President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to counter the devastating spread of the coronavirus, unlocking about $50 billion in federal aid to fight the disease, including making available mass testing, lack of which has been lambasted by critics.
Trump made the announcement at a Rose Garden news conference, after appearing to play down the threat for weeks.
Trump said he was declaring the national emergency in order to “unleash the full power of the federal government.”
He urged every state to set up emergency centers to help fight the virus, reported Reuters.
Pressure has been mounting for Trump to declare an infectious disease emergency under the 1988 law that would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide disaster funds to state and local governments and to deploy support teams. The power is rarely used. Former President Bill Clinton in 2000 declared such an emergency for West Nile virus.
“To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words. The action I am taking will open up access to up to $50 billion – a very important and a large amount for states and territories or localities in our shared fight against this disease,” he said.
Trump said the federal government was partnering with the private sector to accelerate production of test kits to make them more widely available to Americans. He said there will be about 5 million coronavirus tests available but doubted that many will be needed. He urged Americans to only seek out the test if they feel they need it.
The move came about after Senate Democrats urged Trump to invoke the Stafford Act, reported Bloomberg News.
Such a declaration would allow a state to request a 75 percent cost-share for expenses such as emergency workers, testing, medical supplies and vaccinations, Democrats said in a letter sent to the president, reported Fox News.
Trump’s declaration comes in the wake of a widely reported coronavirus fatality rates scenario in the US by The New York Times, according to some officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and epidemic experts from universities around the world.
According to assumptions by the experts, if not controlled aggressively, the coronavirus would be of crippling proportions, and between 160 million and 214 million people in the U.S. could be infected over the course of the epidemic. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die, the Times reported.
The nightmare calculations, based on the C.D.C.’s scenarios, also suggested, 2.4 million to 21 million people in the U.S. could require hospitalization, potentially crushing the nation’s medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds. Fewer than a tenth of those are for people who are critically ill.
The real time numbers across the US are already reaching alarming proportions, with more than a dozen states declaring school closings, and cancellation of almost all academic and sports related activities.
In New York, which is emerging as one of the biggest hot spots in the US, apart from Washington state, and California, there are more than 400 cases of the virus, as of going to press on Friday afternoon.
New York State had 421 confirmed coronavirus cases, with the number of cases in Westchester County and New York City nearly equal, Gov Andrew M. Cuomo said, reported the Times.
There are 158 cases of the virus in Westchester County, home to one of the largest clusters of the virus in the country, and 154 in New York City, officials said. The number of cases in the city has tripled since Wednesday.
“My guess is there are thousands and thousands of cases walking around the state of New York,” Cuomo said, underscoring that the official count, even as it steadily rises, is not representative of total spread of the virus in the state.
Statewide, 50 people found to have the virus were hospitalized, Cuomo said. Thirteen of those people were in intensive care units. The state has 3,200 I.C.U. beds available and does not have the capacity to create more, reported the Times.
Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said on Friday that the state had 50 coronavirus cases, with 21 new ones confirmed. Fifteen of the state’s total were in Bergen County, across the Hudson River from New York City.
By Friday, the coronavirus outbreak in the United States had grown to at least 1,701 cases, with clusters in New York, Washington state and California, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking reports and confirming them with local health departments, reported ABC News. There were at least 40 deaths in the US.
Globally, there are more than 137,445 infections, with at least 5,088 deaths, reported CNBC.
The number of cases in the U.S. and worldwide is the subject of some debate, as testing has been rolled out unevenly and the criteria for diagnosis (through clinical means or a lab test) has varied from country-to-country.
Vox noted based on the same Johns Hopkins data that America is testing people for coronavirus at a lower rate than other developed countries, and yet the data also shows the rate of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in the US is steadily rising, as quickly or more quickly than peers abroad. The confirmed cases in the US are already more in line with Iran and Italy than with places like Hong Kong and Singapore, where the governments were able to mobilize more quickly.
Hare crimes are also rising against Asian-origin residents.
The New York Police Department said it was investigating at least three incidents that occurred in Manhattan this week as potential anti-Asian bias crimes connected to the spread of the coronavirus. On Tuesday morning, a 23-year-old woman of Asian descent was pushed and slapped by another woman in Manhattan, the police said. The suspect, a woman in her 20s, made anti-Asian comments.
Later that day, on the Upper East Side, a young man approached a 59-year-old man of Asian descent from behind, kicked him to the ground and yelled anti-Asian statements, officials said, reported the Times.
And late Thursday, the police said, a 47-year-old Asian man walking to a bus stop in Forest Hills, Queens, was approached by another man who shoved him, made anti-Asian comments and asked why he was not wearing a mask.
The economic disaster in the making is already playing out in the US.
Fear of a recession has set in; rocked the stock markets.
In 2008, it took 274 days for the stock market in the US to enter the dreaded “bear market” territory. It took just 24 days to enter a bear market now. JPMorgan just changed its forecast to predict a recession in the first half of the year, reported the Washington Post.