Pence pledges to ‘lean in’ against spread of coronavirus

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Vice President Mike Pence pledged Thursday that federal officials would “lean into” the fight against the new coronavirus as he visited with a leading maker of masks being used to stem the spread of the virus. He asked Americans to refrain from buying masks unless they’re sick.

“You should know we’re ready and we’re going to continue to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to confront the spread of the coronavirus in the United States,” Pence said after meeting with 3M CEO Mike Roman and Minnesota Gov. Tom Walz at the company’s global headquarters just outside Minneapolis.

“I do have a word to the average American about how you can help as well,” Pence said. “Unless you are ill, you have no need to buy a mask.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams echoed the same message from Washington as he spoke to Fox News ahead of a virus task force meeting at the White House, saying: "My advice to folks: Stop buying masks if you’re part of the general public. Leave them for the health care providers so they can take care of people who are sick."

When asked whether he’s concerned about a shortage of masks, Pence said, "We are ready today but we want to be ready tomorrow."

The vice president has been tasked by President Donald Trump to coordinate the U.S. government’s response to the outbreak, which has put many U.S. communities on edge and scrambled global financial markets. The disease has killed 11 in the U.S. and infected dozens more.

“President Trump and I and members of our task force and industry leaders are ensuring that we have sufficient amounts of testing materials available across the country, whether it be working with nursing home operators across this country or today here at 3M,” Pence said.

He had been scheduled to hold campaign events in Minnesota and Wisconsin on Thursday but scrapped those plans to focus on the coronavirus response.

"It’s assuring to me to be in this room to see all of the coordination that’s going on and the preparations that are being made to protect Minnesota and Americans so we’re just grateful for this visit Mr. Vice President," said Gov. Tim Walz.

Pence boarded a flight to Washington state at about 2 p.m. where he was to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee and state officials.

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The Seattle area has been the region hardest hit within the U.S., with at least 70 confirmed cases and 10 deaths. Most of those who died were residents of Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, a suburb east of Seattle. Researchers say the virus may have been circulating undetected for weeks.

Although Minnesota does not have any confirmed cases of the virus in Minnesota, there are 10 pending tests in the state.

Wednesday, Dr. Rahul Koranne, the president of the Minnesota Hospital Association, said they are preparing for "a surge" of virus patients.

State leaders discuss preparations for new virus, urge residents to take precautions

State health officials are asking lawmakers to approve $25 million in emergency funding to deal with the threat, including $10 million for the Minnesota Department of Health.

"It is critically important for state policymakers … to understand the need for a health care delivery system to deal most effectively with this contagious disease," Koranne said. "State resources will for sure be needed because we don’t know how much will be forthcoming from the federal government or when."

KSTP’s complete COVID-19 coverage