(CNN)US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made comments this week suggesting panic about an increase in infections is overblown. But in nearly half the country, case counts are on the rise. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains where the US really stands today.
The First Wave Is Not Over: Dr. Sanjay Gupta's coronavirus podcast for June 19
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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Sometimes it can feel like people are living in totally different worlds during this pandemic. Some are having parties and taking advantage of newly reopened restaurants. Others are listening to dire warnings from public health officials of a coming spike in infections. So it raises the question: Where does the United States really stand today?
President Trump offered a pretty optimistic outlook on Wednesday in an interview with Gray TV.
Jacqueline Policastro, Washington bureau chief, Gray Television Washington News Bureau: Coronavirus cases are rising in 22 states, including Oklahoma, where you plan to hold a big rally this week. Aren't you worried about people getting sick?
President Donald Trump: No, because if you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It's dying out.
Gupta: And on Tuesday, Vice President Pence gave his own version of where we are. He wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, where he said that the panic about an increase in infections is overblown. Instead, he said we should be celebrating the progress that we have made in tackling the coronavirus.
But what is the true picture of where the United States stands? Today I'm going to directly address some of those claims that have been made by the White House — and also talk about the path forward to combat the virus.
I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. And this is "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction."
The title of Vice President Pence's op-ed is "There Isn't a Coronavirus 'Second Wave.'" Now keep in mind, the vice president is also the head of the coronavirus task force, so what he says carries a lot of weight. I spent all day looking at that op-ed, reading it and rereading it. So I want to share with you some of the assertions he makes in his piece one by one.
First of all, the vice president writes, "while talk of an increase in cases dominates cable news coverage, more than half of states are actually seeing cases decline or remain stable."
That's true — according to the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 tracker, compared to last week, 19 states are seeing a decline in daily cases and eight remain stable.
But it's also true that 23 states have seen an increase in cases week over week. And 10 states saw a record number of new Covid-19 cases this week.
Here's the point. Instead of a true nationwide decline, which is what we hoped to be seeing by now, what we're really seeing is a sort of shift of where the case counts are in this country. Remember, it was largely in the Northeast before, and now it's starting to move. Look at the West, look at the South in particular.
Here's Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, speaking on Tuesday:
Dr. Ashish Jha, faculty director, Harvard Global Health Institute, and professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School: The reality is that the virus is with us. The reality is that the first wave only hit a small number of places. Now it's coming to every other place and coming to a county or a city or a state near you.
And so if you don't live in one of these places that was hit initially, you're about to start experiencing it.
Gupta: So yes, if you only point to the states where cases are decreasing, that would give you a pretty incomplete picture of what's happening in the United States.
And that's significant because we have so many states that are reopening while their cases are still on the rise. Remember, the original White House guidelines from the task force itself, from the vice president himself, said states should have a "downward trajectory" of cases or a declining share of positive tests for a 14-day span before gradually reopening.
Now let's take a look at another assertion from Vice President Pence. He writes that some of the increases in cases we're seeing is a reflection of a dramatic increase in testing.
In fact, he made that same claim on a call with governors on Monday.
United States Vice President Mike Pence: In most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rising number, that's more a result of the extraordinary work you're doing expanding testing.
Gupta: Look, the data just doesn't bear that out. The numbers don't lie. In Florida, for example, testing is roughly holding steady, and yet coronavirus cases are climbing and climbing. There's a real concern in Florida now that it may become the new epicenter of coronavirus in the United States. Take Oklahoma, for example. Cases have continued to go up significantly. But testing rates have actually gone down.
And if that isn't enough, forget about the number of people who've been infected. Let's talk about hospitalizations. They have also gone up in many states. They wouldn't go up in response to more testing. So I think it's pretty clear that the amount of testing going on does not account for the increase in the number of cases.
This is a bit of a counterintuitive point, but I think it's really important. As you increase testing, case counts should go down over time, not up. That's because as you find people who are carrying the virus, you can isolate them and you can hopefully prevent future spread. That's the whole point of testing. It's ultimately to decrease the pace at which the infection is spreading.
And that leads us directly to another assertion by the vice president. He touted the amount of testing we've done, saying, "as of this week, we are performing roughly 500,000 tests a day, and more than 23 million tests have been performed in total."
OK, that's true, according to data from the Covid tracking project. But that doesn't mean it's nearly enough. Researchers at Harvard said that we would need some 5 million tests per day by early June. And we would need 20 million tests per day by late July to safely reopen. That means we shouldn't have even been reopening until we were at that level. Again, we are at 500,000 tests per day, not 20 million.
And I can tell you personally from talking to my colleagues at the hospital — it is still very hard to get tested. Even for people out there who have symptoms, even people who have a doctor's referral for testing may still have a hard time getting a test. That's simply not the way it should be five and a half months into this pandemic.
Here's another claim that the vice president made. He says that panic over a second wave of coronavirus infections is overblown.
CNN news anchor: Pence writing in a Wall Street Journal op ed, "The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different. We slowed the spread. We've cared for the most vulnerable. We've saved lives. That's a cause for celebration."<