Pence visits coronavirus hot spot Washington state amid tension with governor

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. (Reuters) - Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the state of Washington on Thursday to pledge federal support to one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus and defended President Donald Trump’s response amid tension with the state’s governor over science.

Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, last week tweeted sharp criticism at Pence and the Trump administration over its handling of the virus in the United States.

“I just received a call from @VP Mike Pence, thanking Washington state for our efforts to combat the coronavirus,” Inslee posted on Twitter.

“I told him our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.”

The two men sought to put those tensions aside on Thursday.

Appearing together at an emergency response center outside Seattle, Pence praised Inslee’s work on the crisis in his state and told the population there, “We’re with you.”

Inslee said Pence, in their meeting, had helped to smooth out problem areas with regard to testing capacity for the virus, helping quarantined people, and providing immediate federal help for nursing homes with vulnerable populations.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the government's coronavirus task force, addresses the news at 3M's company headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Nick Pfosi

But Trump gave further fodder to concerns over facts and science when he cast doubt on virus death rate figures provided by the World Health Organization, calling them false in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday.

Pence defended Trump’s comments and said the world may well land at a lower number than that of the WHO.

Inslee levied criticism at the president’s comments but suggested he did not want his beef with Trump to overshadow the progress of the response effort.

“I think everybody agrees here that we want to have the best science,” he told reporters.

“We’re getting good information from the agencies of the federal government and we appreciate that.

“I know there is this issue about the mortality rate. I just want to suggest that we do not have the luxury of having debates of that nature right now.”

Pence is leading the federal response to the virus after a sluggish start by the Republican administration drew criticism for mixed messages and unpreparedness.

Earlier in the day he traveled to Minnesota to visit 3M Co MMM.N, which has ramped up production of protective masks. Pence encouraged Americans not to buy masks if they were healthy.

He said the United States did not yet have enough virus tests to meet anticipated demand.

“As more Americans take an interest in this or have concerns about this, we want to make sure they have access to the coronavirus test as well and we’ve made real progress on that in the last several days.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Clarence Fernandez