Government response updates: Trump to hold 3 p.m. news conference amid testing backlash

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump announced Friday he will hold a 3 p.m. news conference amid criticism from the nation’s leading health experts and public fallout over testing for the novel coronavirus.

This comes as his as his administration moved Friday morning to appoint a point person for testing and announced expanded measures, in what appears to be an acknowledgement of the lack of available testing available and delays in processing.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has designated Admiral Brett Giroir to coordinate U.S. testing efforts as the cases of infected Americans grows exponentially. Under the HHS umbrella, the Food and Drug Administration is introducing an emergency hotline for private laboratories and providing new funding for partnerships with companies developing rapid tests that can detect the virus within an hour.

The announcement of the boost in testing comes as capacity has struggled to catch up with the demand nationally at public health labs. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a widely-respected leader at the National Institutes of Health, called the current system “a failing” on Capitol Hill Thursday even as Trump told reporters it’s been “going very smooth.”

The House is expected to vote on an stimulus plan Friday morning to offset the economic fallout to everyday Americans from the outbreak, pending a deal between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin — the administration’s point person on negotiations. The vote is expected to take place ahead of a coronavirus task force meeting with Trump this afternoon.

Here is how developments are unfolding:

Trump admin announces steps to speed up testing

President Trump has announced he will hold a 3 p.m. news conference amid backlash over the availability of testing.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration announced Friday they are boosting the nation’s testing response to the coronavirus amid widespread criticism from public health experts and the general public alike.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has designated Admiral Brett Giroir to coordinate U.S. testing efforts across public health agencies. The Food and Drug Administration is introducing an emergency hotline for private laboratories and providing new funding for partnerships with companies developing rapid tests that can detect the virus within an hour.

The FDA also took a rare step in announcing Friday morning it will allow the New York State Department of Health to authorize local labs with their own tests. Before local labs would have gone through the FDA process.

On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a widely-respected leader at the National Institutes of Health, called the current system “a failing” on Capitol Hill even as Trump told reporters it’s been “going very smooth.”

Fauci: “We have not peaked yet”

Following two days of testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Fauci repeated a warning to Good Morning America Friday that the he has heeded as the coronavirus continues to spread: “It get worse before it gets better.”

“It will be at least a matter of several weeks. It’s unpredictable, but if you look at historically how these things work, it will likely be anywhere from a few weeks to up to eight weeks,” Fauci said. “I hope it’s going to be in the earlier part, two, three, four weeks, but it’s impossible to make an accurate prediction.”

Pelosi says agreement is “near” with White House on aid package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that she and the Trump administration are close to agreement on a coronavirus aid package to reassure anxious Americans by providing sick pay, free testing and other resources, hoping to calm teetering financial markets amid the mounting crisis.

Final details are being worked out, but the top House Democrat, who held daylong talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is expected to make an announcement Friday. The House could then swiftly vote.

“We have — are near — to an agreement,” Pelosi said, emerging from her office at the Capitol late Thursday night.

Mnuchin tells worried investors “don’t stare at the screen”

When asked Friday what his message is for Americans — especially those close to retirement — who are worried as they look at their 401Ks this morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to project calm amid the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus.

“Don’t stare at the screen, okay,” Mnuchin said, in offering advice. “It will be higher or a year from now, as I said, people who weathered the crash in 1987, people who weathered the financial crisis. For long term investors, the US is the best place to invest in the world.”

Mnuchin repeatedly noted that what the U.S. is facing today is “not the financial crisis,” describing it as a temporary situation, but said the White House is looking at taking major stimulus actions to help Americans through this time.

“I can assure you, the president is determined, we will do whatever we need. I think the president is looking at a major stimulus package, whether it’s through the payroll tax cut or through another means of delivering liquidity to hard working Americans,” said Mnuchin.

As the administration nears a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a COVID-19 aid package, Mnuchin described it as just the “second inning” in a baseball game.

“I think we view this as this is the second inning in a baseball game. The first inning was the $8 billion bill, this is the second inning,” said, Mnuchin, who said the plan to “come quickly back” to Congress on issues facing the airline industry.

His comments illustrate a major shift tone from the administration from just a week ago, when the president’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration at that time was not considering any sweeping stimulus measures.

Cruz announces he’s extending self-quarantine

Sen. Ted Cruz announced he’s extending his self-quarantine after just being informed of contact with a second person who has tested positive for COVID.19.

“I’m still not feeling any symptoms. I’m consulting with medical officials. But, for the same reasons I initially self-quarantined — out of an abundance of caution and to give everyone peace of mind — I am extending the self-quarantine to March 17,” the Texas senator said in a statement.

Australian official tests positive for COVID-19 after meeting with AG Barr, Ivanka Trump

Australia’s minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, said Friday he’s contracted coronavirus, one week after he was seen meeting with Attorney General Bill Bar and President Trump’s daughter in Washington, D.C.

Department of Justice spokeswoman told ABC News that while Barr is “staying home” Friday, “the AG is feeling great and not showing any symptoms,” adding that the “CDC is not recommending he be tested at this point.”

The news comes one day after Trump said he is “not concerned” that an aide to the Brazilian president tested positive for COVID-19 days after he attended dinner with Trump at his Florida resort.

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