By Esme Murphy

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Vice President Mike Pence toured Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 labs in Rochester Tuesday. He offered praise to the clinic and its testing partnership with the state and the University of Minnesota.

Pence toured the labs where plasma from survivors is collected and tested. He says the work being done in Minnesota will serve as an example to other states.

As he left Mayo Clinic, the vice president stopped his motorcade to get out and greet the healthcare workers applauding him. Pence responded by clapping for them, and thanking them.

Pence chose not to wear a face mask during the tour — even though it’s Mayo Clinic policy. When asked about it, he said he is tested often and is negative for the coronavirus.

WCCO’s Esme Murphy spoke one-on-one with the vice president about testing, the food supply and bipartisan politics in the midst of the crisis. Here is a transcript of their conversation:


Esme Murphy: Mr. vice president, obviously you were you were busy in there in that meeting, but there was a little Twitter storm that erupted where there was a tweet from the Mayo Clinic account saying that you had been informed of the masking policy prior to your arrival. Then that tweet was deleted. Why weren’t you wearing a mask?

Vice president Mike Pence: You know, in my role as vice president, I’m tested for the Coronavirus every day and literally everyone around me is tested on a regular basis. And when the CDC issued the guidance on masks, it was to prevent anyone that may have the coronavirus from inadvertently conveying that and infecting someone else. So knowing that I don’t have the coronavirus. I wanted to take the opportunity to be here to just to say thank you to the incredible healers here at Mayo Clinic. Also to be able to say to all of these innovators about the progress that they’re making in developing new therapies, the convalescence plasma that we’re seeing creates such promise for people. Thousands of Americans who’ve recovered from the Coronavirus are now donating their blood and, and we’re actually beginning to hear from doctors in those clinical trials that people on respirators are getting better more quickly, to see the way the antibody test the molecular tests have been developed here at Mayo Clinic. The president and I just thought it was very important to be here to make sure the people here at Mayo Clinic — 39,000 strong – -all know just how grateful we are how grateful every American is for the incredible dedication of these health care workers and the incredible innovation that’s going to benefit not just the people of Minnesota, as you see the prospect of maybe 20,000 tests a day in the very near future, but also literally helping us to continue to scale tests across the country. And it’s amazing to think two months ago, we’d only done about 8,500 coronavirus tests in the country. But because of our partnership with commercial labs, including Mayo Clinic’s commercial lab, today we’ve cleared 5.6 million tests. And that’s just going to continue to expand. And being able to be here to thank these innovators developing new tests, and also to thank those that are partnering with Minnesota in America to expand testing was a real privilege.

Murphy: There are reports from the White House that the president is about to sign an order that would keep meatpacking plants open. Of course, Minnesota farmers ready to euthanize hundreds of thousands of pigs as people are hungry. What do you say to critics to say who say that maybe your administration could have handled this better?

Pence: Well, I think every American should be grateful for everyone who works in our food supply. It’s from the farm to meat Packers to distributors to truckers to grocers. These people have recognized early on that they were essential to American families and American communities. And they’ve all continued to work even in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic. And the American people can be confident as well. Our food supply is strong. But in recent weeks, we’ve seen several meatpacking plants — one in Colorado, another in Iowa and several in a few other states — that have had coronavirus cases. We’ve surged CDC personnel there, testing and supplies. But with some meatpacking companies and food companies beginning to express concern about operations, the president’s going to going to take some strong action today to reassure the American public that that we’re going to support and extend executive authority to protect our food supply. And this last weekend, the CDC issued all new guidance for meatpacking facilities that we think also that combined with President Trump’s action today is going to give confidence to companies like Tyson Foods and others that operate these large meatpacking facilities that they can continue to do that that their employees can continue to work and to do so safely. Even in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic.

Murphy: Your meeting I’ve just a few minutes ago had such a strong bipartisan tone to it. It was a tone that we don’t often hear coming out of Washington, if we just tune in to perhaps the president’s briefings. Tell me about that, because I think a lot of the American people would like to hear more of that.

Pence: Well, from early on, President Trump told me that in leading the White House coronavirus task force to make it clear to governors in both political parties and people on Capitol Hill that we’re all in this together. And that’s animated everything that we’ve done. And when you see the strong bipartisan support for all of the bills, some of which just were signed by the president where we’re extending payroll protection, now small businesses on an increasing basis can keep people on the payroll for another two months, so they don’t miss a paycheck. Direct payments going to the average family of four and about $3,400, support for hospitals. It’s all been done on a bipartisan basis. And also working with governors, including Gov. Walz. I must tell you there have been occasional differences of opinion. And I’m sure there will be some in the future. But the president and I really couldn’t be more grateful for the partnership that we’ve been able to forge with Gov. Walz, with other governors in both political parties around the country. We’re making progress in this epidemic. I mean, we literally here now, almost six weeks from when we first unveiled the White House coronavirus guidelines. It’s unquestionable that because of what the American people have done, we are slowing the spread. We have bent the curve. No one who has needed a ventilator has been denied a ventilator anywhere in America. Our hospitals have been overwhelmed because the American people were putting the guidelines into practice. And that’s been a result not just the president’s leadership and, I trust, the leadership at the federal level, but because our governors and state health officials have also been giving the very best counsel. And most importantly, the American people have been putting it into practice. It’s made a real difference. It’s saved lives. It’s protecting our most vulnerable. And while there’s been heartbreaking losses in Minnesota and in this country, I think the American people can be encouraged that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that we’ll get through this, and we’ll get through this together, just like we’ve done every step of the way.

Murphy: Polls show that your re-election efforts have taken a hit because of COVID-19. How important is Minnesota, how important is Wisconsin to your re-election efforts?

Pence: Well, President Trump and I love Minnesota; it’s a great state. We almost won back in 2016. But I have to tell you, we’re not thinking a lot about politics these days, or even elections. We’re spending all of our time thinking about the health and well-being of the American people. President gave us one mission and that was to save lives. And thanks to the decisive action that President Trump took early on, suspending all travel from China, standing up the White House Coronavirus Task Force all the way back in January, we we’ve stood up a national response that that I believe has saved lives. Now we have a ways to go yet. But when you look at the trends around the country, even in some of the hotspots like New York and New Jersey and elsewhere, we’re seeing a leveling of numbers and in many cases, declining numbers — declining numbers of hospitalizations, and most important, declining numbers of losses in recent days. And I think the American people can be encouraged by that, to know that the actions that they’ve taken are working, and I think as we all continue to, to heed the guidance of our best health experts we’ll be one day closer when you can reopen Minnesota and reopen America. Which I can tell you, President Trump and I both know, America works when America is working. And the reason the president gave the guidelines for opening up America again 10 days ago is because as we approach that day, when we continue to see those downward trends here in Minnesota and across America, we wanted every state to be ready to implement their plans, to put their people back to work.

Murphy: When is this going to be over? That’s the question that the 6-year-olds ask and the 106-year-olds ask. I mean, is it two to three months away? Two to three years from now will we be living like this? You probably get that all the time, and it must be difficult and frustrating.

Pence: I truly do believe, according to our best health experts, that as all of us continue to practice the social distancing to heed state and local authorities, and as you begin to see states begin that phased approach to reopening, we could well have much of the coronavirus epidemic behind us by early June, but it’ll take all of us to continue to do it. Now, there’ll be some things that stay with us, some lessons that are learned as we move forward and people like here at the Mayo Clinic develop new medicines called therapeutics that will give people relief if they contract the coronavirus at any point in the future. And of course, we’ll continue to drive toward vaccines and integrate expansion of testing in the years ahead. But, I truly do believe that they’ve all of us continue to practice social distancing, heed the guidance of state and local authorities, and if each one of us continues to take those steps necessary to protect not just our health and our family but our neighbors that that will get through this and we’ll get through this sooner than anybody ever really thought.

Esme Murphy