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THE SITUATION ROOM
White House Coronavirus Update; Federal Reserve Cuts Rate To Zero; Coronavirus Testing Available To All 50 States. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 15, 2020 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news.
The White House coronavirus task force is preparing for a press briefing set to start at any moment. You're looking at live pictures from the briefing room.
The Vice President Mike Pence, and other are expected to give an update on the federal government's response to the coronavirus. We're going to have live coverage as soon as it begins. We'll see if the president shows up, as well.
It comes as we see the number of cases spreading across the United States, now over 3,300 reported with 63 deaths. Meanwhile, the White House is imposing new travel restrictions on the U.K. and Ireland tomorrow, that's on top of current constraints already in place for much of Europe, which has become the epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic.
Right now, airports across the United States are facing huge delays, long lines, some hours and hours long greet Americans being screened before re-entering the United States and being allowed to go through customs.
Let's begin our coverage right now with the latest efforts of the Trump administration to manage this growing crisis. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is over at the White House for us awaiting the start of the coronavirus briefing. So Jeremy, what are we expecting to hear?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are already seeing over the weekend the impacts on American's daily lives really rippling across the country and really being exacerbated.
And that is why there are these more and more questions at the White House about what exactly this administration is going to do to encourage or more explicitly require Americans to practice that social distancing that we have been hearing so much about for the last several days. There are active discussions at the White House, I'm told, about ways
in which the administration could do that, but there is not serious consideration at this point yet, about effectively mandating some kind of a national lockdown.
Questions about that though arose this morning after Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the top public health officials in this government suggested that he would like to see more active, more serious efforts from this administration to encourage that social distancing. And he did not rule out the possibility of a national lockdown, Wolf.
All of this coming as we are seeing really states and local officials, they, so far, have been taking the lead on putting those types of restrictions in place. We just saw the governor of Illinois announce that restaurants and bars would be closed to the public.
So, again, these are steps that we are seeing local and state officials. Taking the question now, is what will the federal government do on that front? And frankly, Wolf, beyond simply the actual policy implications of this, there is a question about the messaging from this White House.
Can they provide that more concerted messaging about what Americans should do in their daily lives, the kinds of changes they should implement to really mitigate the spread of this virus.
BLITZER: All right, you know, it's a serious, serious issue, Jeremy. I know we're told now it's about to begin, the briefing. We're waiting for that briefing to begin. I want to bring in, as we await the briefing to begin -- we're told there's that two-minute warning, Dr. Zeke Emanuel is with us right here in the situation room.
Dennis Carroll is with us as well, infectious disease expert, former director of the USAID's emerging threats division. What specifically, Zeke, do you think we need to hear from the task force right now?
ZEKE EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE HEALTH POLICY ADVISER: We need to hear more about how they're planning to do social distancing and how they're planning to enforce that. It's quite clear that the big spread is not people coming from Europe, although allowing people coming from England if you're blocking down the rest of Europe doesn't make a lot of sense.
But we do need -- its community spread inside and what are they going to recommend? Are they going to leave it to states and localities? Some are doing really great and we so that in, I would mention Mike Dewine in Ohio who you've had on the show a number of times has really done a great job.
The mayor of Hoboken in New Jersey has done a great job. But there are some states that are doing almost nothing. Think of Texas, think of Georgia. We need a concerted, consistent message.
Otherwise, we have social distancing working in some places, and then in other places, the virus is just going to spread. So, you'll never get your arms around it. And we can't get the economy going until we get our arms around it.
BLITZER: What do you think, Dennis? What do you need to hear right now?
DENNIS CARROLL, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: Well, Wolf, we've seen great leadership coming out of states and the private sector. Last week, the NBA and all of the different sports communities shutting down operations. A real shot across the bow in terms of the importance of social distancing.
I think it was a really wake-up call. We need to see the federal government really provide a national-level sort of signal, how are we going to promote this in an evidence-based way?
BLITZER: Let me bring in Dr. Seema Yasmin. She's a CNN medical analyst who is helping us better appreciate what's going on, the director of Stanford University's Health Communication Initiative. Seema, how do you see this unfolding right now because what we heard from Dr. Fauci, a man you know well, earlier today was so disturbing, saying that potentially, and let's hope it doesn't happen, a hundred thousand people potentially, could be at risk right now.
SEEMA YASMIN, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Really sobering numbers, Wolf, coming from a man who's careful about his communication and really careful about not panicking the public. But here we are, 45 days into the World Health Organization's public health emergency declaration.
We've seen the U.S. response be slow, be blundered. We are not seeing clear and consistent messaging from officials here. You know, I can tell you, having worked at the CDC, there's a manual that's about 450 pages long about how you communicate during public health crises like these ones, and we are not seeing that happen right now.
The public is confused and perplexed. And we're now talking about longer and longer periods of these disruptions to daily life, precisely because this was not acted on early enough and not quickly enough. Time is of the essence during an epidemic investigation, Wolf. Sadly, time has been squandered here.
BLITZER: Let me get Elizabeth Cohen in on this conversation as we await the start of this briefing. Elizabeth, you speak to these medical professionals all the time. What do they want to hear?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What they want to hear is we are going to have tests that will be so widely available that it will be like ordering a flu test or any other test that we can order so easily. That's what they want to hear.
They also want to know how they're going to be protected. Right now, there's some confusion, do they have to wear N-95 respirators? Is a surgical mask okay? And if we're saying a surgical mask is okay, is that just because we don't have enough N-95, but really N-95 are better? I think there are a lot of questions about how they can protect their
patients and how they can protect themselves.
BLITZER: You know, Zeke, so far, you know, what's going on in Europe right now, in Italy and Spain and elsewhere is of deep concern to folks here in the United States because a week from now, two weeks from now, Americans may be going through those kind of procedures.
EMANUEL: Yes, that's our future, unless we act. And even if we act now, I mean, we really have probably until April 1st, I mean, if you look at some of the modeling. April 1st, you can keep the total number of cases down under a million and the number of deaths under 100,000 closer to 60,000.
But that requires a very aggressive move between now and then. And one of the things we have not seen from this administration are aggressive, concerted moves and I think we need to have a lot more forward leadership, which they haven't done.
BLITZER: How serious, Dennis, is this crisis right now?
CARROLL: Well, I think, you know, we can look at Italy right now. And you can see extraordinary surge in the number of deaths, just in the last 24 hours, 360 people died over the last 24-hour period. And it's only accelerating.
We're not seeing any shift in the epidemiologic curve in Italy at this point. We should be taking every step we can to have as forward- leaning and aggressive policy as possible. And the only real tool we have at our disposal right now is social distancing. We need to exploit that to the maximum.
BLITZER: You know --
EMANUEL: It's important, Wolf, just to mention. We say 300 and some- odd deaths overnight, you know, that probably means a quarter of a million infected people that we're not detecting because you multiply each death by about 800 to get the total number of people out in the country.
So, Italy has got, you know, probably more than a million people infected already. And that is, I think, what we have to be seriously concerned about. Even if the death rate is 1 percent, that's a huge number.
BLITZER: All right, hold on for one moment as we await the start of this briefing. We have some breaking news coming in to the "Situation Room" from the Federal Reserve right now. We're learning that interest rates are about to be slashed to 0.
CNN's Ron Brownstein, one of our analysts is standing by. This is what the president presumably wanted to hear, Ron.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Look, I mean, some of the forecasts that have come out in the last couple of days from the various economic forecasters over from Goldman Sachs today are pretty apocalyptic about the second quarter economic situation.
And I would add parenthetically that political science modelers through the years have noted that the second quarter of the election year is the one most important in shaping voters' perception of the economy on election day.
So, absolutely, this is what the president wants. We'll see, you know, how much impact it can have, given, as the president has often talked about, the consumer is such a driver of the American economy. And in fact, the consumer has been driving the economy much more than the business investment that he touted with the tax cut.
And if people are staying at home, I mean, they can order on Amazon and, you know, other online services, but there's no question every forecast says the economy taking a significant hit in the second quarter.
BLITZER: And the president, Ron, as you and our viewers know, he has not been shy at all over these past several months in criticizing the chairman of the Federal Reserve for having what the president regards as too high interest rates.
BROWNSTEIN: Right, you know, the tight money policy. You know, it was interesting today, in that NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll that came out, that while most of it was kind of steady as she goes in terms of the president's approval and the country dividing in predictable ways and whether he was handling the coronavirus outbreak effectively, Wolf, there was a noted dip for the first time in quite a while in economic optimism about the coming months.
And, you know, certainly, the president is enormously sensitive to that. He has used the stock market since day one, even though only, you know, a certain portion of Americans are in the stock market, as kind of a principle gauge of his economic success. Most of the gains of his presidency have now been washed away. So, if the cut in interest rates, beyond spurring broader economic activity, if it just generates a stock market rally, I think he will view that as a success.
BLITZER: Yes, and a lot -- the president, Ron, obviously, pays enormous amount of attention to numbers, especially the stock market and other numbers, unemployment right now, stuff like that. So presumably, I assume, he thinks the reaction from the markets tomorrow will be positive to this news from the Federal Reserve.
BROWNSTEIN: Right, and as I said, even if it does not, you know, radiate out immediately into the broader economy given the extraordinary headwind of people being reluctant being out, you know, anywhere where there might be encountering other people.
If it does produce a market rally, I think he will view that as -- he has framed the stock market gains as such an important measure of the success of his presidency that, you know, it carries an outsize important to him beyond its actual impact in the day-to-day economic kind of situation in the country.
And look, I mean, you know, this -- one thing that's really striking, Wolf, about these last couple of weeks is the extent to which even a pandemic is filtering through the red/blue divide. I mean, look at the polling today, not on the reaction, which we would expect dividing along partisan lines about how President Trump has handled this.
But the reaction -- the gulf between Republicans and Democrats on whether they are taking this seriously, whether they are less likely to go to a restaurant or less likely to be in a -- go to a large gathering. I mean, we're talking about twice as many Democrats or more as self-identified Republicans saying that they are basically changing the way they are acting as a result of this.
And that's, you know, I think that is largely a function of both of the signals from the president and other Republican elected officials, but also from kind of the conservative information system. So, even in a pandemic at the moment, we are living in separate realities. The place where it may come together, though, is the economy.
And as I say, that is what the polling kind of showed right away, and almost more concern about the economic impact at this point than the public health impact, which in, you know, many parts of the country where may seem more theoretical at this point than immediate, although given the trajectory of Italy and other countries, obviously, that could change very quickly.
BLITZER: Yes. We're seeing some of the folks start arriving. Ambassador Birx is there. It looks like some military personnel are there as well. We'll see what the announcement is going to be. We expect the Vice President Mike Pence, to walk in we were told a few moments ago, but he should be walking in momentarily and we'll see what they have to announce.
The vice president said yesterday they would be making some significant announcements in the of course of today's briefing over at the White House, we'll see what they have to say. Quick question to you, Dr. Seema Yasmin, the president, he did take the coronavirus test, came back negative. The vice president hasn't taken the test. Who should take the test and who shouldn't?
YASMIN: So we know it depends so much though, Wolf, on the actual availability of testing. So it's a bit of an academic question, unfortunately.
And to briefly answer it, you take the test if you feel like you've been exposed to somebody who had confirmed COVID-19.What I'm still hearing as of today, my phone is blowing up from doctors and nurses across the United States who say, where are these tests?
You're reporting that the politicians are saying, there will be 1.5 million available this week, where are they? We are not able to get them for our sickest patients, who we want to differentiate as having COVID-19 and not the flu. So, this is still an issue and I hope the -- in the midst of these very big decisions and announcements that we're waiting --
BLITZER: All right, stand by. The president, as we anticipated, is here.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESDIENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we have some great things to talk about. I'll start by discussing the Federal Reserve. As you know, it just happened 10 minutes ago, but to me, it makes me very happy. And I want to congratulate the Federal Reserve.
For starters, they've lowered fed rate from what it was, which was 1 to 1.25 and it's been lowered down to 0 to 0.25. We're at 0.25. So it's 0.25. That's a big difference. It's quite a bit, about a point.
And in addition, very importantly, the Federal Reserve is going to be purchasing $500 billion of treasuries and $200 billion of mortgage- backed securities and that number can increase, but they're going to start with that.
And that's really good news. That's really great for our country. It's something that we're very happy, I have to say this, I'm very happy. And they did it in one step. They didn't do it in four steps over a long period of time.
They did it in one step and I think that people in the market should be very thrilled and that brings us to -- we're the strongest country in the world by far, financially in every other way. And that brings us in line with what other countries are.
They actually have negative rates, but look, we got it down to potentially zero, so that's a big step and I'm very happy they did it. And you will not hear anything bad about me unless it's about a month or two from now.
So, I congratulate the Federal Reserve. I think it's terrific. Just came out, just as we spoke. I wasn't going to mention Federal Reserve or anything else, but this came out as we were walking up.
I want to thank the people at Google and Google communications, because as you know, they substantiated what I said on Friday. The head of Google, who is a great gentlemen said -- called us and he apologized. I don't know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace.
But as you know, this is from Google. They put out a release and you guys can figure it out yourselves and how that got out. And I'm sure you'll apologize, but it would be great if we could really give the news correctly. It would be so, so wonderful.
I just had a phone call with very impressive people, the biggest in the world, in the world of stores and groceries and all and I'll give you the names. Dave Clark, Whole Foods, Mark Clouse, CEO of Campbell Soup company, Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, Randy Edeker, chairman and CEO, president of Hy-Vee, Jeff Harmening, CEO of General Mills -- great company.
Kevin Hourican, president and CEO of Sysco, Craig Jelinek, CEO of Costco, Todd Jones, CEO of Publix Super Markets, Donnie King, Tyson Foods, David McLennan, chairman and CEO of Cargill, Rodney McMullen, CEO chairman of Kroger, big company.
Doug McMillon, CEO of Wal-Mart -- he's been fantastic. Doug was here, as you know, on Friday. And he watched the market go up 2,000 points. On Friday, it went up 2,000 -- almost 2,000 points. Todd Vasos, CEO of Dollar General Corporation, and Vivek Sankaran, president and CEO of Albertson's.
So these are all phenomenal companies. These are great companies. We had a long conversation with them. And they've -- they're going to work 24 hours around the clock, keeping their stores stocked. I would like to say, that people shouldn't go out and buy -- we're going to all be great.
We're going to be so good. We're going to do -- what's happened with the fed is phenomenal news. What's happening with all of these incredible companies is phenomenal news. But you don't have to buy so much. Take it easy, just relax. People are going in and they're buying more.
They -- I remember -- I guess during the conversation, Doug of Wal- Mart said that they're buying more than they buy at Christmas. Relax. We're doing great. It all will pass. The folks that we spoke to, they've done a fantastic job.
They're going to meet the needs of the public. They're going around the clock if they have to and they are committed to the communities where they're serving and which they serve so beautifully and have for a long time. And they're buying a lot of additional things to sell.
But again, they actually have asked me to say, could you buy a little bit less, please. I thought I would never hear that from a retailer. All of them are working hand in hand with the federal government as well as the state and local leaders to ensure food and essentials are constantly available. And they'll do it.
There are no shortages. We have no shortages, other than people are buying anywhere from three to five times what they would normally buy. It's going to be there for a long time. We're doing numbers and there's a pent-up demand that's incredible.
When this passes, when this goes through, you're going to see numbers, I think, I predict, I guess I'm allowed to predict just like Wall Street people are allowed to predict, and they're pretty much in agreement, you're going to see there's a pent-up demand like a lot of people, including me, haven't seen before.
But this has to get through. They know they're getting through the crisis and will require an all of America approach, and that's very important. They're committed to remaining open during this crisis, totally open. They have to stay open. Those doors have to stay open.
They supply our country. Our supply chains in America are the most powerful in the world and they're all working very hard. They're working around the clock and the stores are stocking up at a level that's beyond Christmas time and it's great.
It's very re-assuring speaking to these people. They have it totally in hand. There's no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential food supplies. They said to me, could you please tell them, just go and buy, enjoy it, have a nice dinner, relax because there's plenty.
But you don't have to buy the quantities because it's hard to refill the stores on a basis as rapid as they're refilling them. And we're using the full power of the federal government to defeat the coronavirus and we will do whatever it takes and we're doing, I think, really, really well.
A lot of good things are going to happen. I want to thank all of the people standing behind me. You know, these are phenomenal people and we have some of them right over here, but the people behind me have been working around the clock and they're doing an incredible job.
And we see what's happening. We see what's going on in other countries. We're looking at learning from watching other countries, frankly. There's a very contagious -- it's a very contagious virus, it's incredible, but it's something that we have tremendous control of. I think very important the young people, people with good health and groups of people are just not strongly affected.
Elderly people that are not well or not well in certain respects are really a very dangerous group. We have to watch them. We have to protect them very much. We have to really watch over them and protect them because they are very vulnerable.
And with that, if it's okay, I'm just going to go and make some calls. I'm talking about Federal Reserve. I think it's a tremendous thing that took place just now. I didn't know I would be surprised on a Sunday. I don't if that's ever happened on a Sunday before.
But I think there are a lot of people on Wall Street that are very happy. And I can tell you that I'm very happy. I didn't expect this. And I like being surprised. So, our vice president is doing an incredible job. He's going to take over and I will see you probably tomorrow. Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- bars and restaurants closed?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you, Mr. President, and good afternoon. With more than 2,900 cases of coronavirus in 49 states across the country, I want to assure the American people that this administration, all of our partners at the state level, and local health officials have no higher priority than the health and safety of the American public.
And at the president's direction, we will continue not only a whole of government approach, but as we'll discuss today. We'll continue to build on a whole of America approach to confront the coronavirus across the country.
And the health experts continue to confirm to us that based on the latest information, for the American people as a whole, the risk of serious illness remains low.
But because the risk is heavily weighted to the most vulnerable, to people with immuno deficiencies and to people who are elderly with serious underlying chronic health conditions.
Our administration and I know state administrations will continue to focus on the most vulnerable and we will continue to urge every American to be vigilant in practicing good hygiene and taking the advice of the CDC and local health experts to keep those most vulnerable safe.
I know I speak on behalf of the president and our entire team when I say how grateful we are for governors all across the country and the seamless partnership that we have forged with them and with state health officials, with our federal team.
I spoke today to Governor Pritzker of Illinois and we are in continuous communication with governors a phone call away. They know that they can contact us and address even the smallest need because as a former governor, I know firsthand that when it comes to health challenges in America, our states are on the ground, in the lead, our local health organizations and we've built a great partnership.
We also want to express great appreciation to the American people. Not surprisingly, it is inspiring to see the way tens of millions of Americans are responding with compassion, with common sense, and we want to express particular gratitude to communities of faith that participated in today's National Day of Prayer.
We've seen places of worship implementing policies to keep those most vulnerable safe and also we're seeing communities of faith already stepping forward and to support and to encourage those most vulnerable.
I heard tale of a church back in Indiana that's actually no longer having services until April 10th, but in the meantime, they'll be offering day care to the children of health care workers in central Indiana and churches all across the country are taking the opportunity to reach out and put feed on their faith and it's truly inspiring.
As the president mentioned today, he spoke today to leaders of the grocery store industry and where people buy our food and we heard -- and we're reminded that America has the most efficient and effective supply chain in the world and it's working just fine.
As the president said, he received a commitment from those grocery store executives that stores will stay open throughout the days that lie ahead. We were told that hours may be reduced to allow for cleaning and to resupply. But American families can be confident. Your local grocery stores are going to be open. It's going to be well-supplied, and they specifically asked us to encourage Americans, just buy your weekly needs in grocery because the grocery stores will remain open.
Also, very movingly, those same executives all reiterated their commitment to continue to support local food banks in the way that our grocers continue to do around America.
Tomorrow, the president and I will be briefing all the nation's governors, states and territories and the District of Columbia, and will be speaking about the progress that we're making and we'll be speaking to them specifically about our widening partnership on expanding testing to the American people.
So, allow me to speak to that issue and then I'm going to recognize Admiral Brett Giroir who will describe for us the excellent work the public health service is doing. Dr. Birx will describe the importance of the new national public/private partnership for diagnostic testing that is going to open the door to thousands of more tests in realtime for the American people in the days ahead.
First, some fundamentals. As the American people know, testing is now available in all 50 states. Either state labs are either conducting the tests themselves or the CDC is processing tests. They're using the traditional manner of a manual test that allows for 40 to 60 tests a day.
It is among the reason why the president several weeks ago tasked this group at the White House to reach out to commercial labs around the country and forge that public/private partnership that would bring the high speed or more accurately, the high throughput testing for coronavirus available in realtime.
And based on the unprecedented speed of the FDA, which last week approved high throughput coronavirus testing for Roche and Thermo Fisher, we will now have access in the days ahead to more than 2,000 labs across the country that have the equipment today to process coronavirus tests much more rapidly at a much higher volume for the American people.
In terms of delivering those services, more than 10 states in addition to CDC labs, public health labs, and labs that states can now authorize in their states, more than 10 states have implemented their own drive-through testing sites.
And we want to commend New York, Colorado, Delaware, Washington State, Texas, and others that have implemented these on-site places where people can obtain tests. Most are using the current CDC testing, the manual testing, but we are working closely with our governors, as you will hear momentarily, to make sure that the new testing regimen is available for their remote sites as well.
As I mentioned, as of Monday, we will have more than 2,000 labs coming online, with the high-speed testing, and we are connecting states to those testing methods. We're also working with a number of retail partners to add to the work that states are doing around the country, working to set up parking lot testing centers outside of stores.
And Admiral Brett Giroir will detail the progress that we've made over the last 72 hours. Following the president's declaration of emergency, the admiral and our public health service have forged a partnership now with FEMA made possible by that declaration.
And they've reached out to all 50 states to create a process that will enable all Americans who need to be tested to go to a community-based testing site outside of usual health care facilities. The focus of these tests, as Dr. Birx will describe momentarily, will be on those most in need.
A priority will be placed on health care workers and first responders who are out there coming alongside people that are being impacted by the coronavirus. We want to make sure they have access to the testing as a priority.
And then Americans 65 or over with a cough or a fever or other symptoms will be prioritized over other tests that are extended. As I mentioned, Admiral Giroir will describe the progress that we've made in just a few moments.
But we're going to continue to work very diligently, hour by hour, day by day in the days ahead to expand testing around the country and access to this extraordinary and unprecedented national public public/private partnership for diagnostic testing.
With regard to testing, as we expand testing, we're so pleased that Congress joined with our administration to make sure that cost is never going to be a barrier to anyone getting a coronavirus test. As you recall, several weeks ago, the president directed a change in our Medicare and Medicaid programs to ensure the coronavirus testing was included.
Health insurers were brought in. They all agreed to waive co-pay, but because of the good bipartisan work done in the House Of Representatives, now all the coronavirus testing is free and it's free for every American, including uninsured Americans. And we continue to urge passage of the legislation that will be considered by the Senate this week.
Let me say one final word about the testing issue. And that is that we -- as the president often says, we're all in this together. And it's absolutely important that as we expand testing resources across the country beginning by prioritizing the areas that the CDC and our state leadership tell us are most important.
It's important that the tests are available for people that are most in need. And for our health care workers and first responders that are helping them and supporting them. As Dr. Birx will describe, the testing that is available should only be done if for any reason you think you may have the coronavirus. We encourage people to consult their doctor. And if you're symptom
free, we encourage you to work with us to make sure that testing is available for people that are experiencing symptoms. It's extremely important that we have the continuing cooperation of every American as we expand testing and make it available during this challenging time in the life of our nation.
With that, I'm going to ask Dr. Birx -- excuse me, I'm going to ask the Admiral brett Giroir of the Public Health Service and leader of this great commission corps behind me to come up and describe the extraordinary work that they have done over the last 72 hours and will be doing each and every day in conjunction with our states to expand testing to community-based testing across the country for the American people using this new public/private partnership diagnostic testing. Admiral?
BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH: Thank you, Mr. Vice president and thank you for your personal interest in support of our team over the last 72 hours as we worked on this critically important project.
So as the vice president said, over the past 72 hours, we have developed and are beginning to implement now a process and a program of testing that will enable Americans who are in need of coronavirus testing to be tested effectively and efficiently according to a few principles.
Number one, we want to assure that those most vulnerable and those impacted are able to be prioritized. Number two, we don't want to do testing that in any way threatens the acute care system.
In other words, we don't want people going to hospitals and acute care clinics where number one, they could infect other people or subject themselves to infections. And number three, we want to balance the needs across the entire health care system among diagnosis, but also treatment.
In other words, we want to balance the stress on the strategic national stockpile and all of our commodities so that everyone gets all the materials they need. So what do we do? Because, as the vice president said, last week's historically fast approval of high throughput testing, we are now in a new phase of testing.
And you've heard Dr. Fauci talk about the new phase. So we're going from somewhat manual relatively slow phases to a testing regimen that we can test many tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of individuals per week and may be even more.
We will have 1.9 million of these high throughput tests available this week, with numerous labs up to 2,000, starting to turn the lights on beginning this week and rolling out over the week.
That is really a game changer for us because the back of the shop testing capability is there. The front of the shop is what we've been really working on. In order to get a test there, you've got to be able to swab individuals, get them into the system without completely paralyzing the entire health care system, as we have.
So, with the emergency declaration, this was very, very important to us because it really enabled the historically effective processes of working and empowering states, federally supported state-led efforts through the normal FEMA mechanisms.
So for the last 72 hours, representatives of FEMA from across the government and our commission core have been working on joining the unique and unprecedented public health mission with the historically successful mission of personal -- of distribution centers, places for distribution, the pod system, of FEMA.
Our public health service, we've already deployed over a thousand officers in support of the coronavirus missions. That includes to the Diamond Princess, to the borders, to the quarantine stations, to the acute care settings where we're caring for nursing home residents in Seattle. So we have a very experienced group and we brought these together.
So what we've really designed and how we're working with the states, we have contacted all 50 states through the FEMA system, every single region, every single state to understand where they are. As the vice president said, some states are rolling out some of their own community-based testing. They need to be augmented.
We believe we've created a model based on the public health and the FEMA system that is optimized, that can be used for drive-through or potentially walk through. Each of these pod-based units we believe can screen 2,000 to 4,000 individuals a day for testing, with all the appropriate personal protective gear, all the appropriate back-end and linkage to the public health systems including testing.
We know that we have the logistics to do that. We know we have the materials to do that. And again, this is federally-supported state-led efforts. Many states need the full meal deal. They want dozens of public health service officers to work in protective gear to actually test.
They need supplies like protective gear. They need swabs. They need logistical supports. Other states only need a fraction of that. They may have all of the personnel, but they really need to know how the template and some of the gear that we provide.
We are going to start implementing this system this week in a number of states primarily those that are the hardest hit right now or are on the rise and the CDC has advised us that that's when they need the testing.
I want to emphasize again that we're focusing on two very important groups and you'll hear this said three or four different ways ad the groups that really can be the most impacted or impactful in our outbreak. Number one is health care workers and first responders. This is very
important for two reasons. Number one, we have to take care of the health care workers and responders because when America needs them, they need to be available, healthy to provide the care we all deserve.
But it's also important that if they feel they have a risk of having contracted coronavirus that we test them so they cannot spread that, for example, in long-term care facilities where the elderly are.
And the second group would be the elderly. And we are classifying that, according to risk, as those 65 years of age or older who have a respiratory symptom and a fever of 99.6. That's a lower number than you've seen before, because those who are older do not spike high fevers like children do, 104, 105, so you set the bar just a little bit lower.
We do that because we know that there are high risks or bad consequences and if they test positive, they can engage with their practitioner, tell a health provider or get in the system to make sure they have just an outstanding outcome.
So, that is really where we are. We've made really unprecedented progress. You will see these sites rolling out progressively over the week. This is not make believe. This is not fantasy. We've developed the model. We've talked to the states. We're focusing in on specific locations now.
We will start shipping gear, stuff, tomorrow. We will start deploying officers tomorrow and Tuesday. And we'll begin seeing these sites, in addition to the ones that are springing up now, implemented during this week.
We will have the capability of testing tens of thousands of additional people through these sites every week, in addition to all the capability that's now going to be distributed in the 2,000 laboratories in the major central core laboratories.
And I know you have a number of questions that hopefully in the question and answer session we'll be able to answer for you, but I think this is just a great linkage. I'm a pediatric ICU doctor. I take care of sick people. I know what happens when you get respiratory illness.
The surgeon general is an anesthesiologist who takes care of people who have respiratory difficulties and manages that. So we know how this works. We've been there. The most important thing we've worked on right now is making testing accessible because of the advances of the FDA and private industry to make these high throughput tests.
Now we can work on the front end with the emergency declaration. We have all of the tools and all of government has really come together with industry, not just government and states, it's really been private industry.
The manufacturers, to bring the swabs, the personal protective gear, the laboratory testing, the shipping, the fronts with Walgreens and Wal-Mart's working as potential sites.
This has been something in my mind has been unprecedented, the entire society approach working so intensely over the past -- certainly over the past weeks, but incredibly on this project over the past 72 hours.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, admiral. And let me say, we are moving out now that we have the public/private partnership with the major commercial labs. And now you have our public health team as well as FEMA moving out connecting to the states to deploy these points of distribution community centers.
We'll also be working closely with members of the media in individual jurisdictions, as well as we're working with Google and other tech companies to make sure that there's online resources where people will be able to readily access a questionnaire that will walk them through the symptoms and whether or not a test might be indicated.
And also, in the days ahead, we look forward to that same website being able to direct people to the nearest community center or drive- through center that's available. But let me introduce Dr. Deborah Birx to speak about that patient experience and about the importance of the right people seeking the testing in the days ahead. Doctor?
DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice president. Let me just start by recognizing the men and women of the military who are serving us every day. They are my brothers and sisters. I was privileged to serve along side them for quite a long time. But critically, I just want to recognize at this moment the public health commission core behind me.
The vice president, although he didn't speak to this, actually went to see them yesterday at the place where they were working so that we wouldn't disturb them because of their level of dedication and work through the last, really, 48 hours nonstop.
So, thank you. Thank you for your work and thank you for the work that you brought together. And thank you, admiral, for explaining it so quickly. Let me just go back to the way laboratory work is done in the United States.
I think all of you know, when you go to your doctor and you need a lab test, it is either done in your doctor's office or it's done in the lab that they send you to. When we started this emergency response to this virus, we started with what we knew and that was the flu platform that we used for surveillance.
It wasn't set up in your doctor's office, it wasn't set up in our hospital laboratories. It was set up in state and local labs and at the CDC. Over the last two weeks we've been working with the groups that have served you for decades. The commercial laboratories that you don't see, but your specimen goes to, to ensure they had the full capacity to meet the needs of the American people.
Because it wasn't going to be 50 to 100, to 1,000 tests, it was going to be tens of thousands of tests that would be needed to be done. And so the last two weeks has been spent on really getting what you are used to, the full force of the clinical laboratories and service.
At the same time, what you heard described here is how do we serve the needs of the people in the community where they reside, where we know when we're talking about people with vulnerable conditions, immunosuppression, medical conditions or the elderly, that we don't want them having to sit for long times in doctor's office and hospital's waiting rooms.
And you see what state and local governors have done to move past what we would normally do -- a referral to your doctor's office and to your hospital, but really providing community-led services to provide this testing.
What the federal government is doing is augmenting that, augmenting the innovation that existed in South Korea, brought here to the shores of the United States and brought in our own novel way, but utilizing our health care delivery system, which is different than South Korea and adapting our work to our system.
So, to the hospitals and to the laboratories, we know that there will be pent-up demand for this. Make sure every hospital and every laboratory -- I'm speaking to the people who work in labs like I did myself -- make sure you have enough pipette tips, pipettors, and all of the equipment that you need to run this laboratory.
You know what you need. Make sure you have that and have that available for these tests. Because we know with this increased sampling, this increased ability to have community access. Additional samples will be going to these laboratories.
They can manage the high throughput, but they need all of the supplies that they would normally need to run these tests. Think of it -- if you're doing HIV viral load, same thing, just what you need. You know what you need, make sure you have that. That will be run.
And the most important thing I know for each and every one of you is how am I going to get my results? And so we're making sure also that the end of reporting is also there, that the reporting is available to you, to your doctor, and also to the state and local governments and the federal government.
Not with your personal identifiers, but to really understand where there are positives, where there are negatives, so we can ensure that health care providers have what they need to meet the demands of the American people and their health needs when they're there.
Now, let me just say one bit about reporting. So you will notice as these tests roll out over this next week, we will have a spike in our curve. For those of you what watched China and China reporting, remember when they changed their definition and all of a sudden there was a blip in their curve? We are going to see that.
We are going to see a spike as more and more people have access. And I want to finish by again reminding people how important it is -- I know everybody is going to want to go to these drive-through, but if we could prioritize, like we have asked you to prioritize the care of every person with a pre-existing condition and immunosuppression and the elderly with the existing conditions.
We've ask you to prioritize them and we ask you to prioritize them in the lines so that our first responders and our health care providers and everybody who has difficulty to get to doctor's offices can utilize this system while we bring all the other traditional systems that you are used to and have availability for you online over the next few days and weeks.
So, thank you. Thank you for constantly reminding us how important -- it's a response of all of America for Americans. All of America for Americans. It's a privilege to be a part of this solution and be part of this team.
And again, I want to close by recognizing the commission corps. They have spent -- I'm not sure they've had anything but pizza to eat for the last two days but we appreciate --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doughnuts!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doughnuts.
BIRZ: Doughnuts. All right, don't follow their guidance.
PENCE: Dr. Fauci?
ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: Thank you, Mr. Vice president. I'll be very brief. I just want to say listening to the description of the Admiral Giroir, I'm very pleased to see how things have evolved. I think we could describe this as entering into a new phase in the testing space available here in the United States.
You've heard me on many of these briefings talk about the multifaceted omamatarian (ph) that we have to address the crisis of what the world is seeing and the challenge that we're seeing right here in the United States.
I mean, obviously, the travel restrictions have been in my mind a very, very positive way that we have prevented more of the input from outside in that would seat us and make our job more difficult. And then we have, as I've mentioned, the containment and the mitigation from within.
You're going to be hearing more about advanced guidelines about that, more precise instructions of how we can implement this mitigation within the community. But now that we have a situation that is going to be rolled out -- and remember, I want to emphasize what was just said -- we're not going to go from here to there overnight.
It's going to be a gradual ratcheting up that I believe is going to happen quickly so that then we can start talking about things and put behind us the multiple understandable questions about testing and move on to see how we can make this multifaceted approach really work for us because as I've said many times, and I'll repeat it, the worst is yes ahead for us.
It is how we respond to that challenge that's going to determine what the ultimate end point is going to be. We have a very, very critical point now. If you look at the curves that I've described multiple times, this window that we're in is going to be very important for us to stay ahead of this curve. Thank you.
PENCE: Stay close. Questions?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice president, we've seen a number of communities across the country that are starting to either close restaurants, some are even doing curfews. Do you envision this happening kind of nationwide where we'll see some rules come into effect saying, you know, we don't want people out at places they're not essentially at Wal-Mart or a grocery store or some kind of testing center?
And then also, I would be curious to say, we've also heard so many travelers today that are coming back from these airports when they were flying back, they were so concerned, and I'm sure the secretary will address it, but these folks that are wondering now, did they catch it because they were stuck waiting in line for hours and hours in customs? Your thoughts on that sir.
PENCE: Well, we will have updated guidelines tomorrow morning for you that are being vetted now with CDC and all of our top health care experts, but what I would just recommend to the American people is to review those federal guidelines and know that we'll also respect and defer to decisions that are made by governors, by state health departments, about what's best for that community.
What my health care team, some of the best people in the world, tell me very regularly is that it's very important that you follow the data, you make decisions based on the circumstances that are taking place in that community, but we'll have more broad-based recommendations for the American public tomorrow.
And let me say, I'm going to ask the secretary to come up and speak about the screening issue. The president made a decision to suspend all travel from Europe. That is under way now. And as of midnight Monday night, we will be suspending all travel from the U.K. and Ireland as well, but Americans may come home.
But out of an abundance of caution, we are engaging in health care screenings at 13 different airports around the country, working diligently in that regard to put the safety of the American public first. And we're asking returning Americans to self-quarantine for 14 days if they've been in those countries in Europe, and as of Monday, the U.K. and Ireland that are being impacted by the coronavirus.
But the secretary and I spoke this morning. I spoke with Governor Pritzker and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois this morning about some challenges 33at O'Hare Airport, and I'm going to let the secretary speak to how we are addressing those going forward. Mr. Secretary.
CHAD WOLF, ACTING SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well yesterday we began processing, again, the travel restrictions from passengers from the Schengen area, which totaled more than 40,000 passengers yesterday. So to give you an idea, in one day, we processed over half of the total number of individuals we have processed, medical screening, since February 2nd.
So that is an enormous challenge that we have placed on our officers and contract medical staff at airports and they are stepping up. But to be clear, the lines, again, that we saw overnight at a limited number of airports, including Chicago are unacceptable.
Acting Commissioner, CBP Commissioner Morgan also believes they're unacceptable and is personally engaged leadership at all 13 funneling airports. We did make the necessary adjustments at 12 of the funneling airports. However, again, at Chicago, those adjustments were not made quick enough, but we have course corrected.
We've adjusted our processes. We continued to surge personnel and we are certainly glad to see certain airports and certain airlines step up, partner with us and help us address this unprecedented situation. As I walked in here today, so far today, at all of our funneling airports to include Chicago, we have an average wait time of 30 minutes.
So we addressed the problem -- we identified the problem, addressed it and we have fixed it and we look forward to, again, accommodating passengers this evening as well.
Let me -- I understand the frustration that some passengers who are returning to the U.S. might have with some of these procedures, but I would just say, and rest assured that we are continuing our strict protocols of looking at individuals as they come into the country.
We33 make sure that they are medically screened, make sure that we are capturing the information for the public health officials, the state and local officials, and we'll continue to do that and we've done that specifically at the president's request.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, has there been any talk, sire, of any sort of shutdown of domestic air travel at all?
WOLF: Well, we continue to look at all options, and all options remain on the table to address, and we'll certainly adjust as the medical professionals at CDC address the medical situation.
PENCE: Very good. Good job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice president, Dr. Fauci this morning said that the federal government should do whatever it takes to increase Americans' social distancing and encourage that practice. He didn't rule out the possibility of a national lockdown. If Americans don't take those steps on their own, is that something that the federal government is prepared to do?
And secondly, I'd also like to know, you know, the president, we just heard him say Americans should relax. Why aren't we hearing more from him about what Americans can do as they are seeing this huge impact on their daily lives, whether it's at airports or at restaurants or other places around the country?
PENCE: Well, everything that the White House coronavirus task force does is at the direction of the president of the United States. All the efforts of all federal agencies and cooperation with state governments and local health officials is reflective of the decisive leadership the president has brought this early on.
It's important to remember that the president on January 31st suspended all travel from China. I said to Dr. Fauci, who I'll call up to address your other question in a moment -- I said to Dr. Fauci today, as we look at Europe now being the epicenter of the coronavirus, I asked him, if we had not suspended all travel from China, what our circumstance would be.
And he essentially said, "We'd be where Europe is today." And the president also took the actions with regard to Europe and recently expanded those. So, the American people can be confident that President Trump is going to continue to act without hesitation on the advice of our health care professionals to put the health and safety of the American people first. But with regard to the statement that you made, I'm going to let Dr. Fauci address that as well.
FAUCI: Yes, I meant everything that I said this morning on the shows, that really, to protect the American people we'll consider anything and everything and on the table. You're going to see some advanced and updated guidelines tomorrow that are going to address some but not all of the questions and concerns.
But on a day-by-day basis, we look at this and literally, we will do everything that we can to make sure we safe guard the health and the well-being of the American people, and that means everything and anything we'll consider.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice president --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a follow-up --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Dr. Fauci, can you give us some examples? You say anything/everything, like what?
FAUCI: Like --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like what Europe is doing, no bars, no restaurants?
FAUCI: That could be, absolutely. I mean, that could be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But if new guidance is coming tomorrow, can you give us more concrete ideas right now? You must know what it is. FAUCI: I don't want -- what I don't want to do is I don't want to, you
know, jump ahead of the guidance. I promise you, let the guidance come out. We'll be here every day. I'll answer the question after the guidance, I promise you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice president --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice president, how do people know where to get their testing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Vice president, what is your plan to build more hospital beds so tens of thousands of Americans don't die? And how many more ventilators are you looking at ordering so people don't suffocate?
PENCE: Let me -- let the secretary step up. I know that there's a long-term planning that takes place at --