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COVID-19 updates: VP Mike Pence, other White House officials urge Texans to wear masks during Dallas meeting with Gov. Abbott

Pence's arrival comes just days after Abbott rolled back the state's reopening phases as cases continue to surge.
Credit: William Joy/WFAA

This story will be continuously updated.

Vice President Mike Pence met with Gov. Greg Abbott Sunday in Dallas for a briefing and news conference on the state's response to COVID-19 as cases have surged in recent weeks. 

The positivity rate in the state reached 14.31% Sunday, a warning sign the virus has increasingly spread across Texas communities, Abbott said earlier in the day. The rate had been down below 4.27% by the end of May.

"You flattened the curve here in Texas... but about two weeks ago something changed," Pence said to the public. 

The two leaders were joined by a panel including Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, along with Sen. John Cornyn and HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson. 

Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the state's health department, was also present, though he did not speak at all.

Birx reiterated Abbott's plea to the public to wear masks during the news conference, saying that new research has found wearing a mask not only protects those around you, but partially protects yourself as well. 

"I'm really appealing to every Texan to wear a mask," she said.

Birx also stressed the importance of "100% compliance" with mask orders in Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties as hospitalization rates have increased over the past two weeks, particularly among younger adults with underlying health conditions. 

"You have 20-to 40-year-olds in the ICU [in Texas]," she explained. 

Watch the entire news conference below:

Abbott also said keeping businesses open will "require all Texans" to wear a mask, wash or sanitize their hands and keep a safe distance from each other. 

"Our objective is to save lives as Texas continues to reopen your economy and help to lead this country back to work," Pence said.

Carson and Cornyn also briefly spoke during the news conference, both praising Abbott's response to the pandemic.

The group took just three questions from the press once finished speaking.

RELATED: 'In hindsight': Gov. Abbott says he should've delayed the opening of bars

WFAA reporter William Joy asked Pence if he had any regrets following the nation's reopening in light of comments Abbott had recently made. 

Pence dodged the question, saying they're focused on the future.

The vice president left Dallas almost immediately afterward, boarding Air Force Two shortly after 3 p.m.

Pence's visit comes just days after Abbott rolled back the state's reopening phases as cases and hospitalizations have continued to surge across the state for several weeks, surpassing new highs almost every day.

Over the month of June, Tarrant County's hospitals have seen an influx of COVID-19 patients as the number of beds occupied by those with the disease have more than doubled to about 11% of total hospital patients and about 7% of total beds. 

RELATED: How we got here: Governor Abbott's early optimism yields to newest COVID data

Dallas County officials said the same trend had occurred there, with the number of Dallas County residents with COVID-19 being treated in a hospital having doubled in June. 

Top updates for Sunday, June 28:

Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities report 13 more positive cases of COVID-19

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department reported 13 new positive cases of COVID-19 Sunday, bringing the total number of positive cases at its facilities to 23.

The 13 new cases consist of seven youths and six staff members. All seven youths were from the Gainesville State School.

The staff case numbers are as follows:

  • 1 mental health specialist at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex (its first case)
  • 2 youth development coaches at Gainesville State School
  • 1 youth development coach at Evins Regional Juvenile Center
  • 2 staff memebers at Karyn's House (bringing the total to four)

North Texas hospitalizations continue record rise as Dallas County cases peak again

Sunday was the first day the state has not seen a new record number of hospitalizations, state officials reported, dropping down below 5,500 after 16 straight days of record highs, cresting at 5,523 hospitalized COVID-19 patients Saturday.

The number of COVID-19 patients in North Texas hospitals rose slightly on Sunday, from 1,248 Saturday to 1,261 people. The rise set a new record for the region as well, which has about 444 ICU beds available, state officials report.

The region around Houston, however, has a much smaller number of available ICU beds, about 169, with 1,642 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, the highest number of any region in the state.

Local health officials reported more than 900 new coronavirus cases in Tarrant and Dallas counties on Sunday as well.

In Dallas County, a record 570 COVID-19 cases were reported. Tarrant County reported 393. 

Both counties each reported one new death. 

RELATED: Dallas, Tarrant counties report more than 900 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Pence arrives at UT Southwestern Medical Center

Pence had arrived at UT Southwestern Medical Center by 12:50 p.m., officials told WFAA. 

Protesters gather in downtown Dallas during Pence visit

Dallas police brought out mounted officers to respond to a group of protesters that had gathered in front of First Baptist Dallas downtown while Pence was inside with other leaders.

Pence praises Jeffress during church speech

Pastor Robert Jeffress is "precious" to President Donald Trump, Pence said during a speech to First Baptist Dallas, as well as to Pence himself. 

The vice president told the congregation gathered before him that Americans will find different ways to celebrate the Fourth of July as the pandemic continues. He also discussed safely reopening Texas and other parts of the country. 

Some in the crowd were wearing masks but many were not.

He thanked the Texas governor for his efforts during the pandemic, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. 

Pence also touched on George Floyd, saying "justice will be served" to those involved in his death. But the vice president also criticized some of the protests that followed his death.

"We find ourselves in a challenging time in our nation's history," Pence said, referencing the pandemic, economic downtown and protests. 

"We've seen statues of some of our nation's greatest heroes being torn down," he continued.

Pence later discussed some of the country's most notable leaders and their thoughts on faith and freedom in the U.S.

"The foundation of America is freedom. But the foundation of freedom is faith," he said repeatedly.

Pence arrives at Dallas megachurch

Pence walked in to the Worship Center at First Baptist Dallas around 10:50 a.m. to an auditorium full of parishioners, a live stream from the church's service showed. He is expected to speak during the service, Celebrate Freedom Sunday, which has a "patriotic" theme ahead of July 4. Dr. Ben Carson is also expected to speak.

VP met by Texas governor, speaker and AG upon arrival in Dallas

Pence and the group with him on Air Force Two were met by Gov. Abbott along with Texas' Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen and the state's Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The group notably were all wearing masks during the meet-and-greet and bumped elbows instead of shaking hands to greet each other.

Hundreds gather outside hours ahead of Dallas megachurch event with VP

By 8 a.m., a crowd of hundreds of people had gathered in line outside of First Baptist Dallas ahead of Pence's visit to the church. Pence will visit for its Celebrate Freedom Sunday event that begins at 10:45 a.m. 

RELATED: Despite pandemic, First Baptist Dallas expects crowd of several thousand for Vice President's appearance

Health experts recommend taking the following actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Practice "social distancing" and stay at least 6 feet away from others and avoid large public gatherings
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Consult CDC’s travel website for any travel advisories and steps to protect yourself if you plan to travel outside of the U.S.

WFAA digital producer Jake Harris contributed to this report.

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