KEY POINTS

  • Trump is calling for a dramatic increase in the production of ventilators, respirators, masks and other equipment
  • Trump says 20% unemployment as result of virus is worst-case scenario and he doesn't expect that to happen
  • Pence said the federal government currently has 10,000 ventilators on hand and the military has thousands more

 

President Trump on Wednesday said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up the output of critical medical equipment needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

At a White House briefing, Trump said production of ventilators, respirators, masks and other necessary equipment would be increased dramatically to fight the virus, which has infected more than 7,300 Americans, killing upward of 107.

Trump said the order, which will expedite the president’s ability to expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base, likely would be signed Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. border with Canada was closed for everything but essential travel and the movement of goods. Trump said he expected the closure to be in effect for 30 days.

Trump tried to tamp down concern about statements from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the virus could put 20% of workers on the unemployment line. He said that was a worst-case scenario.

Vice President Mike Pence said the federal government has 10,000 ventilators on hand and the military has several thousand more that could be deployed if necessary. Trump said thousands more have been ordered. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the military also would make 5 million respirators, masks and other equipment available.

Trump also said two hospital ships would be dispatched, the Mercy and the Comfort, to handle any patient overflow from hospitals swamped by patients. The Mercy was to be sent to New York. The Comfort currently is berthed in San Diego and would be deployed along the West Coast.

 “They will be launched in the next week or so, depending on need,” Trump said.

Trump said testing for the virus was poised to expand dramatically with the introduction of self-swabbing tests that he said are much more comfortable than earlier versions.

The Department of Health and Human Services also has changed rules, now allowing doctors to practice across state lines, and hospitals and patients have been urged to delay elective procedures to allow medical supplies to be conserved. Dentists also have been asked to suspend all but emergency procedures.

“Conserving personal protective equipment is essential to fighting the virus,” said Seema Verma, head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She added: “Shared sacrifice is essential.”

Veterans Administration head Robert Wilke said the VA has reduced routine appointments by a third. He said hundreds of veterans have been tested for the virus, with 44 testing positive and one death. Most of the 44 are self-quarantining at home.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the administration response to the virus, said new data coming in from Italy and France indicate younger people are becoming seriously ill from the virus and the numbers are soaring. She said the disproportionate number of infections among millennials could just be a reflection of the size of the population – it’s currently the largest generation – but there has been no significant mortality.

“We need them to be healthy. We cannot have these large gatherings that continue around the country for people who are off work,” she said.

In the U.S. testing is being focused on the hardest hit areas.

Trump said he’s unconcerned his calling the infection the “China virus” will lead to attacks on Asian Americans, despite reports to the contrary. He said he’s calling it that because it came from China and because the Chinese were floating the conspiracy theory that it was introduced by an American soldier.

“We can’t have that,” he said.