President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic after more than 1,700 cases were confirmed in the United States.
His action will provide up to $50 billion in disaster relief funds to state and local governments in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease the new coronavirus causes.
“We will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said.
Trump also waived interest on all student loans held by federal government agencies and ordered the Energy Department to purchase large quantities of crude oil for storage. He also called on states to set up emergency centers, hospitals to activate emergency preparedness plans, and provided new powers to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will use the billions of dollars in funding to mobilize health centers, patient transportation, and other needs in the event that hospitals and healthcare providers are overwhelmed with patients amid a spike in coronavirus cases. The virus emerged late last year in Wuhan, China, after authorities there failed to curb its spread, and has now reached more than 100 countries.
Previously, Trump used the Stafford Act for disaster declarations involving California wildfires and floods in the Midwest.
He told reporters on Thursday that the United States has “very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act” and he has “it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, Ill do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people dont even know about.”
A growing number of elected officials have pushed Trump to make an emergency declaration, which would mark a symbolic turning point in the White Houses response. Meanwhile, doctors and nursing groups like the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association have called on the Trump administration to cover the costs of caring for the millions of people without insurance.
Dozens of U.S. states and cities have already declared public health emergencies in the wake of new confirmed COVID-19 patients. Some states have closed all schools for weeks and others have banned large public gatherings, which effectively shutters sports contests, concerts, worship services, and other events.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a Friday news conference that the White House and Congress should put “families first to stimulate the economy.
“We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope, so that we can pursue the precise science-based response that is necessary,” Pelosi said, adding that the House is intent on passing a measure Friday that focuses on making testing free for everyone, including those without insurance, and other safety nets.
In the United States, there are at least 1,700 known cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. At least 40 deaths have been reported so far.