EVERY HANDBOOK for a public health crisisemphasizesthat open, transparent communication is extremely important. Officials must maintain credibility and public trust. They must not “over-reassure” and should be candid about risks and unexpected events. By this measure, Vice President Pence, who heads the White House task force on thecoronaviruspandemic, has been a case study in irresponsibility.
His op-edpublishedWednesday in the Wall Street Journal rightly called attention to some progress in fighting the virus, but also included a burst of happy talk. Mr. Pence declared, “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy” and took the media to task for worrying about a second wave. “Such panic is overblown,” Mr. Pence said. “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.” Mr. Pence characterized the approach of President Trump as a “success” and “a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”
True, a second wave of the pandemic has not yet begun — but the first wave is still dangerously rolling. Mr. Pence’s soothsaying came the day after nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas — eitherreportednew single-day highs in case counts or set a record for seven-day averages. Hospitalizations in Texas are now at a peak. The pandemic, which struck early in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, is now racing across theSun Belt. In some of these states, including Texas and Florida, the uptick follows ill-advised and premature reopenings. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is preventing localities from imposing penalties for not wearing face masks in public — and the mayors of major Texas cities areimploringhim to reconsider. He should.
Mr. Pence and Mr. Trump earlier this week misleadinglyclaimedthat higher case counts are the result of more testing. In fact, while there is more testing, datashowpositive test rates over the past 14 days are rising, too: 7.9 percent in Texas, 11.3 percent in South Carolina, 14.6 percent in Alabama and 17.7 percent in Arizona. The United States has been stuck at more than 20,000 new cases a day for nearly three months.
Mr. Pence has never shied from over-reassurance. “We’re ready for anything,” heproclaimedMarch 2. They were not ready when the supply chains broke. On March 9, hesaid, “the risk of contracting the coronavirus to the American public remains low, and the risk of serious disease among the American public also remains low.” Since then, 119,348 Americans have died.
In April, Mr. Pencesaidthe pandemic could be “largely in the past” by early June. Here we are in mid-month — and it is not. On June 15, Mr. Pencesaidcases in Oklahoma — scene of Mr. Trump’s upcoming campaign rally — had “declined precipitously.” On June 13, Oklahoma reported its highest one-day total since the pandemic began.
The pandemic is still raging. Try as they might to spin a recovery story, Mr. Pence and Mr. Trump destroy their own credibility by ignoring reality. The American people know this is not “cause for celebration.”