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3/26/20 OFW Law Daily COVID-19 News Conference Summary

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a 70-minute press conference beginning at 5:27 this evening. The President left the conference after about 40 minutes.  They were joined by 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 spoke with leaders of the G20 nations this morning, including officials from the UN, the World Health Organization, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund, to discuss the importance of sharing information and data.
  2. He also had a call with governors, where they spoke about economic relief being provided by the CARES Act awaiting a House vote.
  3. He thanked the Senate for passing the bill by 96-0, with both parties coming together. He spent some time reviewing the contents of the bill, including $3,400 payments to families of four, and full salary for four months with expanded unemployment assistance.
  4. He reviewed FEMA’s expanding shipping of supplies and companies volunteering to make ventilators.
  5. The President said states have the first responsibility for responding to many of these needs.
  6. He said the US Navy Hospital Ship Comfort will leave Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday, and will arrive in New York City on Monday, sooner than expected and loaded with supplies. It will dock at Pier 90 in Manhattan, and may be used for surge capacity.  The President plans to travel to Norfolk on Sunday to see the ship’s departure.
  7. NIH is working with FDA on therapies and treatments. The President is committed to bring them to market very quickly.
  8. The President spoke about the letter sent to governors today about reopening areas of the country, using data to update social distancing needs.
  9. The President said people want to go back to work, and we have to go back. He plans to have more information on this matter early next week.  We will continue to practice social distancing, but go back to work.
  10. The President was asked if he was surprised by the 3.3 million unemployment number announced earlier today. He said he was not surprised, and it is no one’s fault.  It was a great decision to stop people coming to the United States from China which helped keep the virus down.  He had heard the unemployment number could have been as high as 6 or 7 million.  He believes “we will see a very fast turnaround after our victory over the hidden enemy.”
  11. The President was asked about reports regarding the potential place of troops at the Canadian border to stop illegal border crossings. The President said he have troops there.  We have a problem with illegal trade, and he highlighted Chinese steel coming through Canada.
  12. He was asked about the US surpassing China in the number of Coronavirus cases. The President said it is a tribute to our country’s testing.  And we can’t trust the reported Chinese numbers.
  13. The President was asked if he has a plan for the unemployed to keep their health insurance. He replied that they are doing a lot on health insurance.  People will be sent checks to help them.
  14. The President was asked about a report from the National Restaurant Association saying 3% of restaurant operators have already permanently closed, and 11% say they anticipate they will permanently close within the next 30 days. The President said he knows that the restaurant business is a tough business.  He believes they will be back in one form or another, perhaps as a different restaurant or with different ownership.
  15. Given that the United States has now had more than 1,000 deaths, is the President relooking at the usage of the Defense Production Act? The President repeated that he believes the use of the Act is not needed because the threat is enough and companies want to comply on their own.
  16. The President was asked if he agrees with the proposal made by Senator Hawley (R-MO) that in order to qualify for assistance cruise lines should be based in the United States and pay taxes. He said he likes the concept, and noted the thousands of people that work in support of the cruise industry.  It is important to have a strong cruise industry.
  17. The President was asked if it is appropriate to help Boeing given its prior problems by providing an additional $17 billion in addition to the other support for the airline industry. The President said the airline business is vital to our country.
  18. The President was asked if he had spoken with President Xi before the President made his comments that Asian Americans should not be blamed for the virus. He said that he did not like that some in China accused American soldiers for bringing the virus to China.  He is planning to speak again with President Xi tonight, and will be talking about doing another trade deal.  He went on to say that there may be some including foreign trading partners who do not want to do another trade deal until after the election because they believe they will get a deal more favorable to them with another President.
  19. The President was asked about a date for opening up other areas of the country following today’s letter to governors. The President did not offer a date saying only we have to open up the country.
  20. He was asked about the stock market rallies over the past few days, and if the economic uncertainty has passed. He said that it has not passed, but we have come a long way.  The market thinks the Administration has done a good job keeping people informed.  Fears are down.  Thousands of people have the disease but do not report it.  Factor those numbers into the calculation when saying how sever it is.
  21. He was asked about the method for classifying individual counties, and if the time period for the guidelines will be extended through next week. The President said we wants the guidelines to continue once areas are open.  People should not be shaking hands.

Summary of the Vice President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The Vice President said the Task Force continues to work on testing and critical supplies.
  2. He said the President has signed 10 disaster declarations, including additional ones today for Illinois, New Jersey, and North Carolina.
  3. The Vice President also spoke about the CARES Act, with its payments to families, payroll support, $150 billion in aid to states, and $100 billion to hospitals and their discussion about the bill with governors.
  4. Testing is now available in all 50 states, with 552,000 tests performed so far. We are getting results, and local hospitals and laboratories should be reporting their testing and results to the CDC.
  5. Abbott Labs has submitted its Point of Care test to the FDA for approval. The Vice President expects FDA Commissioner Hahn to be at tomorrow’s briefing.
  6. He also spoke about self-swab tests, data on shipment of Personal Protective Equipment, and work with suppliers to manufacture ventilators.
  7. He complimented the American Society of Anesthesiologists and its planned video demonstrating how equipment can be converted to be used as a ventilator.
  8. He repeated his prior suggestion that residents of New York City who have traveled elsewhere should self-monitor themselves given that 5 of the top 10 counties for positive cases are in the New York City metropolitan area.
  9. While the unemployment number was large, notice that Walmart, Amazon, CVS, and Pizza Hut are all hiring adding 500,000 jobs.
  10. He highlighted generous donations from business such as AbbVie, Anheuser Busch, and Oyo hotels.
  11. The Vice President was told that some want a Phase 4 bill, and he was asked if one is needed. He said that the President is grateful for all of the work that has been done so far, and that they have made it clear to the governors that they will do whatever it takes, and will evaluate the situation very carefully.

Summary of the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx’s remarks and questions:

  1. Birx said 19 of 50 states have fewer than 200 cases. Opening up testing to do surveillance and contact testing helps with the desire to open up regions of the country. 55% of all cases and new cases are occurring in New York and New Jersey. 
  2. They are aware that there are more cases in Wayne County, Michigan, and Cook County, Illinois. All hotspots are in urban areas.
  3. With respect to testing results. 14% are positive, while 86% are negative.
  4. The United Kingdom is adjusting its needs revising its projections downward from 500,000 deaths to 20,000. They are looking into this revision to understand why it was adjusted.
  5. The predictions offered by models do not meet the reality on the ground of what has happened in China, South Korea, and Italy.
  6. There are still ICU beds and 1000 ventilators not yet used in New York.
  7. Birx was asked about serology tests in Singapore. She said they are talking with CDC, working behind any new strategy.  They idea of using a drop of blood to determine if one is positive or negative IgG using ELISA tests is attractive.  FDA is working on various applications.
  8. Brix was asked how soon she might classify counties. She said there are states that have continued to do surveillance testing, which does not get reported.  There is a platform that states and locals are used to which can be used to ask them to continue screening for flu like symptoms, which will help in this determination.
  9. She was then asked about counties that do not have testing, following different CDC guidelines. Birx suggested that this type of monitoring work has been done in Sub-Saharan Africa, and that approach can be used here.  But there does need to be a federal dialogue with state and local governments.

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

Fauci wanted to talk about the timeline for vaccines and the cycle for rebound. Certainly vaccines will not help now, but there are various vaccines at different stages of development.  Phase 1 testing takes about 3 months.  Then we go to a Phase 2-3 level where items are tested for efficacy.  Some may be eliminated.  But for those that appear to be promising we need to be ready to move to production.  When testing you want to be sure you don’t have enhancement of the disease.  We do not want to make people worse.

  1. We will hear about different drugs in randomized control trials over the next few months. We will see what works and what does not.
  2. If you want to ramp up production, who will pay for it? Dr. Fauci said that the federal government should do some of that, but the companies themselves are willing to make investments.

If counties are opened, there is a risk that people will go from high risk areas to low risk and spread the disease.  How do you account for that?  Dr. Fauci said people need to be responsible and follow the guidelines. 


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