Vice President Mike Pence told CNN Wednesday that White House modeling suggests "Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States" in terms of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Why it matters: Italy has become one of the global epicenters of the pandemic, with 105,792 cases and 12,428 deaths. Public health experts have warned for weeks that the U.S. would be on the same path if it didn't take drastic measures to stem the spread of the virus.
- The U.S. has 190,089 cases and 4,102 deaths, but with a much larger population. Italy also imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 9, while there are a number of states in the U.S. that have still yet to enact stay-at-home orders.
- Pence acknowledged that the modeling suggested there would be "between 1.6 million and 2.2 million losses" if the U.S. did not implement social distancing guidelines.
What he's saying:
"We truly believe that while some of the initial estimates even in this modeling suggest that without every American putting into practice those guidelines of wash your hands, avoid groups of more than 10, use drive-thrus through restaurants and the like, that we could have literally seen between 1.6 million and 2.2 million losses. But the president also wanted to make it clear that our most recent modeling suggests that with strong mitigation, the range is still -- it's still heartbreaking when we think about the lives that could be lost. And so our message yesterday, our message over the next 30 days, is the future is in our hands."— Mike Pence
The big picture: Asked whether the U.S. has gotten off to a "late start" in terms of responding to the pandemic, Pence argued that "we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming."
- Evidence suggests that if Chinese authorities had acted three weeks earlier than they did, the number of coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 95% and its geographic spread limited.
Pence declined, however, to acknowledge that President Trump repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus: "I don't think the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus," Pence said.
- Trump has in the past compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu, but said on Tuesday that this is "not the flu. It's vicious."
- "Look, the president is an optimistic person," Pence said when pressed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "We've been from the beginning, when the president suspended all travel from China and stood up the White House coronavirus task force in January, we have been hoping for the best but planning for the worst."