Washington — Vice President Mike Pence attributed the spike in coronavirus cases in more than a dozen states in part to young people who are failing to follow social distancing guidelines.
"What is happening here is a combination of increased testing — we're able to test a great deal more Americans than we were able to several months ago — but it also may be indication that as we're opening our economy up, that younger Americans have been congregating in ways that may have disregarded the guidance that we gave on the federal level for all the phases of reopening," Pence said on "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
All 50 states have begun phased reopenings of their economies after governors ordered nonessential businesses to close and residents to remain at home through March and April. But some states across the South and West, like Texas and Florida, are now experiencing record surges in coronavirus infections.
Pence was scheduled to attend campaign events in Arizona and Florida this week, but the events were postponed "out of an abundance of caution," the Trump campaign said.
The vice president said the latest rise in coronavirus cases differs from what the country experienced early in the pandemic, when hospitals in New York City were overwhelmed with patients and governors rushed to secure ventilators for those admitted with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
"One of the things that we've heard in Texas and Florida in particular is that nearly half of those who are testing positive are Americans under the age of 35," Pence said. "That's contributing to the fact that those that are requiring to be hospitalized, who are testing positive for coronavirus, is significantly lower than it was two months ago."
It's "inarguable," he added, that the increase in testing "has played a role in the new cases, particularly among younger Americans."
As the coronavirus began to rapidly spread across the country in March, the White House issued guidance to Americans to stop its spread, urging them to work from home and limit social gatherings to fewer than 10 people. But the White House allowed those guidelines to expire at the end of April, and the Trump administration then shifted its focus toward a safe reopening of the economy, which was effectively brought to a halt because of the pandemic.
Now, with cases spiking in some states, governors have begun to issue new restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus again. Texas halted its phased reopening last week, and Florida banned all bars from serving alcohol as it saw a in new cases.
Pence said the Trump administration backs the decisions by the governors of those states to hit pause on their reopenings to curb the number of new infections.
"It's clear across the Sunbelt that there's something happening, particularly among younger Americans," he said. "And that's why we fully support Governor Abbott's decision to close bars and limit restaurants. We fully support steps taken in Florida and elsewhere. And we'll continue to support those efforts."
Pence said the administration also believes people should be wearing masks in instances when they cannot social distance from others, but said mandates on mask-wearing should come from local and state officials.
"President Trump and I, after asking the American people to embrace 45 days to slow the spread, we issued guidelines to reopen America," he said. "And since that day nearly two months ago, we've made it clear that we want to defer to governors. We want to defer to local officials, and people should listen to them."
In the U.S., there have been more than 2.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and more than 125,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.