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

President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence held a nearly 1-hour and 40-minute press conference beginning at about 5:40 this evening. They were joined by Commanding General of the Army Corps of Engineers Lt. General Todd Semonite, Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., the Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Brad Smith, and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx.

Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The President said that following the release of our reopening guidelines, the governors are looking to Phase 1 and the resurgence of our economy.
  2. Americans need to practice safe hygiene and social distancing, as recommended.
  3. The number of new cases are down.
  4. The President reviewed the support provided for hospitals and community health centers.
  5. He said the Vice President spoke today with all governors regarding unified efforts to end the virus. The Vice President prior to the call gave them the names and addresses of laboratories in their states that can help them with testing capacity.
  6. He reviewed the accomplishments in getting ventilators, and said we are in “good shape” on testing.
  7. The President said we could double daily tests if the governors bring the capacity in their states on line.
  8. There is a sufficient capability for testing patients and contact tracing during Phase 1. There are over 5,000 locations that can process these tests.
  9. FEMA is working to prioritize the delivery of supplies.
  10. The Administration has conducted a major military operation to provide cities and states with additional medical capacity.
  11. There are 72 active trials underway on vaccines and therapies.
  12. The President was asked if companies that open up will be held liable for the people who come back and get ill. He said they will look into it with the lawyers and will provide an answer.  No company has raised the issue with him.
  13. The President was asked if we have enough tests, why did Maryland Governor Hogan have to get tests from South Korea.
  14. The President was asked if he is open to the request for unrestricted aid to states and local governments. He said that will be talked about as part of the Phase 4 bill.
  15. The President was asked why he takes the testing issue as a personal attack. He said it is a mostly partisan complaint and incorrect.  Governor Hogan did not know about the federal laboratories within his own state.  He also said we will have tests coming out next month that will blow the whole country away.

Summary of Commanding General of the Army Corps of Engineers Lt. General Todd Semonite’s remarks and questions: 

  1. General Semonite said he is proud of his personnell who have been working to provide sites, supplies, and staff to assist states and localities in dealing with the virus.
  2. He said it is a complex issue to identify hospital facilities. They had looked for alternate sites, including hospitals, college dormitories, etc. 
  3. He met with Governor Cuomo to review options, which led to the selection of the Javits Center.
  4. The Corps has assessed 1,100 sites. They are now in 32 facilities, and will complete 15 more within the next week.  There are 6 more pending.  They have designated another 52 facilities that the governors put on the ground. 
  5. He talked about work in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Miami, and Denver.
  6. He said the President was on the phone with him 3 times asking what else the General needed for success.
  7. The General was asked if there are more projects coming. He said that they are definitely getting requests for more, saying they received 6 requests in the last 4 to 5 days.  The Corps is working with mayors and governors.
  8. He was asked if any efforts are specifically being made in communities that have been the hardest hit – i.e. African American communities. He said they are working with mayors to identify areas of need.  So far everything built has been based on need.

Summary of Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D. questions: 

  1. Admiral Giroir said that since early March they have worked to assure and expand supplies in the US market, noting that in some cases they were dealing with cottage industries getting to supply in just two weeks the level of supplies normally produced in one year. They also worked to secure sufficient supplies at FEMA.  Brad Smith worked on securing these supplies.
  2. He said the testing strategy has been for clinical, contact testing, and monitoring, and how to contextualize small, medium, and large machines.
  3. They also worked to coordinate research, epidemiology, and the FDA regulatory response, e.g. moving to polyester swabs.
  4. The Admiral was asked about the use of the Defense Production Act. The Admiral said that companies have done everything asked of them.  One of the purposes of the Act is to provide a hand-up.  Companies do not need to be forced to do things when they are getting this hand-up.
  5. He was asked where are the other 23 million tests that had been promised in March. He said there are 40 million tests in the market place.  It is not just the number of tests that are in the market place but if the machines are being used to develop test results.
  6. He was asked what is the standard of testing in Phase 1. He said it is in the guidelines – test everyone who is symptomatic.  Because so many people are asymptomatic, the focus should be on vulnerable populations where the asymptomatic rate can be much higher – urban centers, nursing homes, and indigenous populations. 

Summary of Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Brad Smith’s remarks:

  1. Director Smith said they have been working to increase the supply of testing, looking at the availability of machines, collection supplies, and materials needed to support the machines.
  2. There are a large number of machines across the country. They needed to collect supplies such as swabs, collection tubes, and transport medium. 
  3. They are using Title III of the Defense Production Act to help a company build 4 production lines. They are helping a company in Ohio convert from Q-tips to Swabs.
  4. Collection tubes will be produced by a company using injection molding technology in Tennessee.
  5. He said that he believes we need to prepare for other types of testing – serological. They have secured 17 million lancets and fingertip swabs.  They have also secured 650,000 infrared thermometers likely to be needed by businesses as people come back to work.
  6. There will also be a need for extraction kits and PCR tests for laboratories. Reagents and cartridges are being produced.  

Summary of the Vice President’s remarks: 

  1. The Vice President said that we continue to see steady progress in slowing the spread.
  2. During today’s call he commended governors, and talked with them about the reopening guidelines, and addressed questions about needs.
  3. He presented governors with memoranda detailing laboratory capacity in each state.
  4. He spoke about actions being taken in Arizona, California, Florida, and Michigan.
  5. He recommended the State of Florida’s Public Health site that details COVID-19 information on a local and frequently updated basis.
  6. He said the Department of Defense and other federal facilities in states are available to assist governors in the testing work being done in states.
  7. He said there is enough testing capacity to go to Phase 1 if states meet other criteria, including a reduction in cases over 14 days, and sufficient hospital capacity.
  8. When the President was asked if we have enough tests, why did Maryland Governor Hogan have to get tests from South Korea, the Vice President said that he talked today with the Governor about testing capacity in Maryland at NIH and defense facilities that are available to assist.
  9. The Vice President also said that CDC teams are being deployed to every state to assist them with contact tracing. Governors asked that the bill in Congress provide that funds may be used for contact tracing, and the Vice President said the Administration will support that use.

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

  1. Birx said there are still a significant number of cases in Boston and across Massachusetts, and in Chicago.
  2. She presented slides showing the various types of machines that are available to do the testing analysis.
  3. She said both military and Veterans hospitals have stepped up to assist in testing.
  4. Governors received a spreadsheet of the facilities in their states along with maps of where the testing machines exist.
  5. She was asked about a new report from the University of Southern California suggesting that the penetrance of the virus was almost 40 times as great as it had been believed to be. She said they are looking at all studies carefully, and looking at asymptomatic reports.  Tests are not 100% specific and sensitive.  She suggested a need to test among first responders who have been exposed to the disease to get a more definitive answer.
  6. She was asked if South Carolina should be reopening, not having followed the White House guidelines. She said that governors have been asked to follow the guidelines, but it is up to them.  She repeated the reference to the data on Florida’s Public Health site with respect to differences between Jacksonville and Miami that showed information that supported Florida’s decision.  She did not want to comment on South Carolina absent having seen specific data.
  7. Birx was asked as the virus is passed from patient to patient, if it is being found to be more or less virulent. She said they do not have any indication that it is less able to spread.  She expects to get good information from the outbreak about the USS Roosevelt.  New Mexico and other states have excellent evolutionary biologists, so she expects we will learn more.

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