Pierce County Readiness Center
5:48 P.M. PST
GOVERNOR INSLEE: Welcome to Washington State. We’ve just finished very productive meetings with the Vice President. We in Washington are very appreciative of him being here today. He not only helped us with some issues today in our partnership with the federal government, but he has already helped us in recently removing some federal restrictions that would have made it more difficult to have testing for the coronavirus, which we appreciate.
We had very helpful meetings, talking about our ability to increasing the testing capacity for the virus in the United States. We had some great discussions about some of our unemployment compensation issues to help more people who might be quarantined to be able to have assistance. We had discussions about the ability to have additional surge capacity in our medical delivery system and our ability to have immediate help from the federal government with one of our nursing homes and other capacity.
And I think that he has been very remarkably adept at fielding our inquiries, and I know he’s going to go back and help to continue this effort.
I also want to compliment his agency directors, who have been assistance as much personally to me, giving us some additional scientific information. So I think we have a good partnership between the state of Washington and the federal government, and I’m very appreciative of him being here in such short order. Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Governor Inslee. And to your outstanding healthcare team — Dr. Wiesman — it is good to be here. Washington State is on the frontlines of the coronavirus in America, and the people of Washington State should be proud of your state and local leadership, the healthcare leadership, the first responders. The way you’ve come alongside families that have been impacted has really represented the very best standard of care. And all of America’s hearts are with the people of Washington State today.
Governor Inslee, as I told you, President Trump wanted me to be here to ensure the people of Washington State that we are with you and that the full resources of the federal government will continue to be brought to bear as people across the Seattle area and across Washington State deal with the coronavirus.
I do want to — I do want to commend, Governor Inslee, your team’s effort and the seamless partnership that was forged from the very beginning between our administration and your administration here at the state level.
Dr. Wiesman just informed me that he literally speaks to the head of the CDC every day, multiple times a day. We’ve had personnel on the ground, literally, since the first corona case was detected here in Washington State.
And President Trump wanted me to be here to talk to the people that are on the ground, the emergency center earlier today, to talk to policymakers here to ensure that we continue to provide that level of support.
I’m also pleased to be joined by so many members of Washington’s delegation to the Congress of the United States. The good news was today that the United States Senate passed, as the House of Representatives did yesterday, legislation that will provide nearly $8 billion in support.
And I want to thank these members of Congress for their efforts — swift and bipartisan — exactly what the American people would expect in a moment like this in the life of our nation.
The resources, Governor, as we discussed, are not simply resources for federal agencies, but rather there is also considerable investment available for states, like Washington, that are dealing with the coronavirus and also local healthcare providers. And we’re truly grateful for their efforts.
We have, as the Governor just said, forged a strong partnership between the federal government and the state government, and we’ll continue to look for ways to strengthen that in the days ahead.
As I stand before you today, at this moment in time, we have at least 150 cases of coronavirus in the United States, including 70 confirmed cases in Washington State. Among the balance of those, some 49 are Americans that we returned home from China and from being on the cruise ship, the Diamond Princess.
And, of course, as we stand here today, our hearts grieve the loss of 12 Americans. And particularly to those families here in Washington State, please know that you have the condolences of every American and you’re on our hearts for your loss.
While the coronavirus has spread in the Seattle area and new cases are detected around the country every day, the good news is that the vast majority of all of those who have contracted the coronavirus are recovering and doing well. The truth is that the risk of contracting the coronavirus to the average American remains low, according to all the health experts that I have here with me today and that are a part of our efforts at the national and state level.
And while there may be more cases detected in this state and around the country as we continue to expand testing, most cases, the experts tell me, will be mild, will have flu-like symptoms, and the Americans will — involved will fully recover.
We have observed — as you have, Governor, here in Washington State — though, that seniors and Americans with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable to serious disease, and especially following the heartbreaking loss of life at the nursing home in Kirkland. But we’ve taken action to address that, just as you have here in Washington State.
The Director of the Center for Medicaid [Medicare] and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, is with me today. And this week, at President Trump’s direction, we raised the standards for all nursing homes in America with regard to guidelines for preventing the spread of infectious disease. And also at the President’s direction, all 8,000 of our inspectors at CMS nationwide will be focusing all of their inspection efforts at nursing homes on compliance with federal standards for preventing the spread of infectious disease. We want to make every effort to ensure that our seniors and our nursing homes are as safe as possible from the spread of the coronavirus.
And on the subject of testing, we’ve been making steady progress. And I was encouraged to hear, Governor, that — that CDC has been able to provide kits to Washington State to meet your demand. But we know that while — while we’re meeting the demand of cases we know about today, we still have a ways to go to ensure the tests are available for any future cases and also for people across your state and across the country that may be concerned that they had contracted the coronavirus and want to obtain a test.
But I’m happy to report and have you confirm that the CDC has prioritized the delivery of coronavirus test kits to Washington State and to California. And I can assure you, Governor, we will continue to do so.
But by the end of next week, CDC’s test supplier — a company known as IDT — will distribute kits across the country that will enable roughly 1.2 million Americans to be tested for the coronavirus. Those kits will be delivered in just a matter of a few days. By the end of next week, another 4 million tests will be available. But it’s still just a beginning.
As our nation continues to hear of new cases every day, we want to make sure that testing is available broadly. And to that end, President Trump brought together the leaders of the top commercial labs in the country. As we speak, at the President’s urging, they have formed a consortium, and we’ll be working with the leading commercial labs in America who tell us that, in a matter of weeks, through validation efforts that we’ll do through the FDA, they could well be in a position where, in the not-distant future, your doctor, your local pharmacy, your local MedCheck will have access to a coronavirus.
We have a ways to go, but President Trump said early on that we would bring a whole-of-government approach to confronting the coronavirus, and we have. But as the President met this week with the leaders of commercial laboratories, with the leaders of pharmaceutical companies, with leaders of other industries, the truth is: We’re bringing the whole-of-America approach to this and American businesses are stepping up in new and in renewed ways to make sure that we have the resources, including the testing and the development of therapies and, ultimately, in a year and a half, we hope, the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus. And every American should be grateful for that.
With regard to the tests themselves, once again, CMS has already made the changes necessary that — that a coronavirus test is today now eligible for coverage under Medicare and Medicaid. And we’ll be working with these members of Congress to ensure that coronavirus testing is included as an essential health benefit and therefore is covered by all the private insurance in the country as well.
There may still be gaps. We’ll work with policymakers to ensure that the coronavirus is available for anyone who is concerned or suspected to have been exposed. But we’re making great progress in ensuring that this — that this test is available broadly to people across the country.
For up-to-date information on the status of the coronavirus, on best practices for preventing its spread, keeping your own health and your family’s health secure, you can go to coronavirus.gov for the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control.
Our message to families all across the state of Washington is simply this: We’re with you. We are here to help. And we’re going to stay with you every step of the way until the state of Washington and America sees our way through the coronavirus.
We are making progress. As I mentioned, federal assistance was approved by the United States Senate. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation tomorrow as he visits the CDC in Atlanta.
In that same spirit, I’m grateful to report that, on Air Force Two today, through the efforts of HHS, Governor, we’ve delivered 100,000 N95 respirators, over 100,000 surgical masks, more than 2,500 face shields, and thousands of disposable gowns and gloves to assist in making those resources available.
And also, we’re truly grateful that a leading research company made more than 200 doses of an experimental therapeutic medication available for people that are struggling and having severe difficulty with coronavirus. And we have a commitment that those medicines will continue to be made available on a daily basis.
With that, I’d like to introduce the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Bob Redfield, for the latest information and your best counsel to the people of the state of Washington.
DR. REDFIELD: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. First, what I would like to say is that I am really grateful to be here to express CDC’s appreciation for the dedication and efforts of the public health community and the people here in Washington as you begin to confront and continue to confront this outbreak.
I would also want to underscore what’s important to all the citizens of this state. I want them to have great confidence in the judgment and leadership of their governor and their health department.
Right now, the state of Washington is really — as the Vice President said, it’s the tip of the spear. And we are all here to commit CDC’s full support to assist you and work together to confront the challenges that this brings.
We implemented, at the beginning, very aggressive public health measures together to try to slow the spread in our country. You’re now at a stage where we’re beginning to see community transmission. And I just want to say, again, that it’s a privilege that we have, at CDC, to be able to partner with, really, the strongest public health system that we have in this nation, within the state of Washington.
We need to continue to be committed to the importance of early case recognition. And I want people to realize that when new cases are identified, that’s actually a success, not a failure. It shows that your public health community is out there doing their job with isolation and contact tracing.
And as we have one of the challenges to understand how do you really understand how to impact this virus for individuals that don’t actually have symptoms, I will argue one of the most important ways to do that is practice public health and do early case recognition, isolation, and contact tracing. It’s through the contact tracing that you’re going to begin to identify that group.
I also just want to finish by saying that we’re here, in partnership with your health department, to actually learn — because this state is now, as I said, the tip of the spear as we begin to reinforce those control measures that we just talked about for containment, but begin now to implement different mitigation strategies in the population.
And I’ll close by just re-echoing what the Vice President said: that the overall risk of coronavirus to the American public at this point is low. We’re here to work in partnership to help the state of Washington begin to effectively continue to address, as we confront, the community spread that’s here.
And again, I want the individual citizens of this state to recognize and have the confidence that they have, in my view, the best public health community in our nation to lead this effort.
Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Governor Inslee, as the President said, we’re all in this together. And I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to spend time with your team, to have the opportunity to spend time with Mayor Durkan, with King County officials, to hear a report from the ground.
We have — we have a ways to go, but I know we’ll get there together, and I know that we will — we will continue to build on this seamless partnership between the national government, your administration here in the state of Washington, and all the extraordinary health officials, healthcare providers, and first responders that, each and every day, in the weeks leading up to today, have been there for the people in this community.
As the President likes to say, this is an all-hands-on-deck effort, and we’ll continue to bring the full resources of the federal government to support your efforts in the Seattle area and across the state of Washington. And we’ll get through this together.
Thank you, Governor.
GOVERNOR INSLEE: Will you stand for some questions, Mr. Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Certainly.
Q Mr. Vice President —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, please.
Q Can you talk about the federal efforts at the nursing home in Kirkland where most of the deaths here have occurred? Family members held a news conference today and had harsh criticism about the government response thus far.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say that, again, our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their life at the Kirkland nursing home.
And I’m going to recognize Seema Verma, the Administrator of the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services in Washington, D.C., to speak about our efforts. But not only have we raised the national standard, but we’re engaging in a very fulsome investigation in connection with, in cooperation with the State of Washington to find out and get to the bottom of what happened.
And — but I want those families to know that our hearts are with them. And we’re going to continue to work diligently on the behalf of ensuring that that facility is safe and that all nursing homes in America are safe.
ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: Thank you. As the Vice President said, you know, our hearts and minds are with the families and the folks that are at the Kirkland nursing home. You know, I will say this is personal for all of us. In my family, I have a 70-year old, 80-year old, and almost 90-year old. And when people put their families in a nursing home, that’s a — that’s a tough decision. And they want to know that their loved ones are safe and they are secure.
So, in terms of what our response is, is we’re — we’re working with the state, and the Governor and his staff have been terrific. The CDC is on the ground, they’re in the nursing home, and they’re investigating what’s going on.
We will also send in a team from CMS, and we’ll be looking at what the course of action is and what — whether we need to — how we address the patients that are in the nursing home. And we’re doing that in conjunction with the state, so we’ll be making that assessment over the next couple of days.
But I will tell you that our focus is on making sure that the patients that are in the nursing home are secure, they’re safe. We’re working on getting everybody tested in the nursing home.
And the other thing that we’re doing is we’re not just stopping at this nursing home; we’re taking a very proactive approach across the entire nation. The first thing that we’ve done is we’ve put out guidance to all of the nursing homes, explaining to them or reemphasizing the infection control policies and procedures. Every facility in the United States has infection control policies. These have been longstanding policies and procedures that are in place. And so we’re reemphasizing those. There’s training — free training available for all facilities.
That being said, we are also taking the nation’s inspectors and having them focus particularly on infection control. So we’re going proactively into nursing homes. And our goal here is not to be punitive, but to help them be prepared for what may happen and to hopefully prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Other questions?
Q Mr. Vice President, you talked about the infection rates being low. The World Health Organization came out this week, as you know, and said the mortality rate is 3.4 percent. Yet, the President of the United States said yesterday that those numbers are false and that he has a hunch the numbers will be significantly lower. Do you agree with the President’s assessment?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me — we’ll let our expert, Dr. Deborah Birx, address that. I think — I think the President’s point was that the world is still discovering the scope of the coronavirus because many people that contract the coronavirus have no symptoms. And evaluating the data that we have from China, from Italy, from South Korea that — I know the World Health Organization has a number at this point, but I think Dr. Birx, who is our right arm at the White House on this, and, frankly, one of the leading experts in the world on infectious disease, I think is looking at those numbers every day. Do you want to speak to that?
Q But do you agree — Mr. Vice President, do you agree with the President’s assessment? It’s a straightforward question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me — let me let Dr. Birx — I support the President’s judgment that we’re going to continue to learn more about this and that — that, as we learn about how many people actually contract this disease, Dr. Birx, I think your judgment is we may well arrive at a — at a lower number.
But allow me to let you speak to that.
DR. BIRX: Yeah, thank you. Because it’s a really important question because it’s an important question for the public. We know the public is concerned. Everyone who is a mom, a dad, who has a grandmother or a child is concerned about the numbers and what it means.
As we get numbers, country by country, we’ve been able to see in countries like South Korea, where they’re doing broad testing. So they’re finding the mild disease, the moderate disease, and the severe disease. Their mortality is in the 0.5 range, which is significantly less than the 3 percent. The 3 percent is concerning to all of us because we really want to understand where the virus is spreading, who we have to protect, who is the most vulnerable, who needs access to these novel and new development therapeutics.
And so we can really help resource and focus our energies where we know that the epidemic could have the largest impact, which we know, from Italy, the median age of people who succumb to the disease was 82. The numbers that were found to have the disease were in their 60s, which means they’re still missing a lot of low-grade disease in younger individuals.
The good news from South Korea, at this point, is they haven’t seen mortality or people dying or children dying. Not in China — no one died under 10. And, in South Korea, so far, no one under 30.
But these numbers will continue to change, and we want to really emphasize again that not only are older people vulnerable, but people and young children that may have immunodeficiencies or other diseases also have to be protected. And so that’s why we’re asking communities — these kinds of problems are solved when communities are working with state and local governments and federal governments together with one voice.
And together, we’re translating everything that we know down to the community level, so people can make decisions for their families. And so, right now, the spectrum — the average is what you — what you said. But I don’t like averages; I call them the “tyranny of averages” because it lumps everybody together. And what we want to understand is who needs our help the most and how we prevent future death from this disease.
Q If the mortality rate does stay at the 3.4 percent, what do you have in place, plans in the future, to stop the spread of this virus?
DR. BIRX: Well, I think two things that really are important: One, the President held a meeting with pharmaceutical companies to really see who had promising therapeutics. So we’re looking at this as a bridge. We know we need a vaccine. We know it’s going to take a matter of months, to a year, to a year and a half, potentially, depending on how difficult vaccine development is.
But we heard from companies that were making therapeutics that they’re in trials right now, here — right in the Seattle area — to really look at a promising drug to see if they could help change that mortality number. There are also companies talking about what we call “monoclonal antibodies.” Those of you who are older remember getting an injection of immunoglobulin before you traveled overseas; it’s capturing that in a new technology to really see if that’s, again, a bridge to prevention, as well as treatment.
So all of these are being explored in a stepwise manner to really get to what you really — we all want is decreasing the mortality from this illness. But we won’t know the numbers that you ask about until we really understand the depth and breadth of the illness in communities like this. It’s why we wanted to come here.
Q Mr. Vice President, of the $8 billion that’s been appropriated by Congress, how much of that money will come here to Washington State, the epicenter of the epidemic?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I can tell you that it was a — it was a priority for the President that we not only support federal agencies in this legislation; that we recognize the vital importance of medical supplies, the state response; that we fund research and development, that we continue to fund vaccines, as Dr. Birx just said, and the development of therapeutics, which we believe will be available much more quickly than vaccines, which could be another year and a half before they’ve been fully tested and approved.
But, at this point in time, about $3.1 billion will be made available in the legislation alone for the — for the purchase of medical supplies and those, of course, directly benefiting state and local health authorities. But there’s some assistance for small businesses that are impacted, like in the Seattle area.
And I want to commend these members of Congress for the swift and substantive and thoughtful and balanced approach that they took passing this legislation. We think it is — we think it is a reflection of, really, the very best of what Congress can do for the American people. And to do it as swiftly as they did, the President I are both grateful.
Q (Inaudible) dollar figures — specific dollar figures from anyone there?
GOVERNOR INSLEE: (Inaudible.) The Vice President has assured me that this will be distributed entirely fairly, which means 50 percent for Washington and 50 percent for the rest of the nation (inaudible). (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Jeff.
Q Thank you. Governor Inslee, a question for you. Jeff Mason with Reuters. You tweeted last week that after a discussion — or during a discussion with the Vice President, you told him that your “work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.” Do you still feel that way? And did you raise that with the Vice President today?
GOVERNOR INSLEE: No, we didn’t talk about that today. I think everybody agrees here that we want to have the best science. I think there’s been a unanimous opinion of everybody here today in that regard and I do believe that’s very important going forward.
I want to tell you, I think we are hearing good science. Dr. Ridgefield [sic] has helped us out. Dr. Fauci, who I spoke with this afternoon has provided us some really useful information and I think that’s very helpful to us. We’re getting good information from the agencies of the federal government and we appreciate that.
I know there’s this issue about the mortality rate. I just want to suggest that we do not have the luxury of having debates of that nature right now.
We all agree that we need to ramp up dramatically our ability to find this disease and get more tests in the field. We all know we got to have all points on hand to increase manufacturing for our personal protective devices. We all know that we have to have a very vigorous effort to try to develop a vaccine as fast as humanly possible. And I’m just pleased — and I think we have a good consensus about those things.
So we got to roll up our sleeves, and I think this has been a good day to do that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Jeff.
Q The Vice President had a lot of nice things to say about your response.
GOVERNOR INSLEE: I’m sorry?
Q I’m just — I said the Vice President was very complimentary of your response. I’m just wondering how would you judge the response by President Trump?
GOVERNOR INSLEE: I’m going to defer the answer to that question to the Vice President.
Q It was for you, sir, respectfully.
GOVERNOR INSLEE: Look, I’ve had more than a — very robust disagreements with the current President. But I — I want to focus today on the work we need to do in partnership. And I can tell you that I think that this is a good partnership moving forward. I think that we have a very good partnership and thousands of people in the federal government, and we’re not going to allow some disagreements with any one individual in that government to dissuade us from doing really important work for — that are life and death issues for the people the state of Washington.
And I’m pleased with the results of our collaboration today. That’s what I’ll tell you.
Q Can I please get from one of the medical experts: Do we expect more testing?
Please. Do we expect more testing — right? — with the ramped-up capacity. With that, there is research that suggests that we’ll see a lot more positive tests. What can you tell the American people, the people of Washington about what they should prepare to see and why they shouldn’t panic when they do?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Do you want to speak to that?
DR. BIRX: We will see more positive tests. And that is a really critical point: that we have more detection because this will give us real information and that’s really why we’re here. We know that this particular area is suffering. You saw the really difficult issues of the elderly and the frail succumbing to this illness.
We do believe, on the other side, that there are people with mild illness. And unless we find them also and understand where they are, it will be difficult to change the transmission dynamics.
So we’re very interested in finding every case, sick or not sick, so that we can understand how this virus is transmitted. Early on in epidemics — and it’s only been two and a half months — you only see the most desperately ill because those are the ones who come forward; those are the ones who are seen. We want to see those behind — that we can only find by testing.
And so, the American people should actually be encouraged when we find mild cases and we find more flu-like cases because it will give us a real understanding of how to better respond to the epidemic.
MS. MILLER: All right, thanks guys.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much.
6:20 P.M. PST