(WASHINGTON) — Despite a growing number of governors issuing stay-at-home orders in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump is still resisting a nationwide stay-at-home directive, even as his medical experts say strict social distancing is key to keeping the death toll closer to 100,000 American lives.
As the president and his coronavirus task force on Thursday weigh additional measures, including possible domestic flight restrictions an whether to recommend facial coverings in public, the U.S. health system moved closer to a widespread crisis. Hospitals across the country face shortages of protective gear and medical supplies needed to diagnose and treat the infected as the national stockpile nears depletion, Trump himself has confirmed.
In addition to slowing the spread, the federal government is seeking to shore up the economy. Democrats are pushing another round of relief amid a volatile stock market and nearly 10 million jobless claims in the past two weeks, but the Senate’s Republican leader is raising concerns over the cost.
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
FEMA asks the Department of Defense for 100,000 body bags
FEMA has requested that the Department of Defense make available 100,000 body bags to assist state health agencies with mortuary affairs. The request comes as the White House revealed this week that 100,000 deaths is “best-case scenario” for Americans facing the pandemic.
The bags are formally called Human Remains Pouches.
“The Department of Defense and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) have a longstanding arrangement with FEMA to procure key commodities from DLA’s industrial partners during crisis response operations,” said Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, Pentagon spokesperson, in a statement. “DLA is currently responding to FEMA’s prudent planning efforts for 100,000 pouches to address mortuary contingencies on behalf of state health agencies.”
Bloomberg, which was first to report on the request, said DOD will initially draw from its stockpile of 50,000 bags before having to purchase more.
Pelosi creates watchdog panel to oversee COVID-19 spending
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday the creation of a special House select committee to oversee the $2 trillion federal response to the coronavirus crisis.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, the Democratic whip, will lead the bipartisan panel, which will be authorized to “examine all aspects of the federal response to the Coronavirus and ensure the taxpayer dollars are being wisely and efficiently spent.”
“The panel will root out waste, fraud and abuse; it will protect against price-gauging, profiteering and political favoritism,” Pelosi told reporters on a press call. “We need transparency and accountability.”
“We face a deadly virus and a battered economy with millions of Americans suddenly out of work,” Pelosi said. “Congress has taken an important step in leading this crisis by passing three bills with over $2 trillion in emergency relief. We need to ensure those dollars are spent carefully and effectively.”
Trump to Schumer: “Stop complaining,” calls some governors “complainers”
President Trump told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a pair of tweets Thursday morning that “New York has gotten far more than any other State, including hospitals & a hospital ship, but no matter what, always complaining.”
Trump made the comments after Schumer told CNN Wednesday night that Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro was not the right person to oversee the administration of the Defense Production Act — a position that Trump appointed him to last week.
“He’s a very nice man, but he has had no experience doing things like this, and they have no one that I can best tell in charge of the distribution,” Schumer said.
After Schumer called for a military official to carry out the role instead, Trump this morning said “somebody [should] please explain to Cryin’ Chuck Schumer that we do have a military man in charge of distributing goods, a very talented Admiral, in fact.”
He was presumably speaking about Rear. Adm. John Polowczyk, who leads FEMA’s supply chain task force.
An hour after his tweet to Schumer, the president took to Twitters again and called some governors “complainers,” saying it was their fault they weren’t prepared ahead of the pandemic.
“Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being delivered directly to states and hospitals by the Federal Government. Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?). Remember, we are a backup for them. The complainers should…have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit.”
The tweet comes as a bipartisan chorus of governors across the country calls for President Trump and the federal government to take better control of the medical equipment procurement and distribution process to states.
One way the president could take a more active approach in procuring equipment is with the Defense Production Act, which several governors have urged him to utilize more, but Trump says he prefers to use it as “leverage” in negotiations with companies.
McConnell to Pelosi: “Stand down” on next coronavirus rescue bill
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to “stand down,” making it clear he plans to ignore her efforts to jumpstart talks on the next round of coronavirus relief in Congress after Congress passed $2 trillion emergency legislation last week.
“She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” McConnell told the Washington Post Wednesday night.
Despite Trump’s openness to it, leader also threw cold water on the idea of tackling infrastructure.
“We do have to be mindful of how to pay for it. There has been a lot of fantasizing on both sides about massive packages,” McConnell said. “We’d all love to do it, but there is the reality of how you pay for it. We just passed a $2 trillion bill, and it would take a lot of convincing to convince me that we should do transportation in a way that’s not credibly paid for after what we just passed last week.”
Minority Leader Schumer urged McConnell on Thursday morning to quickly drop his resistance and pass more legislation aimed at blunting the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we have to do it, and I hope Leader McConnell will see the light,” Schumer said in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “The economy is going to take a long time to recover,” Schumer said, adding that he would like hazard pay for medical workers in the next bill.
Pelosi said on Wednesday that House Democrats are already drafting language for the next large package which she says will focus on rebuilding water systems and struggling highways and roads amid the crippling crisis.
“We must take bold action to renew America’s infrastructure,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “We need to invest in infrastructure to address some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities in America that have been made by the coronavirus.”
More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week
A record-shattering 6,648,000 people filed for unemployment last week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a Department of Labor report released Thursday.
The past two weeks have seen 10.4 million Americans file for unemployed claims — more than during the first six months of the Great Recession.
The service industry, led by accommodation and food services, was among the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to Thursday’s report. Other industries that have been heavily impacted include health care/social assistance, manufacturing, and retail and construction.
Fauci gets personal security detail after receiving threats
The government has ramped up security for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the coronavirus task force, as he faces threats to his personal safety amid a pandemic.
The Washington Post first reported the threats to Fauci and the increased security.
When asked during Wednesday’s White House press briefing whether he or Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, had received any threats or if they had been given a security detail, Fauci said he was not able to answer and referred the question to Health and Human Services.
Trump quickly chimed in, saying, “He doesn’t need security, everybody loves him.”
Fauci was asked on NBC’s TODAY show Thursday morning about threats against him, and while he didn’t confirm any, he said he felt safe.
“I’ve chosen this life. I mean, I know what it is. There are things about it that sometimes are disturbing, but you just focus on the job you have to do,” Facui said. “We have a really, really, very, very difficult situation ahead of us. All of that other stuff is secondary.”
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