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President declares national emergency for COVID-19, ramps up testing capability


President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to allow for additional resources to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and announced increased testing capacity in partnership with private industry.

During a March 13 press conference, the president said the declaration would “open up access to up to $50 billion” for states and territories in combating the spread of the disease.

He also called on all states to “set up emergency operation centers, effective immediately” and for every hospital “to activate its emergency preparedness plan so that they can meet the needs of Americans everywhere.”

Additionally, he said the declaration will confer broad new authority on the Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that will allow him to “immediately waive provisions of applicable laws and regulations to give doctors, all hospitals, and health care providers maximum flexibility to respond to the virus and care for patients.”

Some of the powers he highlighted included the ability to waive laws to enable telehealth; to waive certain federal license requirements to allow doctors licensed in one state to offer services in other states; the ability to waive limits on beds in critical access hospitals; and to waive rules that hinder hospitals from hiring additional physicians.

The president also announced that more testing capacity will be made available within the next week, in partnership with private industry.

“We want to make sure that those who need a test can get a test very safely, quickly, and conveniently, but we don’t want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

To help make that determination, a website, developed with Google, is expected to be launched the weekend of March 13 to will allow individuals to input their symptoms and risk factors to help determine if they should be tested. If certain criteria are met, the website will provide locations for drive-through testing facilities. Individuals will be tested using a nasal swab and will receive results within 24-36 hours.

The testing is being done in partnership with retailers, including Target and Walmart (who are providing parking lot space for the pop-up testing facilities) and testing companies LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics.

The new test was developed by Roche and just received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

“We therefore expect up to a half-million additional tests will be available early next week,” President Trump said, adding that testing locations will “probably” be announced on Sunday, March 15.

A second application for a new test, submitted by Thermo Fisher, is currently under review at the FDA and is expected to be approved within the next 24 hours, he said. This would add an additional 1.4 million tests in the next week and 5 million within a month, according to the president.

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