WASHINGTON (CN) — Tests for the novel coronavirus remain woefully inadequate in the United States as disease sweeps the nation, but President Donald Trump claimed Wednesday that there is a focus to speed up the production of masks and ventilators.
Standing closely alongside several members of the White House coronavirus task force at a briefing this afternoon, Trump said he expects to invoke the Defense Production Act as soon as Wednesday afternoon to expedite the supply chain for ventilators and other personal protective equipment.
“Right after we finish this conference, I’ll be signing it and it’s prepared to go,” Trump said.
The 1950 legislation allows the U.S. government to significantly expand the manufacturing and production of items deemed necessary to preserve national security.
Department of Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that the department will immediately release 5 million N95 masks from its strategic reserves directly to the Health and Human Services Department. The first 1 million masks are ready for distribution today, Esper said.
Up to 2,000 operational ventilators — a critical tool used to treat respiratory infections caused by the virus known as COVID-19 — will also be available “for use as needed,” Esper said.
To date, COVID-19 has killed more than 100 people in the U.S. and infected at least 7,000.
Trump agreed with a reporter Wednesday when asked whether he believed the coronavirus put America on “wartime footing.” Indeed it was during the Korean War that Congress passed the Defense Production Act, a move that among other things compelled the Detroit manufacturing industry to shift production from automobiles to tanks.
Today, as the U.S. military ramps up its response to the outbreak in New York City, two U.S. Navy hospital ships are preparing for deployment to help free up beds in area hospitals.
While the type of treatment available aboard the ships could evolve in coming weeks, Defense Secretary Esper said trauma specialists onboard are expected at this point to handle only the most extreme cases.
The USNS Comfort, based in Norfolk, Virginia, and the USNS Mercy, based in San Diego, California, could arrive in New York as soon as next week.
As the Treasury Department announced plans to begin issuing stimulus checks to Americans as part of a $1 trillion economic-stabilization package, and the Senate negotiates on comprehensive relief measures spanning numerous industries, Trump said Wednesday that all home foreclosures and evictions in the U.S. would be suspended through April.
A representative from Housing and Urban Development did not immediately return a request for comment.
Succor was also offered to doctors and nurses during the briefing who are typically barred from practicing medicine outside of the state in which they are licensed. Pence said that the Department of Health and Human Services will now grant medical providers permission to practice across state lines. This is aimed at easing the strain already being experienced by staff-strapped hospitals and urgent care facilities.
The White House asked all Americans to delay elective medical procedures, too, a maneuver that could free up critical supplies to hospitals around the U.S.
Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and member of the White House coronavirus task force, also urged Americans to delay elective dental procedures. Not only does it preserve equipment, Verma said, it protects nurses and hygienists from unnecessary exposure.