, raising cause for concern.
"We are very concerned about some of the age groups that were out, particularly as the protests got more and more peaceful," she told governors, according to the recording. "I saw more and more higher-risk groups on the streets."
Birx also said roughly 70 testing sites in urban areas were destroyed as a result of the violence and destruction of property in some major cities where protests took place.
"All of the governors are going to have to scramble now to make sure there's testing available in those urban areas where they lost a CVS or they lost a walk-up or drive-up situation," she said, adding that governors should alert their residents if a protester in their state or region tests positive for the coronavirus.
Pence urged governors to ensure masks are available to demonstrators and encourage young people participating in the protests not to visit friends or family who are at higher risk of getting infected, either because of their age or if they have underlying conditions or immunodeficiencies, over the next 14 days.
"We're watching it very closely," he said.
Birx told governors during Monday's call that while cases nationwide have declined and stabilized, Arizona, California and North Carolina are experiencing a rise in the number of positive coronavirus tests as testing has increased.
As many states have seen the number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations decline, governors have started a phased reopening of their economies and an easing of restrictions put in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
President Trump, meanwhile, is expected to resume campaign rallies in the next two weeks. The signature events, which draw thousands, were put on hold in March as the coronavirus began its rapid spread across the country.
Pence told governors Monday it was "encouraging" that following Memorial Day, which brought many Americans outdoors to beaches, boardwalks and lakefronts, there has not been a "significant increase" in cases relative to the large crowds that gathered for the holiday weekend.
In the U.S., there have been more than 1.9 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 112,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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