President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic and said the federal government would take a number of steps to assist businesses and individuals harmed by the outbreak, including freeing up $50 billion of funding.
Separately, media reports say that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress and the administration have reached a deal on an aid package. The Associated Press reported that the package would include sick pay for workers and free testing, and would strengthen food programs.
The president said at a White House news conference that the government would partner with private-sector health-care companies to speed the availability of tests for the coronavirus to more people.
He also said he would urge the states to set up emergency operations centers. He said he was asking all hospitals to activate emergency-preparedness plans.
The declaration, the president said, gives broad new authority to the secretary of health and human services to waive rules and regulations “to give doctors, hospitals and health-care providers maximum flexibility to respond to the virus and care for patients.”
The president said the move would enable telehealth – the ability of providers to see patients from remote locations. It waives licensing rules to enable doctors to go to other states where they are most needed. And it loosens various restrictions on hospital capacity and other matters to ensure care for those who need it.
The president also said that he issued two emergency executive orders. One waives interest on all student loans held by federal agencies “until further notice.” And he instructed the secretary of energy to buy, “at a very good price, large quantities of crude oil for storage in the U.S. Strategic Reserve.”
He said the government later on Friday would announce additional steps. He said he could not say how long the national emergency would stay in place. “I hope we won’t need it very long, but whatever it takes,” he said.
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said her agency would be directing nursing homes to “temporarily restrict all visitors and non-essential personnel, with a few exceptions such as end-of-life situations.”
She called the move “a severe trial for residents of nursing homes and those who love them. But we are doing what we must to protect our vulnerable elderly.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidelines for the public at Coronavirus.gov.
“While the risk to young and healthy Americans remains very low, we’ve learned a lot about this over the last two weeks,” the president said. “Anyone can be a carrier for the virus and risk transmission to older Americans and those with underlying health conditions.”
Trump said that he himself "most likely" would be tested for the coronavirus after he recently came in contact with a Brazilian official who later tested positive.
For the areas where the virus is spreading, Trump said, the CDC is advising communities to postpone large gatherings and assemblies, social functions and sporting events and to take other measures.
Trump addressed the European travel ban that the administration put in place starting tonight. In the wake of an increase in reported cases in the U.K., Trump said the administration might have to rethink the exemption it gave to the U.K. and include the country in the list of restricted countries.