Trump declares COVID-19 national emergency, details sweeping testing program

March 16, 2020

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in the face of a growing public health and economic crisis due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The proclamation of a national emergency allows the president to exercise an array of emergency powers and tap into $50 billion, which will be used in part by states to set up emergency centers effective immediately.

Trump also announced a new public-private partnership to address and remedy the shortage of coronavirus tests. Trump said the tests were quickly developed by Roche and approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. The president said half a million tests will be available by early next week, and 5 million tests will be available within one month.

Beginning March 15, a website developed by Google will be made public and will include a symptom checklist. If symptoms suggest possible infection with the novel coronavirus, patients will be instructed to new drive-through testing facilities, which will be loaded in Wal-Mart, Target, and Walgreen's parking lots. The swab-based test will provide results within 24 to 36 hours, officials said.

"To do this level of mass testing, you need a public-private partnership," said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, MD. Fauci was one of several health officials and business leaders who appeared alongside the president in the White House's Rose Garden.

Trump also offered clarifications on his new travel-ban against travelers coming from Europe. He said Americans will be subjected to a 14-day self-quarantine upon return from Europe, and said he may consider extending the ban to the United Kingdom given that nation's rising case count.

Trump also announced he would be waiving interest on federal student loans until further notice, and said he would oversee crude oil purchasing.

By Friday afternoon at least seven states and Washington, DC, ordered public schools to close in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. According to CNN Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and New Mexico had all closed for at least 14 days and in some cases three weeks.

Major cities have also announced school closings, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and New Rochelle, New York.

In Minnesota and Massachusetts, governors announced a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more. But in both states, governors said there would be no school closings.

During a press conference, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcom said the state was not ready to close schools. Citing evidence from Hong Kong (which closed schools) and Singapore (which did not), Malcom said the data were not yet clear that school closures—especially short-term closures—made a significant dent in coronavirus transmission. The virus mostly spares children, and school closings may have to last 8 weeks or more to mitigate community risk, Malcolm said.

In Santa Clara County, California, which has 79 COVID-19 cases, including 43 cases involving community spread, officials rolled out some of the toughest social distancing measures in the country. The County Public Health Department announced today no public or private gatherings of more than 100 people, and no gatherings of 35 to 100 people unless certain conditions are met. The order will be in place for at least three weeks.

CIDRAP has the story.

More COVID-19 coverage HERE.