COVID-19 coverage graphic

Vice President Mike Pence, during a trip to Dallas on Sunday, promised Texas would bounce back from a recent surge in cases of the coronavirus while urging Americans to turn to their faith during a tumultuous period for the nation.

“Working with your governor, we will put the health of the people of the Lone Star State first, and every single day we’ll continue to reclaim our freedom and our way of life, as each day we are one day closer to the day we put this pandemic in the past,” Pence said during an event at First Baptist Dallas. “And when we do, with this governor and this president, we’ll bring Texas and America back bigger and better than ever before.”

After the event, Pence — who chairs the White House Coronavirus Task Force — Gov. Greg Abbott and his coronavirus response advisers briefed Pence on the situation in Texas.

Speaking with reporters afterward, Abbott said the virus has taken a “very swift and a very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks,” while Pence praised Abbott for his leadership — which has come under heavy fire from Democrats — and pledged the full support of the federal government.

Pence also emphasized the importance of wearing a mask to reduce further spread.

The talk was a last-minute addition to Pence’s agenda. For over a week, the vice president had been scheduled to appear at First Baptist for its annual Celebrate Freedom Sunday, but he added the meeting with Abbott in recent days as the state confronted its worst week yet for the pandemic.

The number of daily new cases hit a record high Thursday of nearly 6,000, and the number of hospitalizations has reached new highs every day for the past 16 days.

The positivity rate — the ratio of tests that come back positive — has also spiked. The rate, presented by the state as a seven-day average, reached 13.23% on Friday, which is nearly as high as it was in mid-April when it hit an all-time high of 13.86%.

The numbers led Abbott to begin reversing the state’s reopening process Friday, shutting down bars and ordering restaurants to scale back their capacity to 50%, among other measures.

In his remarks at First Baptist, which lasted for about half an hour, Pence thanked Abbott “for his courageous and compassionate leadership for the people of Texas during this challenging time.”

Pence doubled down on his praise for Abbott later in the day, telling reporters after the briefing at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center that the governor had demonstrated “decisive action” in reopening the state.

But he and Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also expressed gratitude for the governor’s recent decision to reverse course to thwart the prolonged rise in cases and hospitalizations.

Pence said Texas has been “testing at an enormous scale” but he also said he had spoken with Abbott about how to “accelerate” testing and results.

After weeks of falling short, the state has finally started regularly averaging over 30,000 tests a day, the threshold that Abbott set when he began to reopen the state at the end of April.

Pence’s trip coincided with a growing debate in Texas over requiring people to wear masks. Abbott has resisted calls to fine individuals who do not wear masks but has allowed local governments to order businesses to require customers to do so.

Speaking to reporters after their meeting, Abbott, Pence and Birx all urged Texans to wear masks. Birx was particularly emphatic, saying she was “appealing to every Texan to wear a mask. ... Every single one of them.”

Pence, Birx and his two other high-profile travel companions, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, all had face coverings on when they disembarked Air Force Two in Dallas on Sunday morning, as did their three greeters: Abbott, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. All appeared to remain masked while seated at the church, according to video broadcast by the church.

Pence has made headlines for not wearing a face covering at other public appearances during the pandemic. President Donald Trump has also refused to wear a mask in front of cameras.

Across East Texas

In Gregg County, eight new cases of COVID-19 were reported Sunday, raising the county’s cumulative total to 352, County Health Administrator A.J. Harris said.

Harris also reported 145 recoveries, 3,115 total tests administered, 2,605 negative tests with 158 tests pending. Gregg County has recorded 14 deaths.

Harrison County Judge Chad Sims said in a statement that although he was not notified of any new coronavirus cases Sunday, there are new cases at a nursing home, and he expects “a large number of those unreported cases to be reported” today.

Titus County Judge Brian Lee also reported no new cases Sunday and said 283 people were tested Sunday at a mobile testing site at the Mount Pleasant Civic Center.

The walk-in screenings that require no registration continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.