President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence held a 2-hour and 15-minute press conference beginning at about 1:52 this afternoon. They were joined by Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Surgeon General of the United States Vice Admiral Jerome Adams.
Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:
- The President said he continues to monitor data from throughout the country. The number of deaths is horrible, but the number of beds being used is going down
- The models previously had 100,000 deaths at the lower end. He thinks that number will now be substantially lower, at 60,000 with mitigation efforts.
- Detroit and New Orleans are stabilizing. He does not believe that New Orleans will need all of the beds the Corps of Engineers has been building.
- Washington State is returning an Army field hospital.
- New York hospital admissions are declining substantially.
- The US fatality rate is low compared to other countries.
- They are looking at the incidents of the virus in minority communities.
- He has directed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to expedite aid to farmers, ranchers and producers, referencing the $16 billion included in recent assistance bills.
- FDA has approved 47 emergency use authorizations. Hydroxychloroquine is being provided to the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense.
- We are in great shape with supplies. They are getting very few if any calls from governors.
- He spoke about serology tests, and said that NIH, CDC, and the FDA are working to validate antibody tests. Once approved production will be scaled up to tens of millions.
- There will be an announcement regarding the World Health Organization (WHO) sometime next week. (The President appeared to suggest that the US contribution to WHU will be held back.)
- There are 60 sterilization systems being shipped to 10 cities. They can sterilize 80,000 masks per day, and can go up to 120,000 per day.
- The stock market’s performance this week tells us that there is pent up demand.
- The President was asked how we will see the invisible enemy being in retreat. He said it will be through fewer incidents and more testing.
- The President was asked about reports in the New York Times that the Departments of Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security have sad that if stay at home orders are lifted after 30 days there could be a resurgence of the virus. He said he had not seen this report.
- The President was asked about JP Morgan reporting that there will be a 40% decline in GDP growth in the second quarter. The President said his economic advisers are interested in the third and fourth quarters. He again said there is great pent up demand, and said they have provided a tremendous stimulus plan. This quarter is not the one at which he is looking.
- He was asked if he is concerned that credit and debt will hobble the economy, and if he would urge credit card companies to reduce their fees. He said it has already been suggested to these companies. He went on to express concerns that insurance companies need to do more to provide assistance, suggesting the pandemic should be an eligible basis for a business interruption insurance claim.
- He was asked how he squares his prior claim that anyone who wants a test can get one with his view of reopening the country without tests. He said that not everyone needs to be tested. Some areas have had few or no cases. If there is a little hot corner, we will be testing. But there is not a need to test 325-350 million people.
- The President was asked given that health disparities in African American communities have been known for a very long time, why didn’t the Administration have a plan to prevent deaths knowing the disparities that existed. The President responded with a review of the record number of jobs in African American communities.
- The President was asked about Google and Apple enabling contact tracing on their devices, and if he would encourage it. He said they will take a strong look at it, and did say there are privacy concerns.
- The President was asked why is it appropriate in the middle of a pandemic to talk about cutting funding for the WHO. The President said the US pays ten times more than others, and repeated his view that WHO is China centric. He does not like it and thinks it is unfair to the American people. They will talk about this issue in great detail next week. He also repeated similar concerns about the World Trade Organization, where the US used to lose cases and is now winning them.
- He was asked about Governor DeSantis’ thoughts about reopening schools in Florida, and the safety of such action. The President said he likes to allow governors to make decisions without overruling them.
- The President was asked if the country is reopened and there is a new outbreak, will he shut it down again. He said he is open to it. He then said that he will announce on Tuesday a council for reopening the country. He expects it to include doctors and business leaders. He thinks it will be bipartisan, but he has not asked. He expects it to include representatives from different parts of the country. He was later asked if governors, mayors, or Members of Congress might be members of this council. He said he has developed good relations with a number of governors, and is open to including some from both parties.
- He was asked if he is open to negotiations on the bill currently before Congress, where the Democrats want more funding for hospitals and states. He said he does not deny that there is a need, but thinks it should be address as part of the Phase 4 bill and not the pending measure. He repeated a discussion of the Payroll Protection Program and how the money is going out with applications far beyond what had been anticipated. The increase is needed now.
- He was asked if immunity certification might be available after reopening. Following a discussion of the President’s views on the need for strong borders, he said no one has told him how long the immunity people get may last. Is it lifetime like for chicken pox, or for a shorter period time?
- The President was asked if he has a message to pastors still planning to hold Easter services. He said it is a very complex subject. He said he has spoken with many religious leaders and most agree that it is better to maintain distancing. He urged pastors to heal our country first.
- He was asked about the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort being underutilized, and if medical units should be sent into the cities. He said the ships were sent when the projections for need were much higher. The ships were placed in New York and Los Angeles in case they were needed. He is open to how the personnel are used.
- He was asked if priority testing should be provided for workers at food processing plants. The President said the Denver situation occurred just today and the agencies are actively responding to it.
- He was asked given that he claimed to not have authority to order national stay at home orders, what authority does he have to reopen the country. The President said 95% of the country is covered by stay at home orders and he has respect for the governors. He went on to say he has great authority, but he prefers states take action.
- The President was asked that even though he has said he has views about the WHO response, if he has any thoughts about holding China responsible for the virus outbreak. He said no one has been as strong with China as he has been. We will have reports on all of these concerns. He is constantly in touch with China, and has told them he is not happy.
- The President was asked about Sweden having stayed open, and if he regrets not following that practice. He said if we had stayed open we would have had 2 million deaths. Others tried to stay open and changed their practices. Sweden has suffered greatly.
Summary of the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx’s remarks and questions:
- Birx said that for the first time to see logarithmic curves leveling like Italy did a week ago. It is largely because of what the people in the New York metro area have been doing.
- They still see cases in Boston and Chicago, but the situation is stabilizing. She praised the mayors of Baltimore and Washington, DC for their efforts.
- She did caution that as encouraging as the signs are we have not yet reached the peak. The Task Force is learning from Washington, California and Oregon on how they kept the peak from becoming logarithmic.
- With respect to having the invisible enemy in retreat Dr. Birx said it is a matter of RNA diagnostic testing. It is the same platforms that have been used for HIV viral loads. More are being brought on line each day. Last year 3 to 4 million viral loads were done nationally in total. This year 2.2 million have been done in 4 weeks, which is unprecedented. Testing is part of the answer. The second part is syndromic surveillance. There is a need to focus testing with strategic surveillance. Go back to contact tracing. She had called for ELISA tests from universities, and this is what is being worked on now. Tests are focused where the need is the greatest.
- When the President was asked what might happen if the country reopens given that the models are based on social distancing through May. Dr. Birx said it is the IHME model that is based on action through May. We are evaluating action taken by people. No one has ever taken a country-wide or global-wide approach to mitigation. There is nothing in literature about what to expect. Models continue to evolve, and it is difficult to evaluate each individual component. There are states that have been conducting tests and contact tracing. She also said 6 superb roadmaps to reopening have developed.
Summary of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s questions:
- Fauci noted that we are at the end of the week that they had predicted last week. It is not the time to pull back on efforts. He is heartened by what states and communities have done. The governors of the states in the middle of the country are really committed. He noted a conversation he had earlier today with the governors of Wyoming and Arkansas.
- He said there are lots of interventions going into clinical trials. Many are randomized clinical trials that are the gold standard. We will begin to see results in several months.
- With respect to the question to the President about reports in the New York Times that the Departments of Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security said there could be a resurgence of the virus if stay at home orders at lifted after 30 days, Dr. Fauci said he has not seen the report. But he did say that whenever we pull back he expects to see cases. He wants to be able to identify and respond to these findings.
- With respect to the safety of reopening schools in Florida, Dr. Fauci said that if generally there are not good controls there is a likelihood that children will be infected and bring that infection home. But he does not want to speculate about Florida since he does not have specific information.
Summary of FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s remarks:
- Hahn said that the FDA has authorized two companies to produce machines to sterilize masks. The machines can treat 80,000 N95 masks per day, and they hope to further increase that capability
- He said the FDA is providing guidance on the laundering of gowns. Certified providers who follow the guidance will be in compliance with Medicare and Medicaid guidelines.
- Guidance is also being issued on the manufacturing specifications for cloth gowns. Those following the guidance can make them without further regulatory red tape.
Summary of Surgeon General of the United States Vice Admiral Jerome Adams’s remarks and questions:
- Admiral Adams emphasized that mitigation works.
- He said he met with a large number of Hispanic leaders yesterday and today spoke with hundreds of African American leaders regarding the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. It is alarming but not surprising that with conditions like high blood pressure and asthma that these communities are at greater risk. He showed the inhaler he has carried with him for many years as caution for an asthma attack.
- He mentioned the importance of washing hands, but said since 30% of homes in the Navajo nation do not have running water we should see how some communities have a more difficult time in following the guidelines.
- He did say these groups are not genetically predisposed to the disease, but are socially predisposed. It does not have to be the future.
- He said more details will be forthcoming, including their looking at employment training, housing, social, and other health support matters.
- With respect to the question to the President regarding health disparities in African American communities and action to deal with the deaths in those communities, the Surgeon General said there is a need for targeted outreach in African American communities. He spoke about his having discussed the issue with the NACCP 3 weeks ago.
Summary of the Vice President’s remarks:
- The Vice President said it is important all Americans continue to follow the guidance.
- He spoke about today’s call with African American leaders and the unique challenges in their communities. CDC is studying the issue and will rapidly be issuing new guidance.
- The Vice President spoke with Governor Polis and Senator Gardner of Colorado regarding an outbreak in a meat packing facility, and the appropriate agencies are working to resolve the issue.
- He said he is grateful to churches working for their members, and asked them to please continue to heed the guidelines. He is grateful that so many have followed them.