Vice President Mike Pence urged governors during a conference call on Monday to parrot President Donald Trump's lie that the spikes in Covid-19 cases reported by more than a dozen states across the U.S. in recent days are largely the result of an increase in testing, and do not necessarily amount to evidence that reopenings are causing the virus to spread.
"I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing," Pence said on the call, according to audio obtained by the New York Times. "And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that's more a result of the extraordinary work you're doing."
A readout of the call released by the White House late Monday says "participants discussed the significant surge in testing capacity across the nation" but does not mention Pence's effort to tie the increase in testing to the new surges in Covid-19 cases documented by a number of states as they move to reopen businesses.
Pence's remarks to the nation's governors represent an iteration of Trump's absurd claim Monday afternoon that "if we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any."
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 16, 2020
"Pence is lying," tweeted Harvard epidemiologist and health economist Eric Feigl-Ding. "Positivity is going up, which means case rise is outstripping testing volume."
As the Washington Post's Philip Bump explained Monday:
In six states—Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming—the seven-day average of new cases has increased since May 31 while the average number of daily tests being conducted has declined, according to data collected by the Covid Tracking Project and the New York Times. In 14 other states, the rate of new cases is increasing faster than the increase in the average number of tests.
There are more concrete warning signs in some places. In 10 states, the seven-day average of the rate at which tests are coming back positive has increased more than 2 percentage points since the end of May. In 11 other states, the seven-day average for the number of new deaths is up at least 5 percent since the end of last month.
During the call with governors Monday, according to the Times, Pence downplayed new outbreaks of Covid-19 across the U.S.—and the resulting increase in hospitalizations in several states—as "intermittent" spikes that can be quickly ameliorated and claimed the virus has been effectively contained.
"Four months and 120,000 plus deaths in, the White House is still pursuing a strategy of lying about coronavirus and pushing states to lie too," tweeted Mother Jones reporter Dan Friedman. "This dishonesty has caused increased deaths and will cause more. They are effectively killing people for perceived political gain."