U.S. President Donald J. Trump on Friday declared a National Emergency — “big words,” he said — as he describe the government and private sector’s response to managing the Corona Virus epidemic, in a press conference on the White House lawn.
The strategic moves were to streamline existing rules and regulations to allow for what could be millions of people impacted by the fast-moving virus, he said. And rather than only using public resources, he brought in the largest drug companies, pharmacies, medical testing firms and retailers to enact the plan.
Trump also specified further economic stimulus, including increasing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve because of the low oil price and waiving interest on student loans until the end of the year as universities close their doors.
The first result of the focus on expediency was that pharmaceutical company Roche developed a test for the virus that was authorized by the FDA in 24 hours.
Other simple legal changes, for example, would allow doctors to make tele-health diagnosis via phone and internet from different states, allowing, for the first time, interstate medical commerce.
Trump said half a million test kits would be available next week, with locations to be announced on Sunday, with 1.4 million tests to be ready shortly and up to 5 million in a month, though he hoped that many would not be needed.
He said Google put 1,700 engineers on the task of quickly spinning up a website that would act as a self diagnosis tool and then alert users to where they could get kits.
Rather than just pharmacies, “drive thru” locations would be set up in participating parking lots of major retailers, including Walmart, where the nasal swab could be deposited for testing.
The testing companies, led by Quest Diagnostics and their smaller competitors, would work together to handle the high volume of requests.
Trump introduced the CDC, NIAID and corporate executives on the dais, as well as Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator in the White House and as Ambassador-at-Large and United States Global AIDS Coordinator since 2014.
Dr. Birx described the response as coming in record time. Part of the original team that worked on HIV, she said the medical community knew they need to respond in 1981, it took until 1985 to have a test and another 11 years to have an effective therapy. With the Corona Virus, this was being achieved in a matter of weeks.
She also noted that the South Korea experience with the virus found that 4% of the ill were due to the Corona Virus versus more common flus. So far, in the U.S., only 1-2% were from the novel virus.
When pressed by the media for the time frame, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it could be eight to nine weeks, on the short end, depending on how well Americans avoided contact.
Trump added that although stocks of respirators were full, they’ve ordered many more, just to be safe.