President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence held a 2-hour press conference beginning at about 6:21 yesterday evening. They were joined by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, MD, and Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D.
Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:
- The President said governors are making decisions that are right for their states.
- The Treasury has sent out economic relief payments to more than 80 million Americans. If people have not gotten their payments they can go to irs.gov/getmypayment. Less than 1% have had problems with these payments.
- Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will be announcing $19 billion in relief payments to dairy, meat, and produce producers, getting funds to people in need. Another $14 billion will be available in July.
- The amount of US testing shows a leveling of positive cases. Testing capacity is available. There will be 5.5 million testing swabs provided to states in the coming weeks. He wants to help states get even better in their testing capability.
- FDA yesterday announced efforts with several companies to increase the availability of swabs.
- We will help Mexico and other countries with access to ventilators.
- He believes several states will make announcements about reopening in the coming days.
- He reviewed the variety of efforts, the amount of supplies provided, and the revised projections for the number of deaths resulting from COVID-19. The number of deaths may now be down to 60,000-65,000.
- FDA announced 2 new antibody tests this week, bringing the total up to 4.
- NIH has announced a partnership with more than 12 biopharmaceutical companies to accelerate the development of vaccines and therapies. Testing will be needed, and that testing could take more than a year.
- The President was asked about Washington Governor Inslee saying that the President’s tweets about state actions are not helpful. The President said some states are being too tough, and he specifically called out Virginia with its efforts to restrict 2nd Amendment rights.
- He was asked if states should lift their stay at home orders. He said that some of the states’ orders are too much.
- He was asked if he has concerns that those coming out in protest are going to spread the disease to others. He said that these people are being treated too roughly.
- He was asked about difficulties for later-peaking states. The President said they are seeing the peaks dropping in many states. Fewer people feel they are sick. States are dropping rather quickly.
- The President was asked about US intelligence saying that the virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan, and why it had received an Obama Administration NIH grant of $3.7 million in 2015. He said they have heard about it and are looking into it.
- He was asked if the next round of relief funding for the Payroll Protection Program will be enough. He said the program is a tremendous success. Banks and community banks have been wonderful, and the funds go to small businesses which make up 50% of the power of our business enterprises. Funding should be supported by Democrats.
- House Minority Leader McCarthy has said they are considering adding money for hospitals in this next people. The President said that would be a good thing, or could be added to the Phase 4 bill with funding for infrastructure.
- He was asked how he can get businesses up and running while schools are closed. The President said money has been given to get businesses back up and running, and that we will open up. He said states should get together to determine regional needs. He also said he expects schools will be open soon.
- He was asked about his reactions to policies in Virginia and Michigan, which do not have declining cases. He said what these states have done is very severe, and repeated his claim that Virginia wants to take guns away from people.
- He was asked which states are ready to open and how soon they may open. He said he leaves it to the governors, but the federal government has a lot to say.
Summary of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s remarks:
- Secretary Perdue said the President had promised to have farmers’ backs and he has. American Agriculture has been hard hit by coronavirus.
- USDA is announcing food assistance programs including $16 billion in direct payments to producers. They will use $19.5 billion from the CARES Act and an additional $6.5 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation funds. Additional funds will be needed in July.
- Of this amount $3 billion will be used to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat products for distribution to food banks and other food programs.
Summary of the Vice President’s remarks:
- The Vice President said we are making progress. Despite more than 36,000 deaths we are seeing the number of new cases being reported declining.
- The reopening guidelines have now been issued, and action is a state decision. States are being encouraged to have testing plans. Work will continue with governors to be sure they have the supplies and support they need, and to scale testing.
- There have now been 3.7 million tests conducted, with 120,000 more each day. A team at Walter Reed National Medical Center has been set up to identify additional testing capacity.
- Experts say that we have sufficient testing for states to be able to go to Phase 1.
Summary Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s remarks and questions:
- Fauci said they had a very productive teleconference with Senate Democrats today.
- There are two general tests – a test for infection, and a test for if someone had been infected and is assumed to be protected against infection.
- The tests for infection are complicated but highly specific. If one gets a test today that results in a negative finding it does not mean that the person will not be infected in the future.
- Antibody tests tell if a person had been infected. You can make an assumption that this person is protected, but more needs to be learned.
- There is a difference between testing and monitoring. Testing is part of a multifaceted way to end the outbreak.
- There is no doubt that early on we had a problem, and that problem has been corrected. There was a need to embrace the private sector which we have now done to add to testing capability.
- There have been and still are more situations that can be corrected. There is a need to figure out the gap regarding testing availability and the perception of those on the ground. Supply needs to be connected to demand.
Summary of Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield, MD’s remarks:
- Redfield said that CDC has developed systems for monitoring upper respiratory tract diseases that are useful here. These systems can trace incidence all the way down to the county level.
- CDC continues to enhance state public health capacity. He showed a map of CDC field staff embedded by state to help accelerate states’ capabilities.
Summary of the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx’s remarks and questions:
- Birx talked about various testing methods and antibody tests.
- She said testing is part of the monitoring that needs to occur, including monitoring those who are asymptomatic, what is happening in nursing homes, with indigenous populations, and vulnerable populations in inner cities.
- Antibody tests have different specificities and sensitivities. FDA has been very cautious about antibody tests. The tests appear to work better where there has been a high presence of the disease.
- They are trying to build an algorithm of tests.
- She showed maps of state testing capacity, and talked about work being done with the American Academy of Microbiology.
- Birx was asked if there is enough testing for Phase 2. She said that we will monitor Phase 1 to inform for Phase 2. If we find many asymptomatic individuals, we will do more testing.
Summary of Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, MD’s remarks:
- Giroir said that we are now doing twice as many molecular tests per month for this virus as are done per year for HIV.
- He spoke about how testing capability is distributed, identifying the number of tests done by state public health authorities, the American Clinical Laboratory Association, the American Hospital Association, and Abbott.
- He said there are constraining elements on swabs. There has never been such a demand, and it is not just quantity but quality that needs to be considered. Many more swabs are being put out now, and this increase will continue in May.
- The transport media used for testing is important, and FDA has approved more types.
- Testing everyone now is a bad strategy. It does not mean that they cannot become infected in the future.
- He spoke about active sentinel monitoring and contact tracing. This is an unprecedented strategy of testing 300,000 – 500,000 tests per week across our most vulnerable populations.
- He suggested the need to survey asymptomatic people in community health centers.
- In conclusion he said we need to do 4.5 million tests per month to meet Phase 1 requirements, and that is where we are at and will continue to pursue.