On Tuesday, Vice President Pence triumphantly rejected the idea that the country was seeing a second spike in coronavirus cases as the pandemic continued. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, he outlined the data that made him confident that things were improving.

“Every state, territory and major metropolitan area, with the exception of three, have positive test rates under 10%,” he wrote. “And in the six states that have reached more than 1,000 new cases a day, increased testing has allowed public health officials to identify most of the outbreaks in particular settings — prisons, nursing homes and meatpacking facilities — and contain them.”

“Lost in the coverage is the fact that today less than 6% of Americans tested each week are found to have the virus,” the article continued. “Cases have stabilized over the past two weeks, with the daily average case rate across the U.S. dropping to 20,000 — down from 30,000 in April and 25,000 in May. And in the past five days, deaths are down to fewer than 750 a day, a dramatic decline from 2,500 a day a few weeks ago — and a far cry from the 5,000 a day that some were predicting.”

A week later, nearly all of the verifiable claims Pence made are incorrect or have eroded significantly.

We can start with those numbers about new cases. The seven-day average of new cases as of Sunday was nearly 27,000, an 18 percent increase since Pence’s article was published and back above the May average he cited, undermining his claim that cases had “stabilized.”

The day Pence’s essay was published, five states were averaging more than 1,000 cases per day. There still are. Those states are Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas. Although national daily case totals were once largely a function of cases in New York and New Jersey, the recent increase has been driven in large part by Arizona, Florida and Texas, which are adding between 12.5 (Texas) new cases for every 100,000 residents and 32.8 new cases (Arizona).

It is also not true that only three geographic locations had rates of new positive tests below 10 percent. On June 16, there were 10 states alone. Now there are 13.

The number of tests being conducted has increased, but, over the past few weeks, so has the percent of those tests coming back positive. Nationally, the seven-day average rate of positive tests has increased from 4.6 percent on June 16 to 5.2 percent on June 21. That’s again largely a function of the increase in Arizona, Florida and Texas, where nearly 13 percent of tests are coming back positive. That’s well below where New Jersey and New York were in early April, but those two states are now seeing an average positive rate of about 1 percent each day.

Comparisons between where we are and where we were depend on the time frame one considers. To that end, we created a tool allowing you to compare new cases, tests, the rate of positives and deaths by region over time.

Show changes in seven-day average in
over the past 14 days.

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The one point of Pence’s that still stands is that the number of deaths each day has declined. As we noted in the past week, the ratio of deaths to new cases has fallen in each of the past two months — a function in part of testing being expanded to groups which are at lower risk from the virus. In April, limited testing meant missing a lot of cases that never presented at hospitals; now, those cases are more likely to be included.

What Pence appeared to be trying to do with his essay was to plant a flag about the successes the Trump administration has seen in addressing the virus. To, in essence, write a conclusion before the story is over. That’s certainly the approach President Trump took during his rally in Tulsa on Saturday, boasting repeatedly about how much had been done — past tense — to address the pandemic and offering little in the way of forward-looking efforts to address how the pandemic might evolve.

This was probably predictable. For months, even as the number of cases and the number of deaths increased, Trump kept pointing to his administration’s announcement in late January limiting travel from China as the key factor in addressing what was happening.

In Tulsa, the rhetoric was mostly about how many lives his actions had saved, particularly in comparison with imaginary people who wouldn’t have done the same things.

“I shut down the United States to a very heavily infected, but all people from China in late January, which is months earlier than other people would have done it, if they would have done it at all. I saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Trump said. “We don’t ever get even a mention. Then, I closed it down to Europe early, closed it down because I saw what was happening. And by the way, most people said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it.’ We saved hundreds of thousands of lives and all we do is get hit on like we’re terrible.”

To use one of Trump’s preferred analogies about the virus, this is a bit like a firefighter stamping out a one-acre brush fire and building a 200-yard firebreak and then, as he’s heading home, claiming that the still-uncontained fire could have been much worse.

Hopefully, the current expansion of the virus is an aberration and the national trends will again begin to improve. But even when it was published, Pence’s essay gave away the administration’s strategy: touting a “stabilization” of cases that, even at a mortality rate of 1 percent — lower than what has been exhibited in the United States — would result in 200 deaths a day.

Or, to put it in terms Trump would appreciate: 27,000 more deaths before Election Day.