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3/29/20 OFW Law Daily COVID-19 News Conference Summary

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a 90-minute press conference beginning at about 5:40 this evening. They were joined by Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and several executives of private health care and transportation companies who met with the President prior to this press conference.

Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The President said that on Friday FDA authorized a new self-swab test procedure from Abbott Laboratories that can provide results in five minutes.
  2. He spoke about FEMA and the Corps of Engineers constructing hospital facilities in New York, and is doing so or will be doing so in other locations such as Louisiana, New Jersey, and elsewhere.
  3. There will be a deployment of the rapid tests so that it can also help doctors, nurses, and health care workers.
  4. The President said the testing of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin with 1,100 patients in New York continues and results may be available soon.
  5. FDA has approved the experimental use of convalescent plasma. A sick patient receives a blood transfusion from a person that has recovered.  The United States is looking at research on plasma in other countries and is in communication with them.
  6. He is urging the approval of the sterilization of masks, and has heard from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine of a company that is seeking approval. The President believes that reuse can be very beneficial.
  7. Vast amounts of supplies are being delivered. The President had a meeting about how to help the supply chain keep product moving.   He then invited several executives from a number of companies including Cardinal Health, UPS, and FedEx to offer their comments in support of this effort, including how production has ramped up with companies seeing some facilities that previously used 10,000 to 20,000 masks per week now ordering 200,000 to 300,000 per week
  8. The President asked how the usage can go from 10,000 to 200,000, and suggested that someone should look into it.
  9. The President said FEMA is conducting Project Air Bridget to bring in medical products from other countries. He said a flight arrived in New York at JFK Airport today with 80 tons of N95 respirators, face masks, gowns, and gloves.  There are 51 flights scheduled at this time and FEMA is working to schedule an additional 19 flights.
  10. The President suggested that some states are “stocked up and don’t want to admit it.”
  11. The President said insurers Humana and Cigna have told him they will waive copays, coinsurance, and deductibles for Coronavirus treatments.
  12. He said he spoke with restauranteur Wolfgang Puck about the problems restaurants are facing. The President said he has now directed staff to use incentives to keep restaurants open, and is looking to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Scalia to work to restore the corporate tax deductibility of meals and entertainment to help those sectors.
  13. The President reviewed the job retention loans for small businesses, the family direct payments of up to $3,400, and the expanded unemployment benefits provided in the CARES Act. He said he opposed unemployment benefits being delivered through states because he believes the states have antiquated systems and are not prepared to do it. He will go back to Congress for additional authorities if the states cannot get it done.
  14. The President suggested the peak in death rates is likely to come in two weeks. He then went on to say that the social distancing guidelines will be extended through April 30, with his suggesting that the bottom of the curve may occur around June 1.
  15. The President was asked if he accepted Dr. Fauci’s assessment of the number of cases and deaths likely to occur, and was asked if something inappropriate is happening in New York with the President’s questioning of the number of masks being ordered. The President said he thought people might want to check the New York claims.  He said the federal government has about 10,000 ventilators in reserve and is holding them back in case of some emergency.   Following comments from Drs. Fauci and Birx the President said that when you hear there could be 1.6 to 2.2 million deaths if nothing is done, it is a horrible number and he wants to hold it down.
  16. When asked about the President’s prior statement of opening up by Easter, the President said that date was aspirational. He does not want to open up and then have the number of cases go up again.  He suggested that Easter should be the peak period.
  17. The President was asked about new reports that his poll numbers are high, and suggestions that some networks do not want to cover the briefings. The President said he wishes this wasn’t the reason for his ratings.  He wants our lives, our country, our world to come back.
  18. The President was asked if Humana and Cigna did say they will cover all Coronavirus costs, and if he would like other insurance companies to do the same. The President did say full coverage is what he was told by Humana and Cigna, and that he would love to have other companies do it.
  19. He was asked if the federal government will reimburse the insurance companies. He said he was not asked for reimbursement, and waiving means you will not be reimbursed.
  20. He was asked why he threatened quarantines in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The President said he did not threaten quarantines, but said he would look at it.  There were medical personnel that would have liked quarantines and the concept was thrown out to him.
  21. He was then asked if he frightened people with this quarantine discussion. He said he did not believe he frightened people, but people are now staying in their homes.
  22. The President was asked if the United States will provide help to Italy, as Russia and Cuba are doing. He said we will, and that there was discussion of it last night.  We are also working with Spain.
  23. The President was asked if he can ensure that everyone who needs a ventilator will get one. The President said that General Motors has come around, and we are finding more cases because we are doing more testing.  He repeated that we have ventilators that are being reserved and provided when there is an emergency need.
  24. The President was asked why Florida got 100% of the materials it requested but other states had not. The President said that the governors were happy on the last call he had with them.  Good things are happening in Michigan.  We are getting materials to Massachusetts.  You will find that most states are happy.
  25. The President’s letter to the governors suggested there would be criteria for reopening areas. Have enough tests been done to set those standards?  The President said yes, there are now plenty of tests, after having taken over a tiny system.
  26. The President was asked if he wanted to expand on what he plans to announce with the Tuesday strategy. Will the April 30 date be extended?  The President said he hopes the April 30 date will not be extended, but April 30 is an aspirational thought.  It probably could be done by Easter but he doesn’t want to take a chance. He had thought he was going to announce the April 30 extension on Tuesday, but he thought that date might leak so he made the announcement today.  He is glad that Drs. Birx and Fauci gave him the potential numbers.
  27. The President was asked about his claim that more people might die from the economic challenge. What health officials told him so?  The President said it is a matter of common sense.  Mental depression can result in massive suicides.  There could be drug addiction resulting in deaths.
  28. The President was asked if he anticipates relaxing restrictions by region during the next 30 days. He said he does not.
  29. With the extension of the guidelines period and governors with stay in place policies, it sounds like the country is shutting down for another month, and potentially to June 1. The President said options can improve over time, and he again said he believes June 1 will be the bottom of the hill.
  30. The President was asked if another relief bill may be needed. The President said he is prepared to do whatever is needed to save lives and bring back the economy.  He said he expects we will make money with the warrants that will be issued with companies getting federal assistance.
  31. The President was asked if there was any dissent from his top economic advisors regarding extending the date to April 30. He said perhaps before we had the numbers of people who could die.  We cannot risk that number of deaths.
  32. The President was asked if he has retaken the test. He said that he has not, but he might try the new self-swab one.  He does not think another test is needed.

Summary of Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D.’s remarks:

  1. 894,000 tests have been conducted by close of business yesterday.
  2. There is the point of care test, referencing the swab test that can provide a positive test in 5 minutes or negative in 15 minutes. Abbott is providing 50,000 or more tests per day starting April 2, with the first group having been shipped out already.
  3. He also briefly spoke about moderate and very large testing platforms.
  4. Priorities for testing are those most in need, those who are symptomatic, and first responders including health care workers.
  5. The FDA approval of the self-swab test is a big deal. It increases the speed for getting results and avoids the need for Personal Protective Equipment.

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

  1. Birx in response to the question to the President about the extension of the mitigation deadline to April 30 that they reviewed all models and went back to work on the actual reports. They have looked at the data from the  Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and Chris Murray.  The models suggested there could be between 1.6 and 2.2 million fatalities if we did not take action to mitigate.  She knows it is a huge sacrifice to protect Americans and health care providers.  She said comprehensive provisions will be presented Tuesday.
  2. When the President was asked if the peak will occur in two weeks and how bad it might be, Dr. Birx said they have a grave concern when they looked at models, including Chris Murray’s. She said we are seeing things in the United States that weren’t seen in other countries. The models showed the potential for 80,000 to 200,000 deaths with mitigation.  We are now doing better.  We hope the models are not completely right. Our population is 8-9 years younger than the European population and we know the elderly and those with preexisting conditions are more susceptible, so those differences impact US potential.
  3. With respect to a question to the President about Louisiana and holding Mardi Gras, Dr. Birx said she had spoken a week ago about potential issues in New Orleans, Detroit, Dearborn, and Cook County. We think the Coronavirus may have been circulating for a couple of weeks.   The fastest expanding counties around New York City are Rockland and Bergen, which are transient areas.

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

  1. Fauci said in response to the question asked of the President regarding the projected number of positive cases and deaths that those numbers are based on modeling. The numbers are conceivable if we do nothing. They are working to be sure that these worst cases do not happen, and feels that mitigation is having an effect.  The decision to extend the mitigation date is prudent.  The potential numbers did play a role in the decision.
  2. Fauci said models are good but based on assumptions. You have worst extremes and best extremes.  As a scientist he does not ignore the model but wants to do everything possible to avoid the extreme.
  3. With respect to New Orleans, Dr. Fauci said the expansion can happen anywhere, and that is what happened in New Orleans and New York. We are looking to avoid this happening elsewhere.

Summary of the Vice President’s remarks:

  1. The Vice President offered comments in which he thanked the American people.
  2. He said that on Tuesday the full range of council from the Task Force will be provided.
  3. Americans should be grateful for health care workers.
  4. There will be 51 aircraft with supplies coming in.
  5. He thanked American businesses.
  6. He offered praise for FEMA, HHS, and other partners.

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