On Friday, President Trump declared a national emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic. Evoking the Stafford Act, the President is empowering the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide more assistance to state and municipal governments. This will free up billions of dollars worth of funding through the Disaster Relief Fund.
According to Johns Hopkins University. there are more than 1,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. (as of Friday) and the President's declaration is aimed at keeping that number as low as possible. Critics have suggested the number could be much higher if testing were more widely available.
The Democratic Party has been asking the President to make this move. In a letter sent to President Trump earlier this week the party outlined how this action would open up funding for testing, medical supplies and other emergency needs.
What President Trump said
"I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words," said President Trump on Friday. "We've been working very hard on this, we've made tremendous progress," he explained, suggesting that closing borders and limiting international travel has helped prevent the spread of the virus (however, officials with the World Health Organization suggest closing borders right now provides a false comfort and can waste resources that could be spent protecting health care workers and surveilling the spread of disease.)
The President said tens of billions can now be used to fight the spread of coronavirus and that Telehealth and partnerships with the private sector, especially with Roche, will be important for testing. Roche was just granted emergency clearance by the Food and Drug Administration for a new coronavirus test. The two previous tests used in the U.S. were developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health (the government declined to use a previous test approved World Health Organization in January).
The new Roche test can reportedly be turned around faster than the previous tests, but the President cautioned that he does not want people to be tested unless health professionals believe it is necessary.
"We therefore expect up to a half a million additional tests will be available next week," he stated, adding that more drive-through testing will be available and that Google is helping develop a website to help people determine if they need to be tested.
"Our overriding goal is to stop the spread of this virus...again we don't want everyone taking this test, it's totally unnecessary," he said before introducing Dr. Deborah Birx, who added more details about how the Google website and the private sector testing will work.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization also spoke to media Friday and he does not describe testing as "totally unnecessary." He told reporters "you can't fight a virus if you don't know where it is," and that nations must "find, isolate, test and treat every case to break the chains of COVID transmission. Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease."
Representatives from Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens also spoke about how the retailers will help facilitate testing and supply safe shopping experiences. Vice President Mike Pence explained that Americans will be able to use the Google-developed website described by President Trump and Dr. Birx to determine if they need a test and then go to participating retailers for drive-up testing.
What this means for parents
It means that we should keep doing what we are doing. A "national emergency" sounds scary but it is really just a recognition of the seriousness of the pandemic as outlined by the WHO.
We need to keep following the CDC's recommendations and those of local health authorities and continue to prioritize social distancing and hand hygiene.
The President's declaration means state governments can activate emergency plans and the health secretary can waive regulations if they believe they could hinder health professionals' response capabilities (details on this are not specific at this point) and open up more opportunities for testing.
The emergency declaration comes as The Department of Health and Human Services assigned assistant secretary, Adm. Brett P. Giroir, to oversee testing efforts. "We are working to ensure that every American who needs a test for #COVID19 will receive it. Honored to lead the coordination of COVID-19 diagnostic testing efforts among #PublicHealth service agencies, including @CDCgov and @US_FDA," Giroir tweeted Friday.
While testing proceeds, student loan interest payments are being paused. "I've waived interest on all student loans held by federal government agencies...until further notice," Trump told the country Friday, adding that the energy secretary to purchase will be purchasing oil for a reserve.
Bottom line: Follow the CDC's recommendations, wash your hands with hot water and soap and pay attention to the recommendations of your state, local health authorities and school divisions.