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3/18/20 OFW Law Daily COVID-19 News Conference Summary

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a press conference beginning at 12:45 this afternoon. They were joined by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

Summary of the President’s remarks:

1. The Federal Government will be invoking the Defense Production Act (https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1650-20490-5258/final__defense_production_act_091030.pdf) to facilitate the acquisition of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other items deemed necessary to the nation’s response to the pandemic. This is expected to be accomplished in short order.

2. The invocation of the Stafford Act last week permitted FEMA to establish its National Response Coordination Center. The President indicated that FEMA has stated its response is at Level 1. See https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1440617086835-f6489d2de59dddeba8bebc9b4d419009/NRCC_July_2015.pdf

a. The Vice President indicated that the FEMA response is intended to be locally managed, state executed, and federally supported.

3. The Department of Defense will be deploying its two hospital ships to assist in the care and treatment of victims. The USS Mercy is slated to deploy on the east coast to New York. The USS Comfort is presently in San Diego and the Administration is identifying to where it will be sent. Both ships should be ready to deploy in about a week’s time.

4. The clinical trial of a putative COVID-19 vaccine has begun in Washington State. The COVID-19 genetic sequence was published in January and these human trials have begun only eight weeks later.

5. The Administration is looking to expand testing capacity with a swab-based diagnostic that is easier and less resource intensive to employ than existing tests. Its use would be expected to free up some degree of medical response capacity.

6. The Administration will hold a separate press briefing later today or tomorrow that will address FDA’s efforts and accomplishments in supporting the nation’s response to the pandemic, including efforts to reduce bureaucratic barriers to an effective response and other developments. We will cover this briefing when it occurs.

7. The Department of Housing and Urban Development intends to provide relief during the crisis period by suspending foreclosures and evictions until the end of December.

Summary of the Vice President’s Remarks:

1. Announced that there are now confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in all 50 states.

2. Affirmed the federal government’s partnership with the States in response to the crisis. There will also be a conference call with state health officials later today.

3. Indicated that the President has met with tourism, industry, and medical suppliers with the goal of ensuring the stability of the nation’s supply chains. There will be additional supply chain meetings today to ensure, among other things, the continued availability of medical supplies.

4. Announced the closure of the U.S.’s border with Canada to all nonessential travel. This action was taken in cooperation with the Canadian Government.

a. Trade and essential travel are not to be effected.
b. 30 days is the expected duration.

5. Announced increasing numbers of tests being procured.

6. Reminded people without symptoms should not be tested for infection in order to conserve our testing capacity.

Summary of Dr. Deborah Birx’s remarks (White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator):

1. Invoking the Defense Production Act is intended to ensure that appropriate medical supplies are available to support crisis response activities.

2. The Administration has taken measures to permit physicians to practice medicine in jurisdiction in which they are not licensed. See https://www.medicaleconomics.com/news/coronavirus-response-doctors-can-now-practice-across-state-lines

3. Requested physicians to delay elective procedures as part of the effort to conserve the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used in such procedures and which have value to crisis response efforts.

4. Highlighted data from Europe indicating that the “Millennial Generation” are showing disproportionate infection rates and speculated that this may be because this younger generation was not heeding infection control measures as they thought their generation was less at risk than older generations and because the science regarding surface-based infection had only recently been published. She urged compliance for all generations.

5. Private sector testing capacity has been spread out/allocated based upon a prioritization scheme that focuses upon counties in states where there is a known need.

6. Current testing data is showing a 7% positive rate. That number is expected to increase as the high throughput testing capacity begins to account for the backlog of samples awaiting testing that could not be processed by the prior system. The prior system was capable of 10-14 tests per unit, per day. The system being brought online will have a capacity of thousands of tests per unit per day.

a. Thermo Fisher Scientific was reported be putting 2000 laboratories into the effort and deploy 1 million tests within a week.

Summary of Mark Esper’s remarks (Secretary of Defense):

1. The DoD’s priorities were listed as:

a. Protection of its personnel;
b. Safeguarding the nation; and
c. Support the “whole government” approach to crisis response.

2. The military is and remains fully capable of defending the nation and its interests.

3. There is a travel restriction in place for military personnel, family members, and civilian employees.

4. DoD will be donating 5 million N95 masks to the Department of Health and Human Services from its stock as well as 2000 ventilators.

a. It was reported that there are 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile.

5. The DoD now has 16 certified laboratories to assist in the processing of tests.

6. The DoD will be deploying its hospital ships in support of crisis response.

7. The DoD has alerted field and expeditionary hospitals to be prepared to deploy in support of crisis relief operations.

8. The Corps of Engineers has members in New York to support efforts there.

Summary of Seema Verma’s remarks (Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid):

1. Telehealth efforts are ongoing and expanding capacity to provide care without the need for an in-person visit with a clinician.

2. There is pressure on our PPE resources and the Administration has expanded the number and types of gear that can be used in a healthcare facility to relive some of the pressure.

3. CMS is preparing and will publish recommendations to conserve stocks of PPE. This will include requesting the deferral of dental and nonessential medical procedures during the crisis. See https://www.ada.org/en/press-room/news-releases/2020-archives/march/ada-calls-upon-dentists-to-postpone-elective-procedures

Summary of Robert Wilkie’s remarks (Secretary of Veterans Affairs):

1. The VA is screening and limiting visitors to its facilities to reduce the potential for infection.

2. The VA is adhering to CMS’s recommendations to conserve stocks of PPE as discussed above.

3. One of the VA’s roles is to provide healthcare support for the governmental response to the crisis to include emergency response support.

Other scheduled Federal Government activities:

1. A conference call between President Trump and Vice President Pence and physicians at 1:30 PM ET today.
2. A conference call between President Trump and Vice President Pence and nurses at 3:30 PM ET today.
3. Another press conference to discuss FDA’s COVID-19 response efforts later today or earlier tomorrow (exact date and time to be determined.)
4. A FDA conference call to discuss food safety and supply chain issues at 3:45 PM ET today.

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