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4/16/20 OFW Law Daily COVID-19 News Conference Summary

President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence held a 1-hour and 15-minute press conference beginning at about 6:05 this evening. They were joined by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, MD.

Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The President said we have had the greatest national mobilization since World War II. It has been a shared national sacrifice. 
  2. The strategy to slow the spread has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
  3. Experts say the curve has flattened and the peak in new cases is behind us. At this time 850 counties – 30% of the country – have reported no new cases in the last 7 days.
  4. The team of experts agree that we can begin the next front in the war – Opening Up America Again.
  5. To preserve the health of our citizens we need to preserve the health of our economy.
  6. A shutdown increases the total number of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide, heart disease, along with other dimensions of physical and mental well-being.
  7. New federal guidelines will allow governors to take a phased approach to reopening – based on hard, reliable data. There will be three phases with one careful step at a time.  Some states will be able to open sooner than others.
  8. Instead of a blanket shutdown we can shelter those at the highest risk. There will be clear scientific metrics for each phase.
  9. Throughout citizens will continued to be called upon to do their part – teleworking, social distancing, hygiene practices. Governors can take action as needed.
  10. He is encouraging states to harmonize regional efforts.
  11. He wants to identify outbreaks and put them out rapidly.
  12. At this point 3.5 million tests have been completed. Hot spots have done more testing per capita than South Korea.  There now are 600,000 Abbott rapid tests made available.
  13. Tests in commercial labs have dropped from 100,000 to 75,000 per day based on increased capacity. It is an affirmation that testing is going at an historic rate.
  14. The President was asked that since it appears that a handful of states look like they are meeting the gating criteria, did any governors suggest they could move ahead. He said he did.  We will have some states in the coming days that can move ahead.  Sports could be starting without fans.   We ultimately want packed arenas, and the same for restaurants.
  15. He was asked if the 30-day effort is still in place, or is it being replaced. He said it is still in place but dependent upon what individual governors may want to do.
  16. He was asked what his message is to protestors refusing to comply with stay at home orders. He said it is a tough issue, and it is difficult to stay at home.  When you look at all that has happened, the American people have been incredible.
  17. He was asked what he said about the exhaustion of funds in the Payroll Protection Program in his call with the congressional groups. He said that an additional $250 billion has been requested, which is liked by Democrats and loved by Republicans.  He thinks something will be happening, and they are negotiating with the Democrats.  He believes they should approve the additional funds quickly.  They are trying to get things and we aren’t too happy about it.
  18. He was asked about the guidelines shifting the burden on testing to states and businesses, and what the federal government will do to help states and local governments pay for the testing. The President said they are in communication with governors and will provide some assistance, but it is up to the governors since testing needs are a localized matter.
  19. He was asked how many and which states are ready to move ahead. The President said there are 29 states in the ballgame.  It is up to the individual governors. It could be, as Dr. Fauci has said, that there could be some flare-ups in the fall.   We want to be ready.
  20. The President was asked if he is opening up the country without widespread testing because we do not have the capacity or if it is not necessary. He said we have the capacity, but some states have virtually no cases so testing is not needed.  It is a different situation in different states.
  21. He was asked what he would like to see at benchmarks like July 4 and Labor Day. He said he does not want to anticipate. States have made a lot of progress.  He does not want anyone coming back that is not in a position to come back. 

Summary of the Vice President’s remarks:

  1. The Vice President said they spoke with a bipartisan group of members of the House and Senate.
  2. The guidelines are predicated on the best science.
  3. So far 640,000 Americans have contracted the virus, and 31,000 have died. The decisions made by the President early on with travel restrictions, working with governors and healthcare workers, and the cooperation of the American people has resulted in slowing the spread and flattening the curve.
  4. The intention is to provide governors with guidelines to assist then in the reopening of their states at a time and in a manner of their choosing.
  5. He reviewed the increases in testing, saying that 5 million tests will have been conducted by the end of the month.
  6. The guidelines can be implemented on a state-wide or county by county basis. 

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

  1. Birx proceeded with a series of slides covering the guidelines and the process leading up to them. She first spoke about the proposed state or regional gating criteria that need to be satisfied before proceeding to phased opening.  This included tracking the number of cases, and for hospitals allowing treatment without proceeding to crisis care. 
  2. She spoke about core state preparedness responsibilities, including the need for sentinel surveillance, monitoring nursing homes, inner city federal clinics, and indigenous populations.
  3. She said they want to be sure there is sufficient Personal Protective Equipment, with every state having a plan to protect healthcare workers.
  4. She reviewed guidelines at each phase, including elements for individuals and employers.
  5. Birx was asked about some public health experts saying opening will be better if we have comprehensive testing. She said that early alerts are the key.  CDC will be putting people in every state.  Constant sentinel surveillance for asymptomatic individuals will be important.
  6. Birx was asked for those states who are not ready to come back how many millions of tests might be needed. She said that hospitals and clinics have moved to point of care tests.  This capacity allows another million tests per week.  There is a need to deal with single labs to learn their capacity.  It is more of letting every governor and public health official know where the testing capability might be. 

Summary Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s remarks and questions:

  1. Fauci said the guidelines provide a rather robust program. He repeated that this will be a natural evolution, and not a light switch being turned on.  We have a very large country with different dynamics.  The predominant and completely driving element is the safety of the American public.
  2. To get into phasing a state has to pass a hurdle.
  3. We may have a virus that wants to come back so it is important for people to continue to follow the guidelines.
  4. Fauci was asked if in Phase 3 we will see large events like, sporting, etc. He said it is conceivable, but it is important that we have to pay attention since there may be setbacks and we need to be prepared to respond to them.
  5. With respect to testing on reopening, Dr. Fauci said people have gotten confused because we had focused on ventilators and PPEs. We are now getting into a grace period where we can look into what is the penetrance into society and what might we be missing.  The antibody test will allow us to learn if people have had the disease, so we will have both. We will be in better shape as we go into the fall.

Summary of Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, MD’s questions:

  1. Dr. Redfield in furtherance of item 5 with Dr. Fauci said what is important is that we will be focused on early case recognition, contact tracing, and isolation

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