Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union the vice-president, who has been put in charge of administration efforts to protect Americans from the deadly virus, acknowledged there could be more “sad news”, but insisted the risk to most people was still low.
He was speaking after the first confirmed death from the virus in the United States.
A man in his 50s who had underlying health problems succumbed to the illness in Washington state, where at least two other cases have been confirmed and 50 people in an elderly care home who are suffering from respiratory illness are being monitored.
Mr Pence’s assessment appeared to reflect a new sense of seriousness from the administration.
At a political rally on Friday, Donald Trump referred to the crisis as a “hoax”, although he insisted at a White House news conference the following day that he was referring to alleged efforts by the Democrats to talk up the risk in order to discredit him. Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters that he was not being muzzled following reports that the vice-president was controlling the flow of information to the public.
Asked by host Jake Tapper whether there could be more deaths from Covid-19, Mr Pence said: “It is possible.
“The reality that Dr Fauci and others explained to me since I took on these duties a few days ago is that for most people who contract the coronavirus, is that they will recover. They will deal with a respiratory illness, we will get them treatment.
“But for people that have other conditions, that would militate toward a worse outcome, that we could have more sad news.
“But the American people should know that the risk to the average American remains low.”
He also stressed that it was not necessary for people to go out and buy masks.
At the news conference on Saturday, Mr Pence announced a series of travel restrictions designed to contain the spread of the virus in the United States.
On Sunday morning, Mr Trump tweeted an additional measure, writing: “Coronavirus: In addition to screening travelers “prior to boarding” from certain designated high risk countries, or areas within those countries, they will also be screened when they arrive in America.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 15 people have tested positive for coronavirus after being tested in the United States. Another 44 Americans who were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and were repatriated have had the coronavirus, as have three Americans brought back from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies