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4/13/20 OFW Law Daily COVID-19 News Conference Summary

President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence held a nearly 2-hour and 25-minute press conference beginning at about 5:47 this evening. The President left after about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  They were joined by Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and FEMA Supply Chain Task Force Leader Rear Admiral John Polowczyk.

Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The President said that the daily new infection rate remains flat. Hospitals are slowing admissions.  He is hopeful that we will have fewer than 100,000 deaths
  2. The President spent a notable period where he detailed the action he took on various dates going back to January when there were no reported cases of coronavirus in the US. He argued how would it have been received had he ordered a shutdown of the country when there were no cases.  He then showed a video showing media reporting in January along with actions taken since then and positive comments from a variety of governors.  He also reviewed the number of ventilators and hospital beds that have been provided compared to what governors had requested, comparing those requests to actual and now declining needs.
  3. He said HHS today signed 5 new contracts for additional ventilators. He detailed the number of ventilators expected to be provided to the national stockpile in the coming weeks, saying that with the larger number we will help other countries requesting ventilators while also helping states get more ventilators if they need them.
  4. He said no one who has needed a ventilator has gone without one, and that no one who has needed a hospital bed has been denied one. The Army Corps of Engineers has built hospitals and is prepared to build more if needed.
  5. He said 5 more Air Flights arrived today.
  6. Three million tests have been done with an additional 115,000 tests each day. Testing is particularly high in areas hardest hit.
  7. He said Remdesivir, produced by Gilead, has shown promising results in compassionate use settings.
  8. FDA has granted emergency use authorization for a device that removes certain proteins from the bloodstream, possibly preventing the immune system from overreacting.
  9. He expects that the Census Bureau will be asking for a delay on the census date given that they cannot conduct field operations.
  10. Cash payments are being put out by the IRS, which 80 million Americans will receive by the end of the week.
  11. The Paycheck Protection Program has been a tremendous success with over $200 billion in loans made. Funds need to be replenished.
  12. He is close to completing a plan to reopen the country, hopefully ahead of schedule. Guidelines will soon be finalized for governors to use to reopen states.  He later said there are a number of committees being set up as part of the new council to provide advice on reopening.  When he was later asked about the structure of the task force committees he said there would be a variety of groups, specifically noting transportation, manufacturing, and faith leaders.  He then said in response to another question that he expects recommendations to be provided soon, because those being appointed are smart people who will know what he wants.
  13. The President was asked what in the Constitution gives him the authority to order the reopening. He suggested a brief will be provided.
  14. He was then asked about two consortia of states that are working together to develop their own plans for reopening. He replied that the President has the authority to do what the President will do.  It is a decision for the President, but he will work with states.  They cannot do anything unless the President approves it.  When he was pressed on the authority question he said the President’s authority is total.
  15. He was asked if we will take the advice of medical experts again before reopening. He said he will listen to them and others.  He does not think they are that far apart.
  16. He was asked about governors saying there needs to be testing in order to reopen, and if he will help. He said the governors are on the ground and should take action.
  17. He was told that Maryland Governor Hogan has suggested that states need $500 billion that was not included in the CARES Act. The President said they will look at that as part of Phase 4.
  18. The President was asked about his recommendations regarding funding for the WHO. He said a decision will be made by the end of the week.
  19. The President was asked his thoughts on the Google and Apple contact tracing app. He said he thinks it is amazing but there are some people who have constitutional concerns.  He will be discussing the matter with a lot of people over the next 4 weeks.

Summary of Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin’s remarks and questions:

  1. Secretary Mnuchin said the IRS is ahead of schedule on providing economic impact payments. He expects that 80 million Americans should have a direct deposit by Wednesday.
  2. He said that on Wednesday those who had not signed for direct deposit will be able to go to irs.gov to enter the information necessary to secure their own direct deposit of this payment. Social Security recipients will also be provided with direct payments.
  3. The Paycheck Protection Program has provided $230 billion in loans with 4,600 lenders participating. It is multiples of anything that the Small Business Administration has done before. 
  4. Half of available funds will go to states this week, also ahead of time.
  5. Treasury is working with the Federal Reserve on the Main Street lending program with $2.3 trillion in liquidity.
  6. The Secretary was asked that Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer have claimed that they are negotiating with the Secretary regarding additional funding needs. Senate Majority Leader McConnell doesn’t want to add other items.  The Secretary said that there is a need to top off the Payment Protection Program now.  They are just starting to get money out to states.  They will sit down and work to get it out, and be open to additional needs at that time.
  7. He was asked if there are concerns about releasing reopening guidelines too soon. The Secretary said that are economic risks in either direction, and said we will open when ready.
  8. The Secretary was asked if the members of the new council have been asked to join and how have they responded. He said that the invitations have not been sent, but the list reviewed with the President.  There will be vertical sets of members for every sector of the economy.
  9. He was asked about what might be included in the Phase 4 response bill. He suggested hospitals, restaurants, entertainment and other industries will be considered with provisions to stimulate the economy.  Some may be funding, while others may be regulatory reform.

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

  1. Fauci said it looks like even though we had a very bad week last week matters are looking hopeful.
  2. He said he had a productive call this morning with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He said there is a need to focus getting resources where the vulnerable are, and to help mitigate the consequences in those communities.
  3. He wanted to clarify that during an interview yesterday the answer he gave was to a hypothetical question. The answer was taken as something was at fault.  He said the first and only time he and Dr. Birx made a recommendation to the President for the stay at home mitigation strategy the President listened.  When they went to say that 15 days was not enough and it should go to 30 days the President listened.  He also spoke briefly about the travel restrictions for China, Europe, and the United Kingdom.
  4. He was asked if there was pushback on the recommendations. Fauci said it is the wrong choice of words.  There was not anyone saying they should not do it.
  5. He was asked if he will be willing to tell the American people what he recommends to the President and how he reacts. Fauci said he will have to think about this question. Sometimes conversations have to be confidential.  He said he is sure the President will listen but will get multiple inputs.
  6. He was asked what mistakes were made early on and what could be learned from them. Dr. Fauci said he did not want to call them “mistakes”. He would not want it to be taken out of context.  The virus was worse than what we had learned early on.  He said he personally might have done more to delve into the transmission of the virus.  It was not a mistake but an evolving thing.

Summary of the Vice President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The Vice President said it is important all Americans continue to follow the guidance.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The Vice President was asked if he agrees with the President’s claim of Presidential power as absolute. He said that he supports the President’s leadership under the national emergency declaration the President signed.  All 50 states for the first time ever are under a declaration, which is unprecedented. He said there is a long history of the President’s plenary authority during a national emergency.
  6. He was asked if the governors told him of their plans during their call today. He said he told the 48 governors who were on the call that guidelines are being developed and certified by the CDC that will inform governors and local mayors on the best ways forward based on local circumstances.  He said they will work with the states.
  7. The Vice President said Abbott has been providing cartridges to FEMA who in turn distributes them. They are now moving to get them to states and have states ordering.  They are also working with other suppliers to produce more cartridges.
  8. He then spoke about telling governors that other equipment produced by Roche Amplicor, saying 20% of the available capacity is not being used by states. With respect to the Abbott m2000 device, 75% of the capacity is not be used.  If the governors and states activated the machines that are already there we can double testing capacity literally overnight.

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

  1. Birx said the incidence in the New York metro area dwarfs all other areas – 250,000 cases versus less than 25,000 per area. If one takes New York and New Jersey out, the curves of other areas are flattening out.  They are treating each area independently to monitor performance.
  2. US mortality is less when comparing to a European population of a similar size.
  3. She also spoke about the Roche and Abbott machines, and said that Dr. Fauci has reached out to research laboratories that could with their own machines supplement the various through put labs.
  4. We have gone from 300,000 to 3 million tests in 3 weeks. She said we know we need to do more.
  5. She continues to talk with many states, finding outbreaks in nursing homes. There have been asymptomatic people who unknowingly passed the virus.  There is a need to increase surveillance in a meaningful way.

Summary of FEMA Supply Chain Task Force Leader Rear Admiral John Polowczyk’s remarks:

  1. Admiral Polowczyk reviewed upcoming ventilator delivery dates; Air Bridge flights; supplies for the New York metro area, Chicago, New Orleans, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other combined areas.
  2. He said the Defense Production Act was used to contact with 5 companies to get mask production increased to 120 million by the end of the year, lessening dependence on foreign sources.

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