Pence says U.S. in 'better place' on coronavirus even as new cases rise in 16 states

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday sounded a note of optimism about the novel coronavirus pandemic, saying that 34 states show a measure of stabilizing numbers of new cases, but encouraged people to continue social distancing and other strategies to help contain the spread of the virus.

Pence, at the first U.S. coronavirus task force briefing in months, said that 16 states are seeing an increase in infections and that the federal government is focused on rising cases in the South.

“As we see the new cases rising, and we’re tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to that place that we were two months ago, that we’re in a time of great losses and great hardship on the American people. The reality is we’re in a much better place,” Pence said.

“The truth is we did slow the spread. We did flatten the curve,” he added.

In about four months, more than 2.4 million people have been confirmed to have the coronavirus in the United States and over 124,000 have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Pence also encouraged people to follow local, state and federal guidance on containing the virus, saying they should avoid touching their faces, disinfect frequently, wash their hands, stay home when they feel sick, and practice social distancing.

“We still have work to do, so we say to every American particularly those in counties and in states that are being impacted by rising cases, now is the time for everybody to do their part,” Pence said.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Lisa Lambert, Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool