COVID task force briefing returns after hiatus

The first White House coronavirus task force briefing in months portrayed a country still engulfed by the pandemic -- though health officials repeatedly stressed that

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: "Help is on the way."

Thursday's briefing, which featured some familiar faces, minus President Donald Trump and advisor Scott Atlas, highlighted the unprecedented spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., with officials urging Americans to stay vigilant until a vaccine arrives.

Dr Deborah Birx.

"This is more cases, more rapidly than what we had seen before... We're asking every American to remain vigilant. To do do those things we have been asking you all to do. To wear a mask. To physically distance. To continue your hand hygiene. But really in this moment of bringing people together, to really limit interactions indoors to immediate households."

Dr Anthony Fauci, back at the lectern after being sidelined by the White House, said that the recent good news on vaccine development suggested they will be a major tool against the virus, as the death toll raced past a quarter million lives in the US alone.

"About seven or eight months ago I stood at this exact spot, at a time when there was really an extraordinary surge in cases in the Northeastern part of the country... However, I also said, as some of you can remember, that there's an opposing force to that. And that opposing force is us... But there's another opposing force to that, and that's a vaccine."

Vice President Mike Pence stressed that the country would move quickly once vaccines were approved.

"We have a system in place to begin within 24 hours, shipping that vaccine to hospitals, health care facilities, and 24 hours after that, literally injecting that vaccine into Americans."

On the same day New York public schools went back to all-remote learning, CDC Director Robert Redfield recommended against closing schools.

"K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely, and they can do it responsibly."

Echoing this, Fauci said the way to avoid lockdowns was to follow health protocols.

"We're not talking about shutting down the country, we're not talking about locking down. We're talking about intensifying the simple public health measures that we all talk about… If we do that, we'll be able to hold off until the vaccine comes."