by Sharon Rondeau

(Apr. 9, 2020) — Thursday’s White House Coronavirus Task Force press conference began at approximately 6:24 p.m. with President Trump stating that the administration will “be in a place to help” the airlines, which have been largely shut down for the last several weeks.

Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, he said, about OPEC and “the oil industry,” about which Trump has been concerned given tumbling oil prices over the last month.  “We had a busy hour and a half,” he said of the conversation.

He said that America will be “opening up” in the near future, meaning shuttered businesses, both large and small, due to the coronavirus.

The Javits Center in New York City was converted to a 3,000-bed hospital, Trump said, He complimented the Army Corps of Engineers on its “a fantastic job” in that accomplishment. “it’s incredible what they’ve done, and FEMA has been fantastic,” he said.

“Project Airbridge” continues to send planes with medical equipment from foreign countries, Trump said, after which the materials “are going directly to point.”

He said the U.S. “is blessed with” the best medical system and thanked all medical workers for their perseverance through the pandemic. “We’re pretty sure we’re at the top of the hill,” he said, and that indications are that hospitalizations could be on the decline.

He said that “mental health” is a major element in the shutdown, about which he spoke to a group of professionals earlier Thursday.

Some scientists believe they might have discovered a manner by which the coronavirus’s replication could be stopped, Trump said.  The FDA has approved 19 possible therapies through a fast-tracked process, he reported.  He again said that azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine are being given and under study in combating the virus in a number of hospitals.  “We’ve stockpiled millions and millions of doses,” he said, and “we’ve sent a lot to Michigan.”

More than two million coronavirus tests have been conducted in the U.S. as of Thursday, he said.  He added that progress has been made on the “economic front” involving the Federal Reserve making available loans to mid-sized businesses.

The Payroll Protection Program, stemming from the CARES Act, is for employees who were laid off as a result of business closures and “is a very positive development,” Trump said.

At 6:34, Trump said he would exit the briefing early so as to resume “negotiations” on “oil” and “the airlines.”  He said that OPEC “is getting close to a deal…they’ll probably announce something either today or tomorrow.”

At 6:35, CNN’s Jim Acosta, a longtime adversary of the Trump White House, asked how the administration will open the country without every American having been tested for the coronavirus.  Trump responded that “massive testing” will be done “in the very near future” but not for every American.  “We’ll probably be the leader of the pack,” he said as to the method being contemplated.

As for the economy, Trump said, “I think it is going to do very well…it looks like we’re at the lower end of the curve,” acknowledging that the “death” resulting from the pandemic is “terrible.”  He said he “hopes” that the 100,000 U.S. deaths projected will not occur.

“We have tremendous stimulus plans,” he said.  “I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to have a big bounce…you can never replace the people who were lost…but we will have succeeded in many ways…we met with the mental-health people today, and this is taking a tremendous toll on a lot of people…” he remarked.

To a question about low oil prices, Trump said that the virus reduced traffic considerably, driving prices down and putting the industry as a whole at risk, as he sees it.

As to the PPP, he said that some adjustments have been made for banks tasked with loaning money to qualified applicants.

“We have 500 million masks coming from one group,” he said of medical protective gear.

Trump made his exit at 6:46 p.m., after which Vice President Mike Pence took to the podium.

Pence said that approximately 450,000 Americans have tested “positive” for the coronavirus and that more than 16,000 have died.  He expressed condolences to the families and friends of those who have passed.

He said encouraging signs exist, however, and that Americans should continue to practice social distancing to reduce the number of new cases.

Nearly 4,000 lenders are taking part in the PPP, Pence said, as of the program’s fifth day.

He spoke to the governors of Kansas, Rhode Island, Kentucky and others today, he said, about distributing medical supplies.  “We will be there to meet that need should that need arise,” he said.

Under Title 32, 29,000 National Guardsmen have been deployed to various states, Pence said, including the coronavirus-intense area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The Task Force asked FDA and CMS to review whether or not medical professionals might use “cloth gowns” which could be washed and reused, he said, “and we’re working very rapidly in the next 24 hours,” he said, to issue new guidance.

Both first couples participated in the mental-health telephone call, he said. The president “brought some incredibly dedicated people together” for the call, Pence said.  He said the administration understands the importance of mental-health support, particularly for those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction.

“We see new projections from the experts,” he said and again encouraged Americans to practice social distancing.

The rate of infection differs among age groups, Dr. Deborah Birx said.  She reported that 56% of those tested are female, with 16 percent positive.  A lower percentage of males show positive results, she said, which she believes is a result of fewer men seeking healthcare when they are symptomatic.

Nursing-home residents and employees must all be tested, she said.

Despite the situation in New York City, Birx said an “encouraging” factor is that “all of the new areas that are having a new increase in cases” such as Camden, NJ; Washington, DC and Philadelphia are experiencing lower “attack rates” due to mitigation.

NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci reminded the audience that the “bad week” predicted for this week has played out due to the record numbers of deaths each day.  However, he said the guidelines for physical separation shows “a rather dramatic decrease in the need for hospitalizations.  So that is going in the right direction.”

“That means that what we are doing is working.  I know I sound like a broken record — that’s good…let’s just keep doing it,” Fauci said.

“Data is real; model is hypothesis.  That’s what I think we’re seeing,” he explained.

He said that “a lot of candidate therapeutics going into clinical trial” will assist during the next flu season in the fall.

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia then spoke about the 6.6 million additional Americans claiming unemployment benefits this past week as a result of business shutdowns.  However, he said, Trump and Congress responded rapidly to the need for “paid sick leave” for coronavirus and reimbursement to the companies issuing it.

The CARES Act’s increase in unemployment insurance in the form of “bonus payments are intended to make those workers whole as near we can,” he said.  “Gig” employees and self-employed are also eligible, he said.  “We have already disbursed half a billion dollars to states,” he said, for increased unemployment pay.

Scalia acknowledged that medical and other workers continue to report to work through the crisis and that “retaliation” against an employee filing a workplace complaint “will not be tolerated.”

He said he believes there will be a “blue-collar bounceback” once businesses reopen.  “We will continue…to be laser-focused on American workers and jobs until this is done,” Scalia said.

Pence concluded the presser, one of the shortest in more than a week, at 7:28 p.m.



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