On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump held a press conference from the White House, officially declaring a national emergency to tackle the novel coronavirus. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed during the conference that the coronavirus has now reached 46 of 50 states.
Prefacing his announcements by calling it a “beautiful day” in the rose garden, Trump acknowledged the hard work and vigilant efforts by everyone involved that have allowed for “tremendous progress” to tackle COVID-19.
“To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today I am officially declaring a national emergency,” President Trump said. “The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion of very important and a large amount of money for states and territories and localities in our shared fight against this disease.”
Trump also urged for emergency operation centers in every state and for every hospital to activate their emergency preparedness plans to fight the “common enemy” that is the virus.
The declaration of the state of emergency also allows for the ability to waive laws to allow for telehealth — which the president termed “a fairly new and incredible” development. Medicare currently does not allow telehealth services to be furnished using phones.
Federal license requirements are also waived — allowing doctors from other states to provide support in states that need it most.
In the latter half of the press conference, the president also announced that, as an emergency executive action, he would waive all interest rates for student loans held with federal government agencies.
“To help our students and their families, I’ve waived interest on all student loans held by federal government agencies and that will be until further notice,” Trump said. “That is a big thing for a lot of students right now, a lot of their schools have been closed.”
A new approach to testing that includes several private partners was also outlined.
The FDA has approved a test from Roche diagnostics, a Swiss drug making company — which Trump said would allow a half a million new tests to be available within a few weeks.
Additionally, drive-through tests are going to be made available — with Walmart parking lots being made available as one of the locations.
During the conference, Trump also acknowledged that he was working closely with Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and coordinating the response to the virus with the state of New York.
Amid a sharp rise in cases, Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York State last Saturday. But just a week later, the situation has spiraled, with the number of confirmed cases soaring to 217 as of Friday afternoon. In an unprecedented attempt to curb the virus’ spread, a one-mile zone in New Rochelle, one of Westchester County’s largest cities, was placed under lockdown by the National Guard.
Cuomo will roll out an executive order effective Friday afternoon that will strictly regulate large gatherings, including at restaurants and bars. The measure, which aims to “de-densify” the state, says that public institutions must either cut down occupancy by at least 50 percent or face closure.
Predicting that there would be at least “1,000 cases” by the end of the week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also formally announced a state of emergency, a move that could allow the city’s chief executive to limit traffic, implement a curfew or even suspend certain laws.
To declare a state of emergency, President Trump had to invoke the Stafford Act. The act, which was first signed into law in 1988, constitutes the statutory authority for federal disaster response activities, especially as they pertain to Federal Emergency Management Agency programs.
The Stafford Act can be invoked to deal with the aftermath of natural disasters as well as for public health risks. The last time the Stafford Act was invoked was quite recently – when a tornado ripped through the state of Tennessee and killed two dozen people. The last time it was invoked for a public health emergency was when President Bill Clinton did so to combat the West Nile virus in 2000.
Johnathan Stimpson ’21 contributed reporting to this story.