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Analysis

President Trump Declares National Emergency Due to COVID-19 Outbreak, Includes Hospital Waivers

By Jack O'Brien and Mandy Roth  
   March 13, 2020

The announcement came one week after President Trump signed an $8.3 billion funding bill to combat the coronavirus crisis.

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak Friday afternoon.

The declaration makes $50 billion available to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

"In furtherance of the order, I'm asking every state to set up emergency operations centers effective immediately," Trump said. "I'm also asking every hospital in this country to activate its emergency preparedness plan so that they can meet the needs of Americans everywhere."

Trump said the declaration will allow Department of Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to "waive provisions of applicable laws and regulations to give doctors, hospitals—all hospitals—and healthcare providers maximum flexibility to respond to the virus." 

Among the regulations waived under the declaration are restrictions on telehealth usage, the requirement that critical access hospitals have a 25-available-bed limit for patients, and a maximum length of stay of 96 hours for inpatients.

Additionally, nursing homes will be able to waive the requirement that patients have a three-day hospital stay prior to admittance; and hospitals will have restrictions lifted for hiring new physicians, obtaining available office space, and caring for patients within the facility itself in order to "ensure that the emergency care can be quickly established."

Trump also said the administration has been in discussions with pharmacies and retailers to make drive-through tests available at critical locations identified by public health professionals. "The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car," he said.

Trump announced several initiatives designed to stimulate innovation around solutions to the pandemic. Ten days ago, he brought together the CEOs of commercial labs and directed them to "immediately begin working on a solution to dramatically increase the availability of tests."

Today, Trump announced a new partnership with the private sector to "vastly increase and accelerate our capacity to test for the coronavirus."

"We want to make sure that those who need a test can get a test very safely, quickly, and conveniently," Trump said. 

The companies represented at the speech in the Rose Garden included Walmart, Walgreens, Target, CVS, Quest Diagnostics, and Roche.

The FDA approved a new test for the virus within hours after receiving the application from Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Roche.

These new resources should bring an additional 1.4 million tests on board by next week and 5 million within a month, Trump said.

Up to half-a-million additional tests will be available early next week, he said, with locations announced on Sunday night.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based company, plans to submit an application to the FDA for another test, and Trump said the agency's goal is to authorize the application within 24 hours of receipt.

Trump also mentioned that 1,700 engineers at Google, headquartered in Mountain View, California, are working to develop a website to help consumers determine whether testing is warranted, and if so, to facilitate testing at a nearby location.

Coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, Deborah L. Birx, MD, who also serves as ambassador-at-large as the coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS, also commended LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics their responsiveness to testing initiatives, as well as universities and large hospital systems.

"This innovative approach centered fully on unleashing the power of the private sector, focusing on providing convenient testing to hundreds of thousands of Americans within short turnaround times in less than two weeks," Birx said. "Together, we have developed a solution that we believe will meet the future testing needs of Americans."

As of Friday, there are over 1,600 confirmed cases across 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

This marked Trump's second speech on the coronavirus outbreak this week, after a Wednesday night speech where he announced that travel to Europe would be halted for 30 days starting Friday at midnight.

The American Medical Association (AMA) commended the administration's declaration as "necessary" to bolster the healthcare system and stem the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.

"The emergency declaration is needed so that certain regulatory barriers can be removed to allow physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers more flexibility in coordinating care for patients," Patrice A. Harris MD, MA, president of the AMA, said in a statement. "Physicians, nurses, first responders, and other healthcare professionals across the country are on the front lines in this effort, and streamlining critical processes is vitally important to prevent the further spread of COVID-19."

The announcement came one week after Trump signed a $8.3 billion funding bill to combat the coronavirus crisis.

The legislation included a provision to lift waive restrictions on telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries.

The decision was praised by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), which also urged the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement the waiver "as soon as possible."

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated that the headquarters of Thermo Fisher Scientific was Carlsbad, California. The article has been updated to reflect that the company headquarters are located in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Photo credit: Washington, D.C., January 4, 2019: President Donald Trump, speaks to the media in the Rose Garden at the White House after meeting with Democrats to discuss the partial government shutdown. (Michael Candelori / Shutterstock.com)


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