Pence: Coronavirus Task Force to Focus on Nursing Home Compliance, Infection Control

Melanie Arter | March 5, 2020 | 12:04pm EST
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(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday that the Coronavirus Task Force plans to focus on making sure that nursing homes are complying with the new standards of care and infection control standards to ensure that none of the elderly contract the coronavirus.

“We have raised the bar regarding infectious disease control in our nursing homes, and in addition, [Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services] Administrator Verma will explain how we are going to focus all of our inspection resources for the foreseeable future on compliance with infection control standards,” he said during a White House press briefing.


“Generally, we monitor our nursing homes for abuse and neglect, but at the president’s direction, we’re going to focus exclusively on ensuring that those who are in nursing homes, people operating in nursing homes like many of the CEOs we met with today are complying with the new standards to keep our elderly safe,” the vice president said.

That is key, because the virus is particularly deadly among the elderly.

According to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, the median age in Italy of those who became ill was 60 while the median age in Italy of those who died from the coronavirus was 81. No one under the age of 30 died from the virus in South Korea.

“Over the last 12 hours, we have been able to receive information both from South Korea and Italy adding to our China information, and it’s as we thought, the elderly and pre-existing conditions have a more serious illness when confronted with the coronavirus. Reassuringly in South Korea, no one has died under 30. This is reassuring to us, and the median age in Italy was 81 of those who succumbed. Those who became ill, the median age was 60,” she said.

The federal government has enacted a travel ban for those coming from China and Iran. Foreign nationals who visited either country are barred from entering the U.S. for 14 days. In addition, the government has issued a travel advisory for Italy and parts of South Korea. As of Tuesday morning, the government implemented a screening process requiring all passengers on direct flights from South Korea and Italy will be subjected to multiple screenings before boarding flights to come to the U.S.

“As we announced yesterday, I am pleased to report that as of yesterday morning in addition to the travel ban from China, we’ve suspended all travel coming in from China. We suspended all travel coming in from Iran and even foreign nationals who visited either one of those countries are barred from coming into this country for 14 days,” Pence said.

“We also established a travel advisory for Italy, portions of Italy and portions of South Korea over the weekend, but even as importantly, as of yesterday morning, we fully implemented a screening process, all direct flights from all airports in South Korea and Italy are now being subject to multiple screens before passengers board to come to the United States of America,” he added.

As far as testing goes, “now all state laboratories, all university laboratories at the state level can conduct coronavirus tests,” the vice president announced. “Without any additional assets or resources from the federal government, they have the FDA approved tests. They can conduct the test all across the country in all the states. 

“Beyond that, as we announced through the efforts of HHS, 2500 kits of tests are going out this week. That’s 2500 kits, including tests, has gone out this week, That’s roughly 1.5 million tests available this week. We’ll continue to build on that number,” Pence said. 

The objective of the task force is to have the coronavirus tests made available through commercial labs and commercial providers like doctors and pharmacies like CVS.

“We've got hospitals in affected areas and those requesting that have kits. We’ve got universities and state labs that now can perform the test on a requested basis,” the vice president said.

“Our objective, ultimately, and quickly as possible is to have tests made through these commercial laboratories and commercial providers that your local doctor, your CVS, your Med check is able to have a coronavirus test. And that isn't there yet. We are working to make that a reality, but again, it’s one more example. It's not just a whole government approached but a whole America approach,” he said.

HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, who was also on hand at Wednesday’s press briefing, pointed out that the pharmaceutical industry is coming together because of the coronavirus, and he challenged the politicians to do the same.

“And just one last point, and that is, the pharmaceuticals who normally are rivals have worked together voluntarily. Wouldn't that be a great lesson for the politicians?” Carson said.

On Thursday, the vice president plans to visit Washington state, where 10 people have died from the coronavirus. Pence said he has spoken to former Democratic presidential candidate Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee several times since being tapped to lead the White House response to the coronavirus.

When asked whether he has any hesitation on traveling to Washington as far as his own personal health, the vice president said he has “no hesitation at all.”

“I can tell you that the job that Washington state has done in confronting the coronavirus infections in the Seattle area has really been inspiring. They’ve got an outstanding health facility, outstanding health department, and we’re going to be sitting down with all of their health officials, but I'm a real believer just as the president is in sitting down, sitting nose to nose as the president did today with executives and asking the questions, and making sure,” he said.

“The American people expect nothing less. They expect us to be there for that community, and we’ll be bringing the task force to make sure that Washington state has all the support that they need. And that is the purpose of the trip,” Pence added.



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