U.S. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic and announced several measures designed to stem the outbreak this Friday.
The declaration will free up as much as $50 billion in financial resources to efforts by states and U.S. territories to assist Americans affected by the outbreak.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned, “There will be many more cases” of coronavirus in the coming weeks.
Trump announced the declaration at a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House, where he was joined by Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force.
Also, with the president were members of that task force and CEOs of Target and Walmart, who met with Trump earlier in the day.
Trump said he expected the U.S. to have 1.4 million coronavirus test kits available within a week, and a total of 5 million kits within the next month. He then said he doubted the country would “need anywhere near” 5 million kits.
The president said there would be a “drive-thru” option for the tests so that people can stay in their cars when they get screened for the virus.
He urged states to set up emergency operation centers, and hospitals to engage emergency operation plans.
But, Trump said,
“we don’t want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn’t be doing it, and we don’t want everyone running out and taking. Only if you have certain symptoms.”
The president said the emergency declaration would grant new authority to Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar to waive several rules governing how hospitals take in patients, and how long they can stay.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, said, “I’m pleased the president heeded our calls to invoke the Stafford Act to extend vital financial assistance to help keep communities safe from the coronavirus outbreak.”
“I urge New York and other states to request these newly available funds immediately and for the Trump administration to approve these requests without delay,” Schumer said. “As other steps get considered, the president must not overstep his authority or indulge his autocratic tendencies for purposes not truly related to this public health crisis.”
Trump’s emergency designation under the Stafford Act allows for two types of presidential declarations.
The first is an emergency, which is what Trump gets expected to declare.
The second is a major disaster, which gives emergency management even more access to resources. Both designations place FEMA in charge of what happens.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that he, Trump, and the rest of leaders of the Group of 7 giant economic nations have “agreed to organize an extraordinary Leaders Summit by videoconference on Monday on Covid-19.”
“We will coordinate research efforts on a vaccine and treatments, and work on an economic and financial response,” Macron announced in a tweet.
The announcement of a U.S. national emergency comes just a day after Trump said he was not yet ready to make such a declaration.
Following my call with @realDonaldTrump and all G7 leaders, we agreed to organize an extraordinary Leaders Summit by videoconference on Monday on Covid-19. We will coordinate research efforts on a vaccine and treatments, and work on an economic and financial response.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) March 13, 2020
At the oval office, Trump said, “We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act, and we are — we have it — I mean, I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. If I need to do something, I’ll do it,” with Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar.
“I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about,” Trump said.
An emergency declaration puts to rest weeks of debate within the White House, where different factions of Trump’s top aides disagreed about whether a Stafford Act declaration is necessary.
Those opposed to making the declaration, which had included Trump himself, worried that it would cause financial markets to panic.
They also feared political fallout if it appeared Trump was sending the opposite message about coronavirus, namely that it is an emergency, from the one he had consistently delivered so far.
Trump has claimed that coronavirus is no more dangerous than the common flu and that it will likely disappear quickly and without a significant impact on American life. Health officials say neither of these statements is accurate.
On Thursday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency in the city. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the same day, banned gatherings of 500 or more in the country “for the foreseeable future.”
Earlier this Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated at the White House and Congress are nearing a deal that would provide stimulus to the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“I think we’re very close to getting this done,” Mnuchin said in a “Squawk on the Street” interview.
“The president is absolutely committed that this will be an entire government effort, that we will be working with the House and Senate.”
More than 135,000 known cases of coronavirus globally, including nearly 5,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University as of this Friday.
In the United States, there have been at least 1,700 known cases, with at least 40 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.