Updated at 3:45 p.m.
President Trump declared a national emergency Friday afternoon amid growing concern about the coronavirus outbreak across the United States. The move, widely expected, frees up $50 billion for states to deal with the crisis.
Speaking at the White House Rose Garden for more an an hour, Trump was also asked if he took responsibility for the lag in making tests available for the coronavirus. Trump responded “I don’t take responsibility at all.” He also said the federal government would work with the private sector to expand testing, but said people should only take the test if they have “certain symptoms.” Trump said up to half a million tests would be available early next week, and said a list of locations would probably be announced on Sunday night. He said 5 million tests would be available by next month.
The president also said he will “most likely” get tested himself.
Trump said drive-through test locations would be established in certain critical locations, with help from Google.
Trump also asked every state to set up emergency operations centers.
The emergency declaration had been requested by groups like the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, among others.
Trump said it would give HHS broad authority to enable doctors and hospitals “maximum flexibility” to respond to the virus and care for patients.
Trump declared “This will pass, this will pass through and we’re going to be even stronger for it.”
“This is proactive, leaning forward, trying to stay ahead of the curve” action, said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart, said his company would make space in its parking lots for the drive through clinics. The CEOs of Target, Walgreens and CVS also said their companies would be helping in the response. And, he said, the government would take advantage of the low oil prices and buy oil for the strategic petroleum reserve. “We’re going to fill it right to the top,” Trump said.
Trump also raised the possibility the United Kingdom would be added to the ban on travel to the U.S. by foreign nationals from the European Union. The U.K. was exempted from the action Trump announced Wednesday night, but has been experiencing an uptick in reported cases.
Trump also cast doubt on legislation that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to address the crisis. Trump said “We don’t think the Democrats are giving enough.”
The president had declined to confirm earlier Thursday whether he would make the declaration, an action that would help ease the distribution of federal funds to help state and local governments during national catastrophes. He didn’t say which provisions he is using to declare the emergency, but it is likely the Stafford Act as well as the National Emergencies Act.
“We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act,” Trump said Thursday in the Oval Office. “I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it.”
The Stafford Act is a 1988 federal law that allows for assistance to states and localities during a disaster or emergency.
The coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the nation as fears are causing school closures and sports cancellations. Mass crowds are rushing to local stores to stockpile basic goods and finding some empty shelves.
Employing the Stafford Act would give the Federal Emergency Management Agency access to $40 billion in disaster relief funds to assist state and local governments responding to the virus.
The money during a pandemic can be used for emergency medical care, food and medicine.
The money would be in addition to the $8.3 billion provided by an emergency spending bill Trump signed on March 6.
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