President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence held a nearly 2-hour and 15-minute press conference beginning at about 5:42 this evening. The President left after 1 hour and 40 minutes. They were joined by Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx.
Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:
- The President said aggressive efforts continue to respond to the virus.
- He sent best wishes to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who has been taken to intensive care.
- Tremendous progress is being made on therapeutics.
- He has worked very well with New York Governor Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Murphy.
- The Corps of Engineers has built 22 field hospitals and alternate care sites in 18 states. 8,450 hospital beds and 8,000 ventilators have been provided. There is not a need to use the Defense Production Act.
- HHS and FEMA have supplied 11.7 million N95 masks, 26.5 million surgical masks, 5.3 million face shields, 4.4 million surgical gowns, and 22.6 million pairs of gloves.
- An agreement has been reached with 3M to provide 55.5 million face masks each month for three months.
- Apple will provide 1 million face shields per week.
- Salesforce is donating 48 million pieces of Personal Protective Equipment – masks, gowns, suits, face shields.
- A great amount of supplies has been distributed before the surge comes.
- Some states now have surplus equipment that they can redeploy. California is sending 500 ventilators to other locations including Arizona and Washington, DC.
- The President spoke with former Vice President Biden, in a friendly 15-minute conversation.
- He spoke with the leaders of pharmaceutical companies (Amgen, Genetech, Gilead, and Regeneron). There are 10 therapeutic agents in active trials. Another 15 are planned for clinical trials.
- There have been 1.79 million tests. In his opinion we have more cases because we have done more testing. The number of tests is going up by 125,000 every day.
- Economic relief is being sped to workers and businesses. $40 billion of relief is going out. Some minor glitches have occurred that are being resolved. There are 3,000 lenders involved. If we run out of funds, we will ask Congress to refill it. $30 billon of the $100 billion has been distributed to hospitals this week.
- The President was asked about treatments being provided to Prime Minister Johnson, and if his coming down with the virus gives the President any pause for himself and the Vice President. He said that the medical treatments are complex and treatment providers have already had meetings with the Prime Minister’s doctors. He does not believe the Prime Minister’s situation is a cause for pause, but said he thinks they may have quite a few tests.
- The President was asked about a report from the HHS Inspector General saying that the number one complaint from hospitals is the lack of tests and the delays in getting the results. The President questioned the report and who the IG might be, saying that we are doing more tests and getting more results than anyone else. When pressed about the IG having spoken to 300 hospitals, the President was asked when she was appointed. Later he was told that it was in January.
- He was asked if he feared retaliation from India in response to US restrictions on the exportation of medical supplies. He said he would be surprised if it happened given that he spoke with the Prime Minister on Sunday.
- The President was asked about confusion regarding the Paycheck Protection Program and the response from lenders. He said he doesn’t think there is confusion, Bank of America is the number one lender, and there may be a need to add more money.
- He was asked what suggestions former Vice President Biden offered during their call. He said they had agreed they would not talk about what was said. Vice President Biden offered suggestions, with which the President didn’t necessarily agree.
- The President was asked about Fauci’s comments that governors are putting states at risk by not issuing stay-at-home orders. The President said it was a constitutional issue with respect to federal authority.
- The President was asked about life being restored on April 30. The President said he cannot say but hopes to move in that direction. A lot of good work is being done. The 8 states may not be requiring people to stay in place, but they are doing a very good job. He does not want to get involved in those states’ decisions morally, and cannot constitutionally.
- The President was asked about imposing travel restrictions around the hot spots. He said they are looking at it, but need to maintain some flights for military and medical personnel. Planes are very empty now.
- The President was asked about Senator Schumer saying a fourth COVID relief bill will be needed. He said he did not know, but he wants to do an infrastructure bill, not a Green New Deal. $2 trillion is needed to rebuild roads, bridges, and highways.
- The President was asked if he is seriously looking at a second round of payments as part of a Phase 4 bill. He said he had been opposed to the distribution of assistance through state unemployment offices because he believed many are antiquated. Funds are getting to states and they are responsible for distributing them to people. He could see a second round of direct assistance.
- The President was asked if medical personnel will be compensated in Phase 4. He said he thinks that compensation will be a phase of its own when it is all over. He admires their attitude and capabilities.
Summary of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s questions:
- Fauci responded to the question to the President about his comments that governors are putting states at risk by not issuing stay-at-home orders. Dr. Fauci said that he had good conversations with the governors of Iowa and Nebraska, and what those governors are doing is functionally equivalent action.
- Fauci was asked if we will get back to normal before there is a vaccine. He said if “normal” means like before there was a problem it is not likely to happen absent a cure. We will head back towards normal but it will not be the same. He was later asked if we need a vaccine to get back to normal with matters like sporting events and political conventions. He said he did not think a vaccine was necessary. There will be other abilities to evaluate situations. There is always a degree of background immunities to influenza. It may happen here, and we have to pay attention.
- Governor Cuomo reported that hospitalizations, referrals to intensive care, and intubation requirements are leveling off. It is the kind of good sign that one looks for, there is still a lot of work to do. We are getting there through mitigation.
- Fauci was asked if we are seeing similar findings in other states. He said we will see it. We did not see it in Washington because they did a good job of keeping the situation down.
- With respect to projected numbers, Dr. Fauci said that models are good, but as you get data you update the models. Data trumps models. He is optimistic we can make the number go down.
Summary of Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D.’s remarks and questions:
- Admiral Giroir spoke about the 1.79 million tests that have been done, not counting those done in hospitals.
- He responded to the questions about the HHS IG report saying that the report covered tests being done March 23-24 during the ramp-up period. It’s difficult to interpret the report. It is true that there were several days of backlogs. Several actions have been taken to resolve these issues. He said he does not know the IG, and if there had been such a problem, why did he hear about it on the news this morning. If there was a problem, he said there was an ethical obligation to raise it in March so that it could be corrected.
- Admiral Giroir was asked how many ventilators are in the federal stockpile. He said that he cannot say how many are in the stockpile but all needs have been met. He is a ventilator doctor and knows their importance. He said there are thousands remaining, and the President stepped in to say it is about 9,000.
- Admiral Giroir was asked about how antibody testing will be prioritized and what might they show. He said the tests will show if it is likely the person had the virus before. At this time no test has been approved but emergency use has been authorized. FDA, CDC and NIH are involved in efforts to validate the tests. There are reasons to believe that not all testing methods will perform well. It is a sophisticated but old technology. They expect tens of millions of tests quickly. If it works out the way they hope, there should be millions of tests available by May. There has been a discussion with Dr. Birx about how to prioritize.
- With respect to the volume of supplies provided to states from the national stockpile, Admiral Giroir said more is being purchased, and manufacturers are stepping up. They are getting data from hospitals regarding their burn rates. Some of the orders are out of fear.
Summary of the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx’s remarks and questions:
- Birx was asked about her comments that people in high risk areas should not be going to grocery stores and pharmacies. She said that out of respect for medical workers people should consolidate trips to reduce the number, and to reduce the number of people going on those trips. It makes a difference to follow the mitigation guidelines and she would like everyone to do their part.
- We did see an increase in cases in Suffolk County, New York, over the weekend. Sometimes weekend caseload reporting is not accurate. Also looking at several parishes in Louisiana and Oakland and Wayne Counties in Michigan. They are monitoring spikes in Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, and Houston. There was an excellent call with Vermont, New Hampshire, Idaho and Montana today. They are on top of their situations following a micro-outburst.
- CDC has launched a new website with surveillance data.
- Birx was asked where we might be with numbers. She said she thanks and respects modelers. She and Dr. Fauci believe that if we work hard there is the potential to stay under the numbers.
Summary of the Vice President’s remarks and questions:
- When the President was asked about Senator Schumer asking who is in charge and wanting a military person, the Vice President said he spoke with the Senator this past weekend. FEMA is the lead agency in the whole of government response. Peter Gaynor is leading that effort. Admiral Polowczyk is number one in the supply chain. They speak every morning. As the Vice President told the governors, they work with requests coming in every day. They then direct commercial providers to send resources to the front lines.
- The Vice President said this will be the beginning of what is expected to be a very tough week.
- Progress is being seen in Washington and California, and we are beginning to see a leveling.
- He reviewed the number of disaster declarations issued by the President and resources provided to states, including 21,000 National Guard troops being activated. The Georgia National Guard is being used to sanitize nursing homes. The focus is on New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, and Illinois.
- The US Naval Hospital Ship Comfort has been opened to COVID-19 patients. The ship will take patients from New Jersey as well as New York.
- We are beginning to see cases level in New York.
- The Vice President was asked when will we know if the 30 days needs to be extended. He replied that experts say we should see a level of the peak in the middle of the month. The practice now is to follow all of the President’s guidelines.
- The Vice President was asked about FEMA saying that states are getting 90% of their allotted supply from the national stockpile. The remaining 10% is going to healthcare workers. Where are these healthcare workers and is there the potential to adjust the amount going to states? The Vice President said we are taking less than 10% of supplies into the national stockpile. The other 90% is distributed working with 6 major medical distributors. Decisions are being made every day.