My Letter to Vice President Pence, Chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force

Elizabeth Warren
16 min readJul 1, 2020

Dear Vice President Pence:

I write in light of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s shocking answer to me during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing yesterday, in which he predicted that the United States could soon see 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day if we are unable to turn around the new surge in cases.¹

These comments stand in stark contrast to the willfully ignorant attitude you have taken in recent weeks toward the nation’s coronavirus response. On June 16, 2020, in your op-ed titled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave,’” you claimed that concerns over a second wave of coronavirus infections were “overblown” and proclaimed that “we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”² There are only two possible conclusions that I can reach upon reading these statements: either you do not have the slightest comprehension of the scope, causes, and risks from the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak in the United States, or you are deliberately attempting to mislead the American public about the scale of the outbreak.

The reality is that the White House ignored the threat of COVID-19 until it was too late to stop it, left states without the equipment to adequately fight it, did not do enough to work with states to contain it, and is now shirking its responsibility to continue to address it. You and President Trump have failed to prepare the country for a safe reopening, and the record-breaking surge of COVID-19 in numerous states shows the extent to which your failures will cost even more American lives.

In your June 16 op-ed, you proudly wrote that cases had “stabilized over the past two weeks, with the daily average case rate across the U.S. dropping to 20,000.”³ But last Friday — the same day you led the Coronavirus Task Force in briefing the American public for the first time in nearly two months and congratulated the American people, saying “The truth is, we did slow the spread. We flattened the curve”⁴ — the United States reported the highest number of new cases in a single day with over 40,000 newly confirmed coronavirus infections.⁵ Today, more than 2.5 million cases have been diagnosed nationwide and over 127,000 Americans have died.⁶ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield estimates that the number of people who have been infected is likely to be 10 times as high as we have detected — meaning more than 20 million people may have contracted COVID-19 and 90% of Americans are still susceptible to contracting the virus.⁷

In your June 16 op-ed, you also claimed “more than half of states are actually seeing cases decline or remain stable,”⁸ but as of today, cases are rising in 40 states.⁹ Your op-ed states, “Every state, territory and major metropolitan area, with the exception of three, have positive test rates under 10%”¹⁰ — a meaningless comparison given that the 10% positive test rate is twice the rate recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for safe re-opening.¹¹ Currently, at least 25 states are failing to meet the WHO’s standard.¹²

These exponentially increasing case numbers represent a horrifying public health failure — and could get much, much, worse. In response to my questioning at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert testified that he “would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 [cases] if this does not turn around.” He also emphasized, “when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they’re doing well, they are vulnerable. …We can’t just focus on those areas that are having the surge. It puts the entire country at risk.”¹³

This prediction from Dr. Fauci is extremely disturbing, and the rapid new spread of the pandemic in the United States reveals the scope of the Trump Administration’s failure. The chasm between the realities of the COVID-19’s spread and your comments claiming premature victory over the virus presages an even bigger failure in the coming months. You and President Trump must shift course. The White House ignored the threat of COVID-19 until it was too late to stop it, left states without the equipment to adequately fight it, did not do enough to work with states to contain it, and is now seems to have given up entirely on any efforts to slow it down.

Millions of Americans made tremendous sacrifices — shutting down the economy and their lives for several months to flatten the curve and give the Trump Administration time to prepare for re-opening by establishing a robust testing program and provide health professionals with the equipment and supplies they needed. But the Administration wasted this time, and Americans’ sacrifice.

The new COVID-19 surges and Dr. Fauci’s catastrophic warnings demand immediate and concerted action from the Administration. As I wrote to President Trump over three months ago: there are a number of steps the federal government can and must take to ramp up production of medical equipment, test kits, personal protective equipment, and other desperately needed supplies, to contain this outbreak, and I ask that you and the President promptly harness the full power of the federal government to respond to this surge.¹⁴

Issues with Testing and the Supply Chain

From the start of the pandemic, I have called on the federal government to take seriously its obligation to scale up testing as the only way we can work to control the virus and safely reopen the country¹⁵ — including by asking the Administration to set up a national testing inventory to coordinate testing capacity.¹⁶ Instead, President Trump has openly and repeatedly stated that he wants to “slow down” testing, in order to conceal the actual spread of the virus — valuing politics and headlines over American lives.¹⁷

As you acknowledged in your op-ed, the U.S. is conducting 500,000 tests per day.¹⁸ Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir has said that the country should be performing “40, 50 million tests per month by fall”¹⁹ — meaning that the country would need to process 1.6 million tests per day. But even that goal is far below what many public health experts say are needed to get people back to work in relative safety, which range from 5 million in “targeted isolation” tests to up to 20 million tests per day.²⁰

Now, in Arizona, Texas, Florida, and other states where virus transmission is surging, “the U.S. is again grappling with a shortfall of testing that has hobbled the nation since the pandemic’s early weeks, and now threatens to further undermine containment efforts at a crucial moment.”²¹ Sick and scared Americans are waiting hours for testing or being turned away because testing sites do not have enough testing supplies, and local public health officials are unable to effectively identify and cool off hot spots for the spread of the disease.²²

The United States is once again facing the exact shortfall of testing that crippled our nation’s efforts to contain the virus from the beginning. Meanwhile, states, including Massachusetts, are still struggling to stockpile the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need for medical and other essential workers. Health care workers are being forced to use masks intended for a single use for up to five shifts, putting their own safety at risk, because the supply chain for PPE continues to be unstable.²³

These issues could have been mitigated, but the Administration failed to take responsibility for a national testing strategy from the very beginning and refused to take the threat of a second wave seriously. Now it appears that you, President Trump, and the rest of the Administration are giving up.

  • Instead of pulling together a national inventory of testing supplies and capacity, in April, President Trump touted that the Administration simply had compiled and provided to each governor “a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of the labs where they could find additional testing capacity in their states” and that this had resulted in a “skyrocket[ing]” number of tests.²⁴ But a majority of state health departments reached by news outlets said that the list was unhelpful, redundant, and inaccurate.²⁵
  • In response to the Trump Administration’s lack of action, Congress mandated that the Administration produce a “national testing strategy” to ensure that we could mitigate the myriad ways in which our country’s testing apparatus is currently failing. But at the end of May, the Trump Administration released its “national testing strategy” that frustratingly shirked executive responsibility, instead placing the burden of testing onto each individual state.²⁶ The Administration released this minimal national testing “strategy” around the same time that laboratories across the country were reporting that they were processing, as little as 25% of their total COVID-19 capacity.²⁷
  • In mid-June, the Administration had not distributed one-third of funds provided by Congress two months ago for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, $8 billion that could have been used to address shortages and staffing challenges.²⁸

All the while, the Administration continues to falsely claim that coronavirus case numbers are rising because we have tested more people, an assertion that is plainly at odds with reality. Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said, “As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100% certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase. It is not more tests; it is more spread of the virus.”²⁹ Last week, the President went so far as to announce that he ordered his Administration to “slow the testing down, please”³⁰ — a disturbing abdication of responsibility for one of the key tools needed to mitigate the pandemic.

Lack of Clear Guidance on Reopening, Social Distancing, and Mask Wearing

The country may also have been able to mitigate the outbreaks occurring in some states, if the Trump Administration had continued to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously and heed the advice of public health experts instead of doubling down on baseless statements declaring “mission accomplished.”

The research has been clear: social distancing, wearing a mask, and careful re-openings save lives. Researchers have found that if 95% of Americans wore face masks in public, 33,000 American lives could be saved in the next three months.³¹ Other researchers found that the limited mask use by Americans between April and mid-May prevented an estimated 230,000 to 450,000 new COVID-19 cases,³² and have estimated that without these measures, the virus could have infected nearly 14 times as many people by the beginning of April.³³

Yet, President Trump, you and other Administration officials have actively resisted basic public health advice about masks. You have taken high-profile trips in which you visited essential health care workers, indoors, without wearing a mask, even after being informed of the mask policy by your hosts.³⁴ At last week’s Coronavirus Task Force briefing, you failed to mention that CDC recommends wearing face masks and social distancing — instead, you only highlighted hand washing, avoiding touching the face, and disinfecting frequently as measures Americans can take to prevent the virus.³⁵ Up until earlier this week, you maintained that “every state has a unique situation” and that people should listen to state and local officials about wearing masks in public.³⁶ These comments and your own behavior have undermined public health officials’ efforts to communicate and model safe behavior. You have politicized basic public health precautions in an apparent attempt to cater to the President’s ego rather than the expert opinions of public health officials.³⁷

The federal government has also failed to provide clear guidelines on reopening, hobbling governors and mayors that needed clear guidelines on how and when they should proceed with reopening. In mid-April, President Trump began actively encouraging states to reopen despite failing to meet the guidelines that the CDC had issued.³⁸ These guidelines recommended that states should have a “downward trajectory” of COVID-19 cases or test positivity rate.³⁹ Instead, amid this short-sighted pressure from the President, the New York Times found that “most states that were reopening failed to adhere to even these ill-defined recommendations. They had case counts that were trending upward, positive test results that were rising, or both.”⁴⁰ Now, many of these states are having to reverse or slow their reopening plans,⁴¹ adding to both the economic and public health damage.

Failure to Build Up Contact Tracing Capacity

Finally, as the surges in coronavirus continue, it has become woefully clear that the United States has failed to build up the public health tools, including contact tracing capacity, needed to control the spread of the virus. According to public health experts, the United States should have at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 people,⁴² but most states’ contact tracing efforts fall far below that goal — especially in states that are seeing surges of COVID-19 cases. According to some estimates, for example, Arizona has only 5 tracers per 100,000 people; Florida has 7; Texas has 11; and Mississippi has 5.⁴³ And despite this dearth of contact tracers, some states are failing to bolster their public health workforces to meet the needs of the pandemic. In Texas, the state continues to fall short of its goal to hire 4,000 contact tracers — a goal that some experts in state have warned is “too small.”⁴⁴ Meanwhile, one Arizona county is “relying on National Guard members” to help contact trace, since local officials have “too few trained contact tracers to handle soaring caseloads.”⁴⁵ And public health officials in Maricopa County, Arizona are reportedly not “conducting COVID-19 case investigations or contact tracing that meet federal guidelines.”⁴⁶

Most federal officials understand the need for improvements in the nation’s contact tracing capabilities. Last week, Dr. Fauci acknowledged that contact tracing efforts to contain COVID-19 are “not working.”⁴⁷ Director Redfield has also estimated that there are 27,000 to 28,000 contact tracers in the country, but this falls far short of the 99,000 contact tracers public health experts estimate it will take to allow for a safe reopening of the country.⁴⁸ But, despite these acknowledgments from top public health officials, the Trump Administration has yet to develop a national contact tracing strategy to bolster state efforts and contain the virus.


The Trump Administration has failed to deliver on every aspect of the coronavirus response. It is well past time to address these problems and save American lives. To address the concerns and predictions raised by Dr. Fauci and assure the American public that the federal government is working to mitigate these disastrous implications, I ask that you respond to the following questions:

  1. Were you aware of estimates that the United States could soon see 100,000 new cases of coronavirus per day? If so, when were you made aware of this prediction and why have you not previously warned the American public?
  2. To what extent has the Federal government prepared for this type of caseload? Is there enough of each of the following to be able to respond to that overwhelming surge — not just for potential COVID-19 patients but also for every single medical worker, resident or staff member at a long-term care or congregate care facility, prisoner, prison employee, and essential worker (including grocery and delivery worker): a. Testing supplies, including reagents and swabs, and lab capacity; b. Personal protective equipment; c. Hospital capacity, including intensive care units, hospital beds, frontline health care workers; and d. Contact tracers.
  3. In light of surges in many states and Dr. Fauci’s predictions about the potential for these surges to spiral out of control, will the Administration reconsider its stance on using the Defense Production Act? Under what threshold of cases will the Administration deem necessary to use the DPA to manufacture testing supplies, PPE, and other essential medical equipment?
  4. How has the Administration factored in racial disparities into its understanding of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and potential predictions for further surges?

You concluded your untimely and unseemly op-ed by saying:

“The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different. The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success…That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”

Mr. Vice President, you should know better than to declare your failure to save lives, control the pandemic, and get the country back on track as a “cause for celebration.” The pandemic and its human and economic costs grow daily because of the Administration’s failed response. I once again, implore you to take action to ramp up testing, secure the supply chain, enforce and encourage public health measures, and bolster contact tracing efforts.


Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator

1 New York Times, “Fauci Says U.S. Could Reach 100,000 Virus Cases a Day as Warnings Grow Darker,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Noah Weiland, June 30, 2020,

2 White House, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’,” Michael R. Pence, June 16, 2020,

3 Id.

4 Washington Post, “Pence’s Trump-ian turn as the coronavirus downplayer in chief,” Aaron Blake, June 26, 2020,

5 CNN, “US reports highest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day,” Nicole Chavez and Jay Croft, June 26, 2020,

6 Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center,

7 Washington Post, “CDC chief says coronavirus cases may be 10 times higher than reported,” Lena H. Sun and Joel Achenbach, June 25, 2020,

8 White House, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’,” Michael R. Pence, June 16, 2020,

9 NPR, “Tracking The Pandemic: Are Coronavirus Cases Rising Or Falling In Your State?,” Stephanie Adeline et. al, July 1, 2020,

10 White House, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’,” Michael R. Pence, June 16, 2020,

11 World Health Organization, “Public health criteria to adjust public health and social measures in the context of COVID-19,” May 12, 2020,

12 Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, “Which U.S. States Meet WHO Recommended Testing Criteria?”, Last Updated June 29, 2020,

13 U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, “COVID-19: Update on Progress Toward Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School,” June 30, 2020.

14 Letter from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren to President Donald J. Trump, March 25, 2020

15 Medium, “Congress Must Move to Rapidly Increase Our Coronavirus Testing Capacity,” Elizabeth Warren, March 26, 2020,

16 Letter from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren et al. to Vice President Michael Pence, April 10, 2020,

17 CNN, “Trump now says he wasn’t kidding when he told officials to slow down coronavirus testing, contradicting staff,” Maegan Vazquez, June 23, 2020,

18 White House, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’,” Michael R. Pence, June 16, 2020,

19 Washington Post, “The Health 202: Health officials promise to ramp up pandemic response as Trump tries to move on,” Paige Winfield Cunningham, June 24, 2020,

20 Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, “Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience,” April 20, 2020,

21 Bloomberg, “Virus Testing Shortfalls Cause Lines to Build in Hard-Hit States,” Emma Court, June 29, 2020,

22 Id.

23 Boston Globe, “‘It’s like pulling teeth’: There’s still a PPE shortage — and a second wave could send medical workers into crisis mode,” Naomi Martin, June 21, 2020,

24 NPR, “White House List of Testing Labs Wasn’t Helpful, States Say,” Nell Greenfieldboyce, May 14, 2020,

25 Id.

26 New York Times, “‘This Is Not the Hunger Games:’ National Testing Strategy Draws Concerns,” Apoorva Mandavilli and Catie Edmondson, May 25, 2020,

27 Washington Post, “As coronavirus testing expands, a new problem arises: Not enough people to test,” Steve Thompson, Juliet Eilperin, and Brady Dennis, May 17, 2020,; Wall Street Journal, “Coronavirus Testing Capacity Is Going Unused,” Brianna Abbott and Sarah Krouse, April 29, 2020,

28 Washington Post, “Democratic senators say Trump Administration has been slow to use coronavirus testing funds,” Paige Winfield Cunningham, June 21, 2020, 55bf26485c93_story.html.

29 CNN, “Only two US states are reporting a decline in new coronavirus cases,” Christina Maxouris and Eliott C. McLaughlin, June 28, 2020,

30 Reuters, “Trump urges slowdown in COVID-19 testing, calling it a ‘double-edge sword,’” Andrea Shalal, June 21, 2020, testing-calling-it-a-double-edge-sword-idUSKBN23S0B4; Letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren to Acting HHS Inspector General Christi Grimm, June 22, 2020, ng%20Trump%20Testing%20Comments.pdf.

31 CNN, “Want to prevent another shutdown, save 33,000 lives and protect yourself? Wear a face mask, doctors say,” Holly Yan, June 29, 2020,

32 Id.

33 NPR, “Modelers Suggest Pandemic Lockdowns Saved Millions From Dying of COVID-19,” Jason Beaubien June 9, 2020,

34 CNBC, “Vice President Mike Pence tours Mayo Clinic without coronavirus mask even though he was told to wear one.” Dan Mangan and Christina Wilkie, April 28, 2020,

35 USA Today, “Mike Pence doesn’t mention wearing masks as a way of stopping the spread of coronavirus,” Elizabeth Weise, June 26, 2020,

36 CNN, “Choir of more than 100 people perform without masks at Pence event,” Jamie Ehrlich, June 29, 2020,

37 Associated Press, “Face masks make a political statement in era of coronavirus,” Will Weissert and Jonathan Lemire, May 7, 2020,

38 New York Times, “Trump Says States Can Start Reopening While Acknowledging the Decision is Theirs,” Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear, April 16, 2020,

39 New York Times ,”After Asking Americans to Sacrifice in Shutdown, Leaders Failed to Control Virus,” Sabrina Tavernise, Frances Robles, Louis Keene, June 27, 2020,

40 Id.

41 CNBC, “More states reverse or slow reopening plans as coronavirus cases climb,” Noah Higgins-Dunn, June 29, 2020,

42 National Association of County and City Health Officials, “NACCHO Position Statement: Building COVID-19 Contact Tracing Capacity in Health Departments to Support Reopening American Society Safely,” April 16, 2020,

43 Axios, “Vitals,” Caitlin Owens, June 29, 2020, 4fb11b1d4d95.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream= top.

44 Texas Tribune, “As coronavirus cases surged, Texas’ contact tracing workforce shrunk,” Emma Platoff, June 30, 2020,

45 Governing, “As States Reopen, Contact Tracing Becomes Complicated,” Tammy Webber, Brady McCombs and John Mone (via the Columbus Dispatch), June 30, 2020,

46 AZ Central, “Hard-hit Mraicopa County isn’t following CDC guidelines for COVID-19 contact tracing,” Rachel LEingang and Alison Steinbach, June 26, 2020,

47 Axios, “Why coronavirus contact tracing is failing,” Bryan Walsh, June 27, 2020,

48 Id.