VP Pence aims to 'lean into' fight against coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence
Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence walk off of Air Force 2.
Carlos Gonzalez | AP Photo 2019

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. Tim Walz at the company's global headquarters just outside Minneapolis.

“We're going to be working with members of Congress to see if we can ensure sure that all of what 3M creates here, some 35 million masks a month could be available to our health care providers,” Pence said.

“I do have a word to the average American about how you can help as well,” he added. “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."

The vice president has been tasked by President 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.

Pence later was headed for Washington state, where he was to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee and state officials.

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.

MPR News reporter Peter Cox contributed to this report.