WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday, pledging to loosen regulations and unlock $50 billion, to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
“Two very big words,” Trump said, making the announcement this afternoon from the White House lawn. Looking to reassure the public as confirmed cases in the U.S. continue to rise, the president said the announcement will unleash the full power of the government to fight the spread of COVID-19, the name given to the new coronavirus strain that globally has killed 4,955 people as of Friday afternoon with 132,758 confirmed cases around the world.
In addition to waiving regulations on hospital capacity and hiring, the declaration enables tele-health so that doctors can provide consultations over the phone and across borders to assist states like Washington and New York, which are the hardest hit.
Trump ordered the Education Department to waive student loan interest until further notice, as universities across the country close campuses and transition to online learning. He also instructed the Department of Energy to purchase large quantities of crude oil to build up the national reserve.
“This will pass through, and we are going to be even stronger for it,” Trump said, his voice betraying weariness. “We have learned a lot. A tremendous amount has been learned.”
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the move by Trump was an example of trying to stay ahead of the curve.
Fauci, a top member of the administration’s COVID-19 task force, also clarified his statement to the House Oversight Committee this week that the administration had failed on testing for coronavirus.
“When I said that, I meant the system was not designed for what we need,” Fauci said. “Now looking forward, the system will take care of itself.”
The president was undaunted when asked if he takes responsibility for the slow response to making testing available. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said.
Trump shifted blame to “regulations and specifications from a different time” that he claims hampered the administration’s response time.
“We are now in very, very strong shape,” Trump claimed, adding that the U.S. “will have the ability to do [testing] in the millions over a very, very quick period of time.”
Reporters pressed Trump on why he has not been tested after a Brazilian official with whom he had recently come in contact tested positive for coronavirus this week. The president said he “most likely” will be tested “fairly soon” after repeatedly stating that he has no symptoms.
Health officials also outlined plans to implement a drive-through testing procedure, already in place in countries like South Korea.
Vice President Mike Pence said by Sunday a website developed by Google will be up and running with specific guidance on whether testing is necessary based on symptoms, and a map to pinpoint nearby testing sites.
Corporations like Walgreens, CVS and Target will be opening their parking lots as convenient locations for the COVID-19 screenings across the country.
After a bungled national address this week to announce a travel ban on Europe, Trump again on Friday added reassurances that veered from what career health officials have advised.
“And again I have said we are learning a lot for the future, or future problems like this, or worse, or worse, could get worse,” Trump said toggling from his speech to offhand commentary. Returning to his prepared remarks, the president said: “The next eight weeks are critical. We can learn and we will turn a corner on this virus.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after days of closed-door negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, is still working to close a deal with the White House that will further help install action plans and economic safeties across the country as COVID-19 continues to spread.
Trump placed the blame for the legislative hold up on Democrats.
“We’re negotiating. We thought we had something, but all of a sudden they didn’t agree to certain things that they agreed to,” the president said. “So, we could have something but we don’t think they’re giving enough. They’re not — they’re not doing what’s right for the country.”