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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this June 26, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, right, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference with the Coronavirus task force at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. As the public face of the administration's coronavirus response. Vice President Mike Pence has been trying to convince Americans that the country is winning even as cases spike in large parts of the country. For public health experts, that sense of optimism is detached from reality. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Mike Pence has long played the straight man to Donald Trump, balancing the president's rhetoric with more measured language.

As coronavirus cases spike across large parts of the country despite months of lockdown, Pence has spent the past week trying to convince the American public that things are going well.

"Make no mistake about it, what you see today is that America is going back to work and the American people are finding a way every day to put this coronavirus further in the past," he told CNBC the same day the country reported more than 55,000 new virus cases, a daily record.

For public health experts, the optimism has been unmoored from reality.

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"It's almost laughable because it doesn't pass any test of credibility when we're seeing spikes in cases, spikes in hospitalizations," said Larry Gostin, who specializes in public health at Georgetown University Law School. "The American people aren't stupid. They can see spin when there is spin."

The most important thing Pence can do, Gostin said, "is to be honest with the American public. ... They need to be told the truth, and then they need to be told what America is going to do to turn this around."

While Trump has tried to distance himself from what he calls "the plague" as he pursues reelection, Pence has emerged as the public face of this phase of the outbreak, traveling frequently to virus hot spots, coordinating with governors and leading the administration's coronavirus task force.

After spending time on the road highlighting reopening efforts, Pence traveled last week to Arizona and Florida, states where cases are surging. He tried to make the case that the country is in a far improved position from where it was early on in the outbreak, when testing capacity was dismal and doctors and nurses were desperate for basic protective equipment.

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"The American people deserve to know that we're in a much better place today, thanks to the whole-of-government approach, the whole-of-America approach that President Trump initiated at the very outset of the coronavirus pandemic," Pence said Tuesday during a task force briefing held not at the White House but at the U.S. Public Health Service headquarters in Rockville, Md.

White House officials and allies stress there are positive signs beyond the flow of supplies, with deaths remaining down and several therapeutics on the market. The point of the lockdowns, they stress, was to flatten the infection curve to avoid overwhelming hospitals, not to eliminate cases.

To further push that message, Pence is expected to resume campaign travel soon. Campaign officials met by phone Thursday to map out media markets where they feel he could be beneficial.

Pence will focus on swing states by stressing local issues and trying to show voters how the administration has affected their lives for the good. He's expected to spend plenty of time in states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, as well as Arizona and North Carolina, talking about bringing back manufacturing jobs.

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FILE - In this June 12, 2020, file photo Vice President Mike Pence, waves as he arrives to speak after a tour at Oberg Industries plant in Sarver, Pa. As the public face of the administration's coronavirus response. Vice President Mike Pence has been trying to convince Americans that the country is winning even as cases spike in large parts of the country. For public health experts, that sense of optimism is detached from reality. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
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Vice President Pence wears a mask as he is introduced to speak to the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service at their headquarters in Rockville, Md., June 30, 2020. As the public face of the administration's coronavirus response. Vice President Mike Pence has been trying to convince Americans that the country is winning even as cases spike in large parts of the country. For public health experts, that sense of optimism is detached from reality. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Vice President Mike Pence, right, walks with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, as the two head to a meeting to discuss the surge in coronavirus cases July 1, 2020, in Phoenix. As the public face of the administration's coronavirus response. Pence has been trying to convince Americans that the country is winning even as cases spike in large parts of the country. For public health experts, that sense of optimism is detached from reality. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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FILE - In this April 24, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump gestures to Vice President Mike Pence as Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, steps back to the podium to answer a question during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. As the public face of the administration's coronavirus response. Vice President Mike Pence has been trying to convince Americans that the country is winning even as cases spike in large parts of the country. For public health experts, that sense of optimism is detached from reality. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
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FILE - In this April 22, 2020, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. As the public face of the administration's coronavirus response. Vice President Mike Pence has been trying to convince Americans that the country is winning even as cases spike in large parts of the country. For public health experts, that sense of optimism is detached from reality. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
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FILE - In this April 16, 2020, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington. As the public face of the administration's coronavirus response. Pence has been trying to convince Americans that the country is winning even as cases spike in large parts of the country. For public health experts, that sense of optimism is detached from reality. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

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