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Pence: United States will ramp up coronavirus testing amid reopening efforts

By Daniel Uria and Allen Cone
Pence: United States will ramp up coronavirus testing amid reopening efforts
Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday said the United States has the capacity to conduct the number of coronavirus tests necessary to facilitate the White House's plan to reopen states following stay at home orders to prevent the spread of the virus. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo

April 19 (UPI) -- Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday said that the United States will ramp up COVID-19 testing to facilitate plans to lift stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the virus.

The United States had 762,496 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 40,478 deaths, as of early Sunday night, according to figures by worldometers.info -- which is a 3.8 percent increase in one day. On Saturday, there were 1,867 more deaths announced for a 5 percent increase. One week ago, the U.S. increase was twice that amount.

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Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Pence said he believes the United States has the number of tests necessary to begin the three-phase plan to reopen the country outlined by President Donald Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force last week.

"At President Trump's direction we are going to continue to fully partner with governors around the country and health officials in increasing and scaling the amount of testing and we have every confidence that we can have a sufficient amount of testing to be able to reopen America not just in phase one, but continue in the weeks and months ahead to expand testing in ways that will give the American people the confidence and the tools to be able to go back to work," Pence said.

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The reopening plan requires that states exhibit the ability to provide safe and efficient sites for testing and contact tracing in addition to a downward trajectory of influenza-and COVID-like illnesses for 14 days before resuming some activities such as in-person work and outpatient elective surgeries.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who criticized the White House's plan as "vague and inconsistent" on Sunday said Trump has earned "an 'F,' a failure, on the testing" adding the move to test Americans has been "way late."

She also cited comments by White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci stating that the White House plan could be effective if testing is implemented properly, saying the administration has failed to do so.

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"Dr. Fauci's right -- 'if it's done properly," said Pelosi. "It hasn't been and I think when he puts in the 'if it's done,' is an admission that it hasn't been done."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state has the highest death toll in the country, said 507 more people had died from the coronavirus in the state after 540 deaths were reported on Saturday.

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Cuomo said data indicated the state was "past the high point" of the infection as the number of new patients and deaths begins to decline. The percentage change was 3.5 percent,

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"If the data holds and if this trend holds, we are past the high point and all indications at this point are that we are on a descent," he said. "We are on the other side of the plateau and the numbers are coming down."

Protesters in many states, including Michigan which has the third highest death toll in the country at 1,070 deaths, launched demonstrations against stay-at-home orders last week calling for businesses to reopen.

Trump on Friday appeared to encourage these protesters in a series of tweets calling to "liberate" certain states.

"The American people know that no one in America wants to reopen this country more than President Donald Trump," Pence said Sunday. "And in the president's tweets and public statements, I can assure you, he's going to continue to encourage governors to find ways to safely and responsibly let America go back to work," he said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told CNN's State of the Union the curve of infection in the state is beginning to flatten, indicating that her aggressive measures are working to combat the virus.

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"This is an unprecedented crisis that we are confronting as a globe frankly and the harsh way that it's hitting my state means that we've got to be really smart about the actions we take now to protect life as well as the actions we take to reengage," she said.

Michigan ranks third in the nation with 2,391 deaths after an additional 83 were reported Sunday. The increase Sunday was 3.8 percent -- far less than the double-digit increases for several days.

New Jersey is in second place with 4,202 deaths, an increase of 132 for a 3.2 percent increase on Sunday after 230 more Saturday.

The tri-state area, which also includes Connecticut with 1,127 deaths, comprises 52 percent percent of the deaths in the United States.

Connecticut reported 41 more deaths Sunday, a 3.5 percent boost.

Adjacent Massachusetts ranks fourth with 1,706 deaths, including 146 more Sunday, the second highest in the nation behind New York, after 156 more Saturday. The 9.4 percent gain Sunday was less than the percentage increase from eight days ago at 19.5 percent but there were 87 more deaths then.

Another state in the Northeast, Pennsylvania, reported the third-highest number of additional deaths, 135, for a 1,237 total. The increase is 12.3 percent -- highest among the top 10 states in fatalities.

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Another hotspot, sixth-place Illinois, announced 31 more deaths for a total of 1,290 and a 2.5 percent hike.

Florida reported 26 deaths to rise to 774 in 10th place, which is a 3.5 percentage point increase. Twenty percent of the population is at a vulnerable age, 65 and older, according to a U.S. Census estimate last year.

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