Donald Trump, who once declared the coronavirus crisis a hoax and who once predicted it would quickly evaporate from 15 U.S. cases to zero, has now declared it a national emergency.
The declaration of an emergency allows the spending of billions in disaster money. He also touted a new and broader testing effort and suspension of federal rules that will discourage spread of the virus.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had earlier said the House intended to pass legislation today.
The bill would include free virus testing for all Americans, including the uninsured, as well as two weeks of paid sick leave for those who have to skip work due to the virus. It would also included expanded federal food assistance, such as seniors’ meals, student lunches and food banks.
Trump previously had been resistant to paid sick leave and measures to help affected families weren’t mentioned at Trump’s White House remarks, except for him saying he’d waive interest on student loans for the time being. He’s also authorized purchases of crude oil for the strategic reserve, a boon to hurting oil companies, many of whom are Trump campaign contributors.
In response to a question, he said he still opposed the House legislation. He said Democrats weren’t “doing right” for the country.
In response to another question, he said his meeting with a Brazilian official who’s tested positive wasn’t a concern and he didn’t need to be tested because he had no symptoms. But under continuing questions, he finally said he did plan to get tested at some point.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” for the lag in sufficient testing. He blamed it on rules “from a different time,” now redesigned. He disclaimed knowledge of his White House’s decision to disband a global pandemic task force. He called it a “nasty question.”
He had no explanation for why the United Kingdom was exempted from the European travel ban when it has more cases than a number of European countries. He said some countries might be added or subtracted.
Trump’s news conference opened with his brag that the U.S. had done a better job than other countries thanks to his efforts to restrict entry (a porous and ineffective move).
“But we’re now under a different phase,” Trump said.
National emergency — “two very big words,” Trump said. It will allow $50 billion in spending.
He said he’d urge every state to set up emergency centers.
Cabinet secretaries will be able to waive laws to provide flexibility to health care providers, such as telehealth, a step Gov. Asa Hutchinson had already taken in Arkansas. (Just don’t try to use it to get clearance to take an abortion pill.) The change will waive rules limiting the length of hospitalization and restrict types of care. He said the U.S. would move to expand testing capability. He said a new test had been approved and should be available next week. He said the government was encouraging drive-through test sites in critical areas.
The goal is to stop the spread of the virus.
“This will pass. This will pass through. And we’ll be even stronger for it,” Trump said.
He called in Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, who credited Trump for spurring a revision of testing procedure that, with help from the private sector, has brought a new approach in record time.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert, said the changes would remove any possible restraints so the U.S. could get ahead of the growth curve of the illness. He said the steps today would end the crisis sooner.
Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, was on hand to say Walmart stores would make space available on store parking lots for testing sites. Executives from Walgreen and Target and a variety of others in the private sector also participated. Watch Trump here.
Vice President Mike Pence praised Trump extensively. He also revealed that bar on entry from Europe would be increased and American citizens returning from Europe would be asked to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Seema Verma, the Medicaid/Medicare director well-known for attempting to deprive the poor in Arkansas of health coverage, said she’d be giving flexibility to health care providers and encouraging all nursing homes to restrict visitors. There were no specifics or an indication she’d wavered on preventing broader use of Medicaid reimbursement for patients.
“We will defeat this threat,” Trump said. “No nation is more prepared or equipped.”