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

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a 90-minute press conference beginning at 11:50 this morning. They were joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The President said he has talked with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer regarding the next recovery bill, and they had a very good conversation. He has also spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and said there is a spirit to get something done.
  2. The President announced that standardized testing requirements in elementary schools will not be enforced, and that interest will be waived on all federally-held student loans for at least 60 days.
  3. The deadline for filing federal income taxes is being moved from April 15 to July 15, with no interest or penalties for payments.
  4. He applauded California Governor Newsom and New York Governor Cuomo for their actions in their states.
  5. He said the travel restrictions being put in place at midnight tonight regarding nonessential travel between the US and Canada and the US and Mexico will help health in all three nations.
  6. The Center for Disease Control is giving authority to Customs and Border Protection to prevent the transmission of the virus at our northern and southern borders. (42 U.S.C. 265)
  7. Mexico will be suspending air travel from Europe, eliminating the risk that people will come from Europe to the United States through Mexico.
  8. He said he has implemented portions of 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 masks and
  9. He spoke about other steps being taken, including the provision of guaranteed sick leave to employees at no cost to employers, moving to accelerate the availability of medications, the lifting of travel restrictions so stores can get needed supplies.
  10. The President said we have learned a lot about relying on other countries, “…some good, some bad”.
  11. When questioned the President said that he has not had to impose orders under the Defense Protection Act because companies are volunteering to comply. The authority is being used now to get masks and ventilators.  When states say they have a hard time getting masks they will be shipped directly to the states.
  12. The President does not expect a national lockdown. New York and California are hotbeds, as are Miami and Seattle.   The Midwest and other areas do not have the same problems.
  13. When asked about the success of the current program the President said he is honored with the response. It is the first time that it has ever happened that people had to be asked not to work/.
  14. When asked about criticisms that the Phase 3 response package is too heavily weighted towards businesses, the President said that the package is under discussion right now. He does not want to see stock buybacks. In response to a later question he said he was not happy when the tax cuts were used to pay for stock buybacks, and he would now demand restrictions.
  15. When asked about the potential value of hydroxychloroquine and if it could be used as a prophylaxis, the President said he is encouraged. This resulted in further exchanges with Dr. Fauci in which Dr. Fauci said the information about the drug is anecdotal, not from a controlled clinical trial.  While the President said we will know soon once it is being used, Dr. Fauci remained cautious absent a controlled clinical trial.  He later said he recognizes the President’s optimism, and the substance might be successful.  As a scientist he believes in the need to collect data to show it is safe and effective. 
  16. With respect to immediate availability, the President said millions of units are being ordered from Bayer. FDA is working on the necessary approvals right now.
  17. The President was challenged on his impulse to put a positive spin, and asked if it is giving false hope to people. He said he did not think so, suggesting we ought to give it a try with nothing to lose.  He later went to say in response to people being scared that the incidence of death is lower than originally thought.  He believes the American people have been incredible, and that we will “come out stronger, bigger, and better.”
  18. The President was asked if we are overreacting with shutdowns, as some people believe. We do not shut down for other activities, like auto fatalities.  President Trump said that others are agreeing with his actions, and we will see in a few weeks how it works.  We can bring finances back, but cannot bring back people. Dr. Fauci went on to say that it is a false equivalency with traffic accidents.  The more realistic comparison is to look at what has happened in China and Italy.
  19. The President was again pressed on Wall Street analysts saying unemployment will skyrocket. Will a payment of $1,000 be enough?  The President said the payments will be more and the economy will come back when we “win the war with the invisible enemy.”
  20. When asked that states are complaining that they are being outbid by the federal government, the President said that if states call to alert us to the situation the federal bid will be withdrawn. This is happening more and more.
  21. The President was asked again today when all Americans can get a test. The President again said he does not want all Americans to get a test, but only those who need it. 

Summary of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks and questions:

The State Department is staying focused on other diplomatic challenges as well as coronavirus.

  1. The US and Canada have jointly agreed to impose nonessential travel restrictions tonight at midnight. These restrictions will be reviewed after 30 days.  
  2. The US and Mexico will also restrict nonessential travel across the border.
  3. There is now a level 4 global travel advisory in effect. International travel should be avoided.  US citizens abroad should plan to return as soon as possible, or be prepared to remain in place.  He also referred people to https://step.state.gov/step/
  4. He also spoke about disinformation campaigns that are underway questioning the credibility of the US response to coronavirus, saying Americans and others should be confident in the information being put forth by US agencies.
  5. Secretary Pompeo responded to a question asked of the President regarding Mexico not having commented on the European travel suspension, and that Mexico would not take back non-Mexicans. The Secretary said he has spoken with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, and said they were comfortable that they would reach a good plan.  The President said we will send people back to the countries they came from, and there is no reason for Mexico to take them.
  6. Secretary Pompeo was asked about the disinformation campaign coming from China, Russia, and Iran. The Secretary said State has spoken with each of these countries, and said there are other things they are doing as well.  It is important to preserve the integrity of the information that is being put out to Americans.

Summary of Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf’s remarks and questions:

Secretary Wolf said that DHS has screened more than 200,000 individuals returning from other countries.

  1. DHS is working with Canada and Mexico to implement effective travel measures. The limit on non-essential travel does not impact trade or commerce.  Trips for medical, education, emergency response to public health services, or trade purposes are allowed.
  2. The CDC order directs DHS to stop travel into the US for individuals without proper travel documents. CDC has determined that coronavirus would place CBP personnel and migrants in those facilities in danger, as well as the American people. CDC has stopped foreign nationals from 120 countries, the vast majority of which have coronavirus.
  3. When asked about how the turn back of illegal entrants will work the Acting Secretary said there will be limited contact with those individuals, and they will be returned very rapidly, not the multiple days that we have had up until now.

Summary of Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar’s remarks and questions:

Secretary Azar spoke about the CDC authority the President described, more commonly known as Section 362 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 265). He said these provisions do not apply to US citizens or lawful residents,

  1. He said that between October and February 21,000 illegal individuals were stopped at our northern border, and 150,000 at our southern border.
  2. Secretary Azar disputed a question suggesting that CDC had picked up information about the situation in Wuhan in December and should have let others know. Secretary Azar said they learned about the situation on January 3 and later learned that there had been cases in December.
  3. Secretary Azar was asked about claims that laboratories are not able to get testing supplies. He said that tremendous progress is being made in testing.  There are anecdotal incidents of problems.  A laboratory task force is being set up in FEMA to deal with these situations because at times these laboratories do not know about alternative sources of supply.

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

  1. Birx said that they are continuing to review data. They are finding that those under 20 may have severe disease but the majority recover.  They have also seen in Italy that fatality in males is up to twice as high in all age groups. 
  2. They continue to ask all Americans to follow the guidelines of keeping groups to ten and under and to quarantine in households. See https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/03.16.20_coronavirus-guidance_8.5x11_315PM.pdf
  3. There is no new data.
  4. No one is immune. They may be contagious with a better ability to fight the disease.

Summary of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s remarks and questions:

Fauci continues to believe the key strategy is to keep infections from without coming into the country.

  1. The recommendations made in the guidelines are applicable to the entire country. Some areas have been impacted more than others. He strongly supports the actions announced by Governor Cuomo.
  2. New CDC research has shown that 13% of people getting the virus have gotten it from people who are asymptomatic. Does this change how the problem should be addressed?  Fauci said that it does not change the recommendations for the need for physical separation. 
  3. Fauci was again asked if it would be better to test everyone and isolate those who are affected. Dr. Fauci said he does not see how testing everyone helps.  Do not conflict testing with the need for taking action as recommended in the guidelines.
  4. He was also asked about aerosol transmission. He replied that aerosol always comes up and it is possible.  But what has been seen so far has resulted from close enough contact with symptomatic persons.

Summary of the Vice President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The task force met this morning and continues to work with states. The Vice President is inspired by how people and businesses are coming together to fight the disease.
  2. Later today they will talk with manufacturers from around the country.
  3. They met with all of the governors via FEMA’s National Response Center. He urges every American to follow the guidance coming from their governors.
  4. They are working with Republicans and Democrats on an economic recovery package, which he expects to be voted on early next week.
  5. More Americans are being tested and every means of getting needed supplies is being pursued.
  6. He is more encouraged than ever regarding the supply of N95 masks and expects major announcement this weekend. Millions of N95 masks are being donated.
  7. He is encouraged about ventilators. The challenge has been to work to free up units.  They have identified tens of thousands than can be retrofitted and converted to use. 
  8. People are again encouraged to postpone elective medical procedures in order to free up both hospital space and equipment. They are also encouraged to follow the 15-day guideline to slow the spread of the disease.
  9. In response to questions raised about states continuing to have questions or issues about accessing supplies the Vice President said that every state and local government unit should contact FEMA regional support centers for assistance.

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