U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to open up 50 billion U.S. dollars in federal aid to help combat the spread of COVID-19 across the country.
“I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words,” Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden.
The president has come under mounting pressure and criticism in recent weeks over himself and his government’s response to the outbreak. The number of confirmed cases in the United States exceeded 1,700 and 41 people died, according to a USA Today report on Friday.
The emergency declaration would effectively create access to up to 50 billion U.S. dollars in federal aid to help Americans affected by the outbreak and states for fighting the pandemic, said Trump.
The emergency measures will allow “maximum flexibility to respond to the virus and to care for patients,” the president said. “No resource will be spared.”
Trump said he was empowering the secretary of health and human services to waive certain laws and regulations to ensure the virus can be contained and patients treated. It is expected the move would allow for easier admission to nursing homes and end limits on the length of hospital stays and the number of beds available.
He also said that he was ordering every state in the country to set up emergency operation centers in a bid to help stem the spread of the disease.
He announced that 1.4 million new tests for the coronavirus would be available next week and that 5 million would be available within the next month.
The president also said there were plans to allow “drive-thru” virus tests.
The Trump administration is offering guidance to suspend all visitations to nursing homes, with exceptions being made only for end-of-life situations.
At the press conference, Trump shook hands with several business leaders as he introduced them at the lectern, a practice warned repeatedly by public health experts to avoid.
Trump invoked the Stafford Act to declare the national emergency. Under the act, an “infectious disease emergency declaration” by the president would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide disaster relief funding to state and local governments, as well as federal assistance to support the coronavirus response. The law allows the agency to circumvent legal barriers to more quickly distribute such aid, according to an NBC News report.
Later on Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she has reached a deal with White House on a multibillion-dollar stimulus package aimed at assisting millions of Americans directly hurt by the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to her Democratic colleagues.
The national emergency declaration “will unlock additional resources and authorities for states like Washington on the front lines of this crisis. I am hopeful the president’s actions today will provide the assistance I asked for to help the workers, businesses, families and communities that are being impacted across Washington state.”
“It is incumbent on all of us to acknowledge the gravity of this public health emergency and take the necessary actions now – not tomorrow, not next week – to slow the spread of the virus and save lives,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement on Friday.