Trump Declares National Emergency and Private-Sector Coronavirus Testing Effort

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump declared a state of emergency in the U.S. on Friday afternoon over the growing coronavirus crisis in the country. Reading from prepared remarks at a press conference from the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced that he was declaring a national emergency, which he called “two very big words,” noting the move would open up as much as $50 billion to help states and localities respond to the outbreak. The announcement prompted the Dow to surge by almost 2,000 points.

He made a number of other announcements, mostly centered on what Vice-President Mike Pence called an “extraordinary public-private partnership” to confront the outbreak and expand testing capacity. Trump called up a stream of American executives — who the president referred to as “celebrities in their own right” — to explain how they are working with the White House to help confront the crisis. There were only two doctors in the group.

Watch a recording of the entire press conference

The key announcements

  • A national emergency declaration, freeing up $50 billion in federal emergency funding for states and localities as they work to address the outbreak.
  • A partnership with the private sector to boost U.S. testing capacity working with Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, and several larger testing corporations. The effort will include drive-through testing and aims to divert people from U.S. health-care facilities, some of which are already starting to become overwhelmed by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • A Google-made “screening website” is being built which will act as a relay point for Americans who are worried they have the virus and direct them to testing sites.
  • The Energy Department will purchase more crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
  • Federal student-loan interest will be waived during the crisis — though the details are not clear.

A Google page will direct people to testing

Key to the effort will be a not yet launched Google-made “screening website” that will help Americans evaluate whether they need a test and direct them to where they can get one. (It’s not yet clear why this effort was outsourced to a private company.) “Google is helping set up a website,” Trump explained. “It’s going to be quickly done, unlike websites of the past.”

Here is the chart Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, held up to outline the website’s user experience:

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Testing will only be focused on symptomatic patients — even though asymptomatic transmission has occurred

Trump and others repeatedly said that only people who are showing symptoms of the virus should — or will — be tested for COVID-19. But studies continue to show that asymptomatic transmission has been occurring, indicating that the White House plan may not been comprehensive enough.

Trump again downplays need for testing

The president continued to downplay the need for testing, even as he announced measures to make it easier. The lack of testing has been the primary concern of public-health experts and state public-health officials for weeks. Asked by a reporter whether or not he took responsibility for the lack of testing thus far, Trump responded, “No, I don’t take responsibility at all.”

Still no test for the president, despite potential exposure

The president said he still has not been tested for the coronavirus, despite his exposure to someone with the virus. Trump said he will “most likely” be tested, but made it clear he didn’t think he needed to be:

President claims he was not responsible for eliminating pandemic response office at White House

Trump did not model social distancing

Trump, who may have been exposed to the coronavirus himself recently, also shook hands with each executive. The president had an opportunity to showcase good social distancing, and only did when one executive forced him to:

The emergency declaration and private-sector inclusion played well on Wall Street

The markets were clearly happy with the announcements, for now:

So far more than 1,700 cases of COVID-19 have been discovered in the U.S., but that number is almost certainly much lower due to the lack of widespread testing throughout the country. As of Friday, the coronavirus has claimed at least 41 lives in the U.S.

This is a developing news story and this post will be updated.

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Trump Declares National Emergency Over Coronavirus