President Donald Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus a national emergency, freeing billions in funding for states and relaxing rules for providers and hospitals.
In addition, the president announced a public and private partnership with retailers and labs to get more testing up and running to overcome shortages of test kits, and for individuals to get drive-up testing in the parking lots of Walmart and elsewhere.
Other retailers working with the Administration include Walgreens, CVS Health and Target.
Individuals can be swabbed without leaving their car.
Google is helping to develop a website to help Americans determine whether a test is warranted, including a screening questionnaire. Google has over 1,000 engineers working on it, Trump said.
The Food and Drug Administration is working with labs on getting new tests approved. Companies include Roche, Thermo Fisher Scientific, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics.
More than one million tests are expected to be available early next week.
The president was asked whether he would get tested, after a photo was widely circulated showing him with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and an aide to Bolsonaro, who later reportedly tested positive for the virus.
Trump said he would likely get tested though the Brazilian president tested negative that morning and he and no one else who came in contact has virus symptoms.
The disaster declaration removes constraints from individual physicians to the federal government to do everything they possibly can to stem the spread of the disease, said Dr. Antony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Fauci said it was impossible to predict how long the pandemic will last in the United States and that much of it depended on how successful the country is in containing the virus. For individuals, the most successful practices include social distancing and handwashing.
Viruses such as COVID-19 generally run their course in a few months, and the hope is that this one will be done in eight or nine weeks, he said.
On Wednesday, Trump announced the suspension of all travel from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days, with the exception of the U.K. He also said emergency action would be taken to help individuals and small businesses financially hit by the coronavirus.
"Now we're in a different phase," he said Friday.
The national emergency declaration will open up access to $50 billion for states and territories.
Hospitals are being asked to activate their emergency-preparedness plans.
The emergency declaration broadens the ability of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to waive laws and give doctors and hospitals maximum flexibility to respond to the virus.
This includes giving physicians and hospitals the ability to conduct telehealth visits by waiving certain licensing requirements.
It waives the requirement of a three-day hospital stay before a patient can be admitted to a skilled nursing facility.
It gives providers the ability to bring additional physicians onboard and waives rules that severely restrict where patients get care in hospitals.
In addition, the declaration waives the interest on all student loans until further notice.
Based on the relatively low price of oil, the secretary of Energy has been instructed to purchase crude oil for storage.
"This will pass, this will pass through and we're going to be even stronger for it," Trump said.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is head of the task force, said there will be specific guidance about visitation to nursing homes in order to protect the elderly, who are at high risk from coronavirus.
The coronavirus is now in 46 states, with over 1,200 cases in this country. Worldwide, 137,000 cases have been confirmed and there are over 5,000 deaths reported.
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