Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump campaign's decision to resume its personal rallies despite a worrying surge in coronavirus cases.
At a White House coronavirus task force on Friday – the first of the group in nearly two months – a reporter asked Pence why the campaign had fueled the rallies that had seen tens of thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump take part in the past.
"Freedom of speech, the right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in the United States Constitution," said Pence, who heads the task force.
"And we have a choice before this fall," he added. "We still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process, and we respect that."
Another reporter grilled Pence to justify the public gatherings and insisted that people follow state and local guidelines on social distance.
"Even in a health crisis, Americans don't lose our constitutional rights," said Pence. "I think it's really important that we recognize the importance of freedom and personal responsibility for this entire equation."
Pence said that he and Trump believed in "taking reasonable steps" to host rallies in the midst of the pandemic. At the last rally in Oklahoma this weekend, attendees were given masks, hand sanitizers, and temperature tests before entering the Tulsa arena where Trump spoke. However, wearing the masks was not mandatory.
The vice president noted that participants had been screened for the recent events and added that Oklahoma's positivity rate for Covid 19 cases appears to be declining as of Friday. "This is great proof that people use common sense and are responsible for it."
While Trump regularly held rallies during his 2016 election offer and much of his first term, the campaign suspended the rallies for more than three months as the pandemic spread across the United States.
The alleged democratic candidate Joe Biden was also not in the election campaign and mainly appeared at virtual events and interviews. Despite his physical absence, Biden prevailed in Trump's general election polls.
The restart of the Trump campaign in Tulsa was as controversial as the fact that he was re-elected. The best health authorities in the region recommended postponing the event. Voter turnout at the convention center, which has a capacity of 19,000, was also well below the hype the campaign had built, and detracted from the enthusiastic image the president's reelection team hoped to convey.
On Tuesday, Trump spoke to a crowded mega-church in Phoenix, Arizona.
The president has regularly claimed that America fights the virus more effectively than any other country, even though the United States has reported most cases and deaths of Covid-19. During a speech in Marinette, Wisconsin, on Thursday, Trump again claimed that the United States has seen an increase in coronavirus cases due to more extensive testing than other nations.
According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 2.4 million coronavirus cases and at least 124,468 deaths have been confirmed in the United States.
Pence, who assured the Americans just last week that panic over a so-called second wave of the virus was "exaggerated," admitted at Friday's briefing that "we have now seen cases in the south skyrocket" .
"If there is a message that is getting through today, I hope that it tells younger Americans in these states, and especially in these counties, that they make up a large part of the numbers that we see in new cases," said Pence.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that the United States is still in the first wave of the pandemic.
Pence told reporters it was "encouraging" to see that about half of the new infections reported occur in people under the age of 35, as this age group is less likely to be seriously harmed or killed by the virus than older populations.
However, Fauci warned that young people can still spread the disease to vulnerable populations.
"People infect other people and ultimately you infect someone who is vulnerable," Fauci said at the meeting.
– CNBC's Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.