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by Sharon Rondeau


(Apr. 20, 2020) — President Trump launched Monday’s White House Coronavirus Task force presser by reporting that cases are significantly lower in Detroit and New Orleans.

He said “tremendous progress” has been made to allocate additional funds to the Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of funds on Thursday for qualifying small businesses across the country.

The Senate is expected to reconvene to debate the anticipated measure, Trump said, which will include hospitals and their employees for additional funds.

Recommendations for “safely resuming elective treatments” for less-affected areas have been issued, Trump reminded observers.

Vice President Mike Pence had “a great call” with state governors earlier on Monday, Trump said.

He invoked New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s contention in his Monday press conference that it is the responsibility of the individual states to manage testing.  “They’re getting it together in New York; a lot of good things are happening in New York,” Trump said, adding that Cuomo “is going to be coming in with some of his people” to the White House on Tuesday.

He said the “great job” his administration did “with ventilators” was covered very little by the media, “except in the fair press.”  He then held up two examples of articles he felt reported the issue even-handedly.

Trump said the Army Corps of Engineers continues to build beds in the event they are needed, complimenting their work.  Trump then introduced Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who said he has personally witnessed the work of the medical professionals caring for coronavirus patients in the course of performing his responsibilities.

Semonite recalled that approximately 30 days ago, Cuomo had contacted the Task Force to say that he expected to be short on beds, to which Semonite was summoned to respond.  “We needed a very, very simple solution to be able to then work with HHS, to be able to work with FEMA, to be able to work with the vice president’s task force, and then to be able to power this down all the down to the local level,” he said.

Semonite said that the Corps sought out existing facilities which could be adapted to serve as hospital rooms as opposed to constructing new buildings in a short time frame.  He said that Cuomo approved of converting the Jacob Javits Center into a field hospital.

“In the next week and a half, we’re going to complete 15 more facilities,” Semonite said, with “an extra 52” “designed.”

He explained the current capabilities of the converted Javits Center, which include pharmacies and “central oxygen.”

In Detroit, he said, a convention center was converted to a field hospital at the request of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In Chicago, a convention center was converted to a 3,000-bed hospital in “relatively short time,” he said, and another is in progress in Denver.

“This is all about the team: the federal team, the state team, the local team, the vice president’s task force…” he said.  He added that Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have been supportive of the Corps’s efforts to “save American lives.”

“He’s a terrific gentleman,” Trump said of Semonite as he made his exit after responding to reporters’ questions and to Trump regarding the progress of construction of a wall on the southern border.

“He built just in New York alone four hospitals and 2,900 beds and got ’em done so quickly nobody saw anything like it,” Trump said.

Resuming his remarks, Trump said that testing capacity continues to increase “at a number nobody thought possible.”  He said that some governors were not aware they are “allowed to use federal locations” for testing.

At 6:04, he said that “we’ve learned” from the pandemic that products should be manufactured “right here.”  He said the idea that American products should be made overseas was ill-informed.

“It was all ventilators…we are now the king of ventilators all over the world…thousands being made a week,” he said, but that now the emphasis is on “testing,” which he said is more difficult.

“They’ve come up with things under great pressure,” he said of Task Force members before bringing up Adm. Brett Giroir, a medical doctor with the U.S. Public Health Service and key Task Force member.

Giroir said that “many weeks ago,” he and others assembled a team, including Brad Smith of the CMS Innovation Center who stood at his side, to “focus on every piece of the supply chain that relates to testing.”  The process began with “an airlift” from Italy, Giroir said, which ceased because of that country’s coronavirus outbreak.

There are small, medium and large testing machines, he said, which serve different populations.

“We needed an innovation,” he said of testing, which included “moving to polyester swabs” as of last week.

Giroir introduced Smith, who broke down testing to two processes.  “Nucleic acid” tests are being “done today,” he said, which involve swabbing the nasal passages.  A company in the Northeast and another in Ohio will be manufacturing the new swabs, Smith said, to encompass “more than 30 million” each month.

Collection tubes will be manufactured in Tennessee, he said.  “We believe there will be other types of testing such as serological testing,” he said, which will require ” a finger prick.”  Alcohol swabs will be needed for those, he said.

Infrared thermometers will be provided to employers to check employees’ temperatures, he reported.

A “point-of-care” test by Abbott now in use did not exist “a month ago,” he said.

At 6:19, Pence took the podium and reported that the “weekly conference call” with the governors showed their “leadership.”  He said the administration recognized to the governors their constituents’ efforts to “slow the spread” of the coronavirus.

“I reminded them that we’re all in this together,” he said, and referred to the new guidelines to “open up America again.”

Laboratory testing capacity in each state was detailed to each governor, he said.  Pence said he was “very impressed” with how individual governors are overseeing testing.  As an example, he said Florida is using its National Guard to administer tests to nursing-home residents.

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who Pence said “always opens the conference calls” as chairman of the National Governors Association, received assurance that “we will make all of those laboratories available” for coronavirus testing.

He repeated the claim made Friday that the Task Force believes there is adequate “testing capacity for every state in America to go to Phase One” of the new guidelines for reopening the U.S. economy.

Dr. Deborah Birx opened her part by stating that Boston and Chicago are seeing particularly worsened scenarios.  She explained with slides the different laboratory machines in use, which include two by Abbott, one by BD Max, and one by Roche.

All governors today received a list of names and addresses of available labs, she said.  As the slides were changed at her request, they showed the locations of the labs by state of “high and low throughput machines.”  The number of machines generally “match” the population of each state, she reported.

Trump resumed the podium and took reporters’ questions.

Questions later answered by Giroir said that “everyone who’s symptomatic” should be tested and “overtested.”  he said “the strategy” is to “focus on the vulnerable population,” particularly “inner cities and urban areas,” nursing homes and “some of our indigenous populations in the Indian health service.”  “That’s where we’re going to pick up the asymptomatic” individuals, Giroir said.

“There is excess testing capacity every day,” Giroir contended.

Pence explained, in response to a question from Fox News’s John Roberts, that “contact-tracing” is a key element of “Phase One.” “We will be deploying teams of 10 or 12, for a start, from CDC…to supervise and work with contractors and others,” he said, “to restrain and contain the coronavirus during Phase One.”

Later, Trump said that new tests coming “in the next two weeks” will prove more innovative than those already in use.

“No matter what I do…no matter what, if I came up with a tablet, you take it, and this plague is gone, they’ll say, ‘Trump did a terrible job,'” Trump said, which he said is “politics” and related to “November third,” the date of the presidential election.  He further defended his travel bans on China and Europe after the first coronavirus cases appeared in the U.S.

Updated, 8:57 p.m. EDT



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