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President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak amid extensive disruptions to the economy and American life, announcing partnerships with major U.S. companies to expand testing capabilities while saying he believes the crisis “will pass.”
The president also announced that he would likely be tested for coronavirus “fairly soon,” after having been in contact with several individuals who have self-quarantined, or tested positive, for the virus.
Speaking to reporters, the president also said his administration is working to “dramatically increase the availability of tests,” amid concerns over the availability of tests for coronavirus, or COVID-19, across the country.
“We are announcing a new partnership with the private sector to vastly increase and accelerate our capacity to test for the coronavirus,” Trump said during the Rose Garden press conference. “We want people to take a test quickly if they need. But we don’t want people to take the test if we feel they shouldn’t be doing it.”
The president’s declaration of a national emergency means that he will enact the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which allows the White House to mobilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and direct federal aid to states hit by disasters and health crises.
“I am officially declaring a national emergency — two very big words,” Trump continued. “The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion…and a large amount of money for states, territories and localities.”
He added: “We’ve been working very hard on this. We will overcome the threat of the virus.”
According to the latest FEMA report to Congress, which was transmitted Feb. 29, 2020, there is $42.6 billion in the Disaster Relief Fund, which can be tapped under a Stafford Act declaration.
In addition to declaring an emergency under the Stafford Act, the president also declared an emergency under the National Emergencies Act, which allows the Department of Health and Human Services to waive certain guidelines related to Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP to address the coronavirus.
During his speech, Trump was joined by the official coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Pence and leaders of major corporations and businesses, including Target, Walgreens, Quest Diagnostics and CVS Health. Trump said that with federal emergency authorities, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new test of the virus, which would provide “half a million additional tests” that will be available “early next week.”
“Our overriding goal is to stop the spread of this virus and help Americans impacted by this,” he said. “Again, we don’t want everyone to take the test.”
He added: “This will pass…It’s going to pass through…and we’ll be all the stronger for it.”
Meanwhile, the president said he would ask hospitals across the nation to activate their “emergency preparedness plans,” and said his designation of a national emergency would allow HHS Secretary Alexander Azar to waive “provisions of applicable laws and regulations” to give medical professionals and hospitals the “flexibility” to care for all patients.
The president said that Azar will have the ability to enable “telehealth” for remote doctor visits and hospital check-ins, and the ability to waive hospital stay limits, as well as obtain additional office and hospital space.
“They can now do as they want and do what they have to do, they know what they have to do now, they don’t have any problem getting it done,” Trump said.
The Trump administration has also partnered with pharmacies and retailers to make drive-through tests available in “critical locations” identified by public health professionals, he said.
“The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car,” Trump said, while thanking Google for creating a website to help implement the drive-through test taking technology.
Trump said Google was going to “very quickly” get the website “done, unlike websites in the past,” he said in a veiled and apparent swipe at the Obama administration’s roll-out of healthcare.gov. “Google has 1,700 engineers working on this right now,” Trump said.
But that wasn’t his only swipe at the Obama administration Friday. Trump was asked about the H1N1 pandemic–which former President Barack Obama declared a national emergency over in 2009.
“It was nothing like this and they actually lost approximately 14,000 people,” Trump said, slamming the Obama administration for thinking about testing “far too late.”
“We’ve done it very early and we’ve also kept a lot of people out,” Trump said.
In response to a question, reminding Trump that the past administration had tested “1 million people,” he replied: “They had a very big failure with swine flu. Very big failure.”
In recent days, major sporting and other events were called off or postponed, businesses across the country instituted telework policies, government buildings and schools shuttered and other disruptions rock the nation, amid efforts to curb the transmission of the virus.
“We have to make short term sacrifices which will produce long term gains,” Trump said, while praising the cancellation of national sporting leagues as having done “a great service.”
“We’re with you every step of the way. No nation is more prepared or more equipped to face this, as you know,” Trump said. “With faith and heart and hope, we will succeeed and we will prevail. We will be very, very successful and learn for the future.”
The president also said that he would waive interest on federally held student loans and moved to prop up energy markets, by directing the Department of Energy to buy oil to fill the strategic petroleum reserve “right up to the top.”
Every U.S. president since 1976 has declared at least one national emergency. Former President Obama declared an emergency in 2009 over the H1N1 influenza pandemic and former President George W. Bush declared two national emergencies in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.
Trump’s announcement Friday also comes amid conflicting reports over whether another person who came in contact with Trump in recent days—Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro—tested positive.
The president, decisively, told reporters that he does not have any symptoms of coronavirus.
“I don’t have any of the symptoms…White House doctors, and there are a lot of them, say you don’t have any symptoms whatsoever,” Trump said. “And we don’t want people without symptoms to go out and do the test.”
He added: “The test is not insignificant.”
The announcement of the national emergency also comes after the World Health Organization designated COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Following that designation, the president announced a temporary halt on air travel to the United States from Europe, excluding flights from the United Kingdom and those carrying cargo, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
“As you know, Europe was just designated as the hot spot right now and we closed it,” Trump said Friday, questioning whether it was a matter of “talent or through luck” to act early.
“Call it whatever you want,” Trump said, noting any families returning from Europe “will be subject to extra screening or a period of isolation for 14 days.”
Fox News’ John Roberts, Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.