HealthDay News — President Donald Trump on Friday took a step many political and health care experts have long been urging him to do, declaring the U.S. coronavirus crisis a national emergency.
The announcement, nearly unprecedented in American history, immediately frees up more than $50 billion in federal funds to help states control the spread of COVID-19 before it overwhelms hospitals and health care systems. The resources released by the announcement represent “a very large amount for states and territories and localities in our shared fight against this disease,” Trump said at a White House press briefing, flanked by top officials engaged in the coronavirus fight.
As well as delivering a huge funding boost, the national emergency declaration also greatly broadens the powers of Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. The HHS can now bypass regulations that might otherwise limit a hospital’s ability to reach peak performance as critically ill cases flood in. According to Trump, these new powers include the ability to waive laws that might restrict the use of the following: “telehealth,” where doctors diagnose and treat patients online versus in person; state medical licensing laws, so that doctors from one state can help out in a state with more pressing needs; and hospital ward bed limits, limits on bed locations within a ward, or patient length-of-stay requirements.
The president said that his administration is doubling down on testing for COVID-19, adding that there is “a new partnership with the private sector to vastly accelerate and test for the coronavirus.” Roche has received fast-track approval for a test that could soon boost supplies by 500,000 units. Other deals are in place that could raise the national test kit supply by 5 million test units “within a month,” the president said. Beyond that, Trump and health officials said that Google will soon create a new website that will let any American describe their symptoms and, if applicable, be directed to the nearest drive-through testing site. Stores such as Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens will set aside part of their parking lots for drive-through testing. It is hoped that information on the website will be available by Sunday evening.