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4/21/20 OFW Law Daily COVID-19 News Conference Summary

President Donald Trump held a 1-hour and 10-minute press conference beginning at 5:47 this evening. He was joined by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.

Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The President opened with saying that 20 states have announced that they are making plans for reopening. They will do so safely.  The country wants to get back to work.
  2. The Senate has now passed a bill with funds for the Paycheck Protection Program and testing. It includes $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing.
  3. When Secretary Mnuchin was asked if he will ask other companies beyond Shake Shack to return money, the President said that Harvard will have to pay back funds. They have very big endowments so they do not have a need for the funds. 
  4. The President said millions of Americans have sacrificed jobs, and those jobs need to be protected. He will issue an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration to the US.  He is protecting American jobs from being replaced by immigrant labor.  The suspension will be in place for 60 days.  He and a group of others will evaluate if there might be a need for an extension beyond the 60 days.   The order will apply only to applicants seeking permanent entry, not to temporary workers.
  5. The Vice President spoke with GE Healthcare workers in Madison, Wisconsin today. They are working on ventilator production, along with Ford.
  6. He said the meeting with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo went well. New York is looking to double testing. The President will work with the Governor to help them secure additional testing.  New York has many good laboratories.  More than 5 million masks have been sent to New York, and this number will be doubled in 2 days.  Governor Cuomo will now send ventilators to Massachusetts. 
  7. The USS Comfort will be brought back from New York at the earliest time so that it can be redeployed to other areas as needed.
  8. FDA has authorized more than 50 diagnostic tests, including one that can be taken at home. There have been 4 different antibody tests that have been authorized.
  9. The President was asked about providing federal aid to governors who want to do more testing. He said that there is $25 billion in the bill that the Senate just approved, and he thinks that this is more than necessary.
  10. The President was asked what he might say about Georgia reopening and the concerns expressed by Senator Graham about the consequences for South Carolina. The President said the two states have capable governors, and he will be speaking tonight with the Governor of Georgia.
  11. He was asked why CDC has not had a more public role. The President spoke about having Drs. Birx and Fauci and briefings, and said that CDC has been involved in all that has been done.
  12. The President was asked if there was talk about aid to states as part of Phase 4 in the meeting with Governor Cuomo. The President said they talked about it briefly, and the President agrees with it.

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

  1. Secretary Mnuchin thanked Senators McConnell and Schumer, along with House Minority Leader McCarthy and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for their efforts in completing action on the pending bill.
  2. The bill includes $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, and they are looking for the House to pass the bill tomorrow. (House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has announced that this vote will occur in Thursday.)
  3. He also referenced disaster loans for small businesses, and assistance needed by hospitals.
  4. He said that 1 million companies with less than 10 workers have received assistance.
  5. He is expecting that Treasury will release a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
  6. He was asked if he will ask other companies beyond Shake Shack to return money. He said that certain people participating in the Paycheck Protection Program may not have understood the required certifications.  The correct information will be included in the FAQs.  If funds are paid back right away the borrower will not have any liability.
  7. He was asked how he will ensure restaurants and other small businesses will get these funds. He repeated his statement that many small businesses have already gotten funds, and it will work for more.
  8. He was asked how quickly these funds will go out. He said that more money has gone out than SBA has put out in the last 10 years.  He is looking forward to a big impact on the economy.
  9. He was asked how many more phases of assistance will be provided. The Secretary said he appreciates the President’s support for Phase 4, and mentioned the President’s support for infrastructure and broadband.  The President has talked about assistance for restaurants.  He expects to see businesses rebound this summer.  He would not respond to a question about how much Phase 4 may cost.
  10. He was asked about oversight of the programs. The Secretary said that they have oversight, and that President has nominated a new Inspector General, with that nomination currently before the Senate.  He also spoke about the transparency information currently available on Treasury’s website.
  11. He was asked about how many jobs might have been saved so far. The Secretary said that the Paycheck Protection Program assists with 30 million jobs, and there are other programs assisting with more.

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

  1. Birx said they see improvements across all large metro areas. The Detroit metro area is doing quite well.  New Orleans is back to its baseline.  There have been improvements in Chicago and Boston, as well as several other areas.  They do not yet see a decline in the Washington DC area.
  2. They are still seeing outbreaks in long term care facilities. Individual Americans need to practice hygiene procedures, and do so in all 3 phases.
  3. We will continue to see deaths, and need to support our healthcare providers.
  4. Birx was asked about the CDC Director saying that the next wave of COVID-19 in the fall could be worse. She said that they believe they can monitor the situation, and are working on an algorithm to test for flu and COVID-19.  On the surface with early testing they could look identical.  They are also hoping to have additional treatment options available.  The President has been clear on working on preparation with ventilators and other needed equipment.  She did not agree that the fall outbreak will be worse, but will work to have early warning signals.
  5. Birx was asked how one can safely open hair salons and tattoo parlors. She said that it is important that governors and mayors clearly communicate data to their communities.  Action should be on a community basis.  She will not prejudge what is being done.  Social distancing is needed, as is clear in the guidelines.

 Summary of FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn’s remarks and questions:

  1. Hahn said that President Trump asked FDA to remove all unnecessary barriers to the development of diagnostics and therapeutics.
  2. He spoke about serological tests, saying FDA issued a policy in March that allowed producers to get tests to market. There is a requirement for self-validation and labeling products to demonstrate that they are antibody tests, not diagnostic tests.
  3. FDA is working with CDC and NCI on the validation of tests.
  4. FDA will go after anyone falsely claiming that FDA has approved the test.
  5. He was asked how many tests actually work. He said that 90 have come forward requesting to do self-validation with the required labeling.  FDA is doing independent validations, and does not have results thus far.
  6. He was asked about a study done on hydroxychloroquine that suggested a higher mortality rate. He said it is a small retrospective study, and is something that doctors should consider when writing a prescription.

He was asked about the timeline for the various clinical trials.  He said that it will be early summer before there is a readout.

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