WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency in order to free up more money and resources. But he denied any responsibility for delays in making testing available for the new virus, whose spread has roiled markets and disrupted the lives of everyday Americans.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency,” unleashing as much as $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak.
Trump also announced a range of executive actions, including a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities with drive-through locations, as his administration has come under fire for being too slow in making the test available.
Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the slow rollout of testing.
Late Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a deal with the Trump administration for an aid package from Congress that aims at direct relief to Americans — free testing, two weeks of sick pay for workers, enhanced unemployment benefits and bolstered food programs.
“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Pelosi announced in a letter to colleagues. The House was poised to vote.
The crush of late-day activity capped a tumultuous week in Washington as the fast-moving virus shuttered the capital’s power centers, roiled financial markets and left ordinary Americans suddenly navigating through self-quarantines, school closures and a changed way of life.
The White House was under enormous pressure, dealing with the crisis on multiple fronts as it encroached ever closer on the president.
Trump has been known to flout public health advice — eagerly shaking hands during the more than hour-long afternoon event — but acknowledged he “most likely” will be tested now after having been in contact with several officials who have tested positive for the virus. “Fairly soon,” he said.
Still, Trump said officials don’t want people taking the test unless they have certain symptoms. “We don’t want people without symptoms to go and do that test,” Trump said, adding, “It’s totally unnecessary.”
Additionally, Trump took a number of other actions to bolster energy markets, ease the financial burden for Americans with student loans and give medical professionals additional “flexibility” in treating patients during the public health crisis.
“Through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said.
Central to the aid package from Congress, which builds on an emergency $8.3 billion measure approved last week, is the free testing and sick pay provisions.
Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.
The ability to ensure paychecks will keep flowing — for people who stay home as a preventative measure or because they’re feeling ill or caring for others — can help assure Americans they will not fall into financial hardship.
Hopes for swiftly passing the package seemed to be fading throughout the day as talks dragged on and Trump dismissed it during as “not doing enough.”
Ahead of Trump’s new conference, Pelosi delivered a statement from the speaker’s balcony at the Capitol imploring the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to “put families first” by backing the effort to provide Americans with relief.
“Our great nation has faced crisis before,” Pelosi said. “And every time, thanks to the courage and optimism of the American people, we have prevailed. Now, working together, we will once again prevail.”
Pelosi and Mnuchin engaged in days of around-the-clock negotiations with cross-town phone calls that continued even as Trump was speaking, both indicating earlier they were close to a deal.
They both promised a third coronavirus package will follow soon, with more aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, which economists fear has already slipped into recession.
The financial markets closed on an upswing after one of the worst nosedives since the 1987 downturn.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to be over it.
Trump said he was gratified that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested negative for the virus, after the pair sat next to each other for an extended period of time last weekend at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. A senior aide to Bolsonaro tested positive.
Trump’s daugher, Ivanka Trump, worked from home Friday after meeting with Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, now in isolation at a hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus. White House spokesman Judd Deere said she was evaluated by the White House Medical Unit and it was determined that because she was exhibiting no symptoms she does not need to self-quarantine.
Attorney General William Barr, who also met with the Australian official, was staying home Friday, though he “felt great and wasn’t showing any symptoms,” according to his spokeswoman Kerri Kupec.
Several lawmakers, including some close to Trump, have also been exposed to people who tested positive for the virus, and are self-isolating.
Among them are Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rick Scott, who were at Trump’s club on the weekend. Graham announced Friday that he also met with the Australian official who has now tested positive. And GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who had previously isolated himself after a potential exposure at a conservative conference in Washington, said Friday he met with a Spanish official and is now self-quarantining.
Hospitals welcomed Trump’s emergency declaration, which they and lawmakers in Congress had been requesting. It allows the Health and Human Services Department to temporarily waive certain federal rules that can make it harder for hospitals and other health care facilities to respond to an emergency.
The American Medical Association said the emergency declaration would help ensure America’s health care system has sufficient resources to properly respond to the ongoing outbreak.
Trump has struggled to show he’s on top of the crisis, after giving conflicting descriptions of what the U.S. is doing to combat the virus. On Wednesday he announced he would ban travel to the U.S. from Europe, and on Friday he suggested extending that to the U.K. because of a recent rise in cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, said more tests would be available over the next week, but warned, “We still have a long way to go.”
Fauci said Friday, “There will be many more cases. But we’ll take care of that, and ultimately, as the president said, this will end.”