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Trump Declares National Emergency Over Coronavirus Pandemic, Promises More Tests Next Week

Dave Royse

President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency Friday, allowing easier movement of federal assistance to states and local communities as they try to head off the quickly escalating emergency. Trump promised that more tests for the virus will be available soon.

The emergency declaration will make $50 billion available for states, Trump said from the White House Rose Garden The money can be used for a variety of needs, such as paying for tests, supplies, vaccination and extra help from medical workers, he said. 

"No resource will be spared," Trump said. "Nothing whatsoever."

Trump Says 500,000 More Tests Coming Next Week

The government is working with private sector companies to boost the number of tests for the virus, and promised up to 500,000 additional tests will be available next week.

"We want to make sure those who need a test can get a test," Trump said. He added that "we don't want people who don't need a test to get one," and touted a new website being developed by Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ: GOOGL) (NASDAQ: GOOG)'s Google to help determine who should be tested.

Trump also urged states to open their emergency operations centers to help coordinate responses to the outbreak, which as of Friday has resulted in the deaths of 41 people in the United States.

The president also said he was ordering certain rules be waived to help hospitals quickly ramp up their treatment abilities and more easily let doctors work on the problem. 

Trump also said he was instructing the Secretary of Energy to purchase "large quantities of oil" for the U.S. strategic oil reserve, taking advantage of the plunge in oil prices. 

Trump Highlights Private Sector

Surrounded by a phalanx of corporate and government leaders in the Rose Garden, Trump said the government response would be heavily dependent on cooperation from the private sector.

Trump specifically touted the role of Google, which is building the website to help determine whether a person should seek coronavirus testing. 

Other examples highlighted by the president include Walmart Inc (NYSE: WMT), which is allowing its parking lots to be used for drive-up testing sites. Trump also praised Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings (NYSE: LH) and Quest Diagnostics Inc (NYSE: DGX) for their help in conducting tests. 

The companies have been involved in that effort for several days, but media reports have indicated that getting tested remains difficult for many Americans.

Trump Waffles On Test For Himself 

While American society's response to the virus has dramatically ramped up in the last 48 hours, the federal reaction hasn't been very visible up to this point.

Several communities have put in place restrictions on large gatherings, and hundreds of private organizations have taken their own initiatives, cancelling public events, from concerts to parades to sporting events. Major professional sports leagues have shut down and schools across the country were announcing closures. 

A member of Trump's coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the government's efforts behind the scenes have dramatically sped up the nation's ability to identify those afflicted by the virus and begin treatment. 

While Trump talked little of the potential economic fallout from the pandemic, he did say the government would be waiving interest on student loans "until further notice," in addition to announcing the strategic oil reserve move. 

Trump was asked if he planned to be tested for the virus, after meeting with officials from Brazil, including at least one Brazilian aide who later tested positive. Trump said he wouldn't get a test, and that he has "no symptoms whatsoever."

Later in the press conference, under questioning about why he wasn't willing to quarantine himself in light of the meeting, Trump equivocated.

"I didn't say I wasn't being tested," Trump said. Asked again if he would, he replied, "I think I will do it anyway," though he added it wasn't because he was photographed with someone who has the virus.

Pelosi Promises Legislation, Urges Cooperation

Also on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, urged government officials to work together in the face of the crisis. 

"The American people expect and deserve a coordinated, science-based and whole-of-government response," Pelosi said. She said Congress would pass a coronavirus relief bill that includes free testing for the disease. 
"The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing," Pelosi said.

The bill will include money for free testing "for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured," she said. “We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope.”

She said the measure would also include guarantees of two weeks paid sick leave for those affected by the virus and provisions meant to strengthen the unemployment insurance system.

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President Donald Trump speaking in the White House Rose Garden Friday, March 13. Screenshot courtesy of C-SPAN. 

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