3/31/20 OFW Law Daily COVID-19 News Conference Summary

President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence held a more than 2-hour press conference beginning at about 5:35 yesterday evening. They were joined by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:

  1. The President thanked the American people and businesses for their sacrifices and positive attitudes in responding to the coronavirus crisis. We have learned good practices to follow for the future that will help us again. There will now be some tough days ahead, with the President saying it will be a very tough two weeks. We will start to see light at the end of the tunnel, but this is a time for all Americans to come together.
  2. The President was asked about stories still coming from the front lines that more tests are needed. The President said we are getting more and more tests every day, and will have the new self-swab test in the next couple days.
  3. When Drs. Birx and Fauci were pressed on the demographics of who might die, the President repeated the importance of the mitigation efforts because if nothing is done 1.6 to 2.2 people would be dying “all over the place”.
  4. The President was asked about those who might have wanted to ease restrictions. He said there are some who had suggested riding it out. New York and New Jersey got a late start in responding, while in Washington it was relatively contained. This is not like the flu and a lot more lives are at stake, so riding it out is not possible.
  5. The President was asked about suggestions being made that all people should use masks. The President said people can use scarves instead of masks. There is no harm if people want to do it. Millions of masks are being made but he wants them to go to hospitals.
  6. He was asked if the mitigation steps are enough. He said he hoped so. He wants people to go back to work.
  7. The President was asked if can confirm delaying tariff payments for 90 days. He said he has not approved a delay, and not has been presented to him.
  8. The President was asked about individual states issuing stay at home orders, and what he might need in order for him to issue such an order. He said he leaves this to individual states.
  9. The President was asked about his call with President Putin regarding oil prices. He said that Russia and Saudi Arabia are “going at it.” In a way it is the biggest tax cut we’ve ever given. It is helping the airlines, but hurting the oil industry. He went on to say that he spoke with both President Putin and the Saudi Crown Prince about the issue, and would join them at an appropriate time.
  10. The President was asked about his suggestion for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, and if he is expecting the need for shovel-ready jobs as was the case in 2008-2009. The President disputed that those jobs were shovel-ready, but he wants to use infrastructure funds for that purpose. With a zero interest rate now is the time go get a long term deal. With a strong dollar people want to invest in the US. We need roads, bridges, and tunnels. He would not support anything like the Green New Deal.
  11. The President was asked why we might hold back 10,000 ventilators, and if the projections of 100,000 deaths is the reason. The President said there is a need to hold on to them. Requests are coming from places that do not need them. He acknowledged that there might be some places with a ventilator shortage, but 11 companies are now making them. He wants the flexibility to move them where needed when a surge occurs.
  12. He was asked about governors’ claims that they are bidding against each other to get ventilators. He said they should not be doing that, but should come to us. Some who are bidding do not need them. They are hoarding, and should not be doing that. He was later asked about Governor Cuomo’s statements that it is like being on eBay with states bidding against each other. The President said Governor Cuomo has been given a lot and shouldn’t be complaining. He has gotten more than anyone. The President is getting along with Mayor de Blasio, who is asking for people. Later the President was asked about Governor Cuomo’s having said there should be a federal system for acquiring ventilators to avoid the price bidding. The President said essentially we do. We will have thousands of ventilators, and will be able to help Italy, France, and other countries.
  13. He was asked about data regarding the use of hydroxychloroquine. He said he has not heard of any results, and also has not heard anything bad regarding its usage. He described it as a “total game changer if it happens.”
  14. The President was asked about claims from the Governor of Connecticut that the national stockpile is empty. The President responded that supplies are being sent directly to states rather than having it go into a stockpile and then be redistributed.
  15. He was asked what might the models have looked like if we had started social distancing earlier. The President said that his action stopping people coming from China to the United States was a big decision for which he took heat.
  16. The President was asked if there is any fairness to the criticism that he may have lulled Americans with a false sense of security about the virus. The President said he wanted to give the people hope. He stopped travel from China, Italy, and Europe. He believes he does not have to give bad news and said he is a cheerleader for the country.
  17. The President was asked if travel bans are being considered for other countries. He said they will look at other countries if they have been hot.

Summary of the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx’s remarks and questions:

  1. Birx utilized several charts showing potential deaths from the virus. They include charts resulting from modeling that showed a range of 1.6 to 2.2 million deaths, to the more recent models suggesting that with full mitigation deaths can be held down to 100,000 to 200,000. She focused on an IHME chart that shows deaths per day peaking in mid-April and continuing until August. She offered another slide that showed high peaks for New York and New Jersey, with much lower peaks for the other states.
  2. Italy is showing its curve slowing down with daily counts decreasing.
  3. There is no magic bullet or therapy. It depends on action by communities and individual behavior.
  4. Birx was asked about the projected death numbers. She said that the projections were based on what happened in Italy, and are revised by models based on newer numbers which result in the 100,000 to 200,000 projection. She hopes we can do better.
  5. With respect to the next two weeks she said there is an up slope, and then it will come down more slowly than it went up.
  6. Birx was pressed on the belief that while down the deaths will last much longer. She again referred to the IHME materials, looking into June.
  7. Birx said that the IHME model is skewed by the numbers in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. If other areas can pull back on their projected counts, the total numbers can come down.
  8. She was asked if she would urge other cities that have not been as tough in their response as New York has been to get tougher. She pointed to the lower numbers in California due to the California practices as an example.
  9. Birx was asked about a demographic breakdown of the projected deaths. She said that Washington worked to not have a spike. They had taken mitigation efforts before New York. There is very low mortality among the young. There is higher mortality with an increase in age and preexisting conditions, as in Italy. It comes down to work within communities. The US is in an excellent position with its medical care, but we don’t want to test that system.
  10. With respect to lowering the projected number of deaths, Dr. Birx said that by looking at what happened in Los Angeles and Seattle in comparison to New York you may be able to project a better outcome.
  11. She was pressed on how could claims of improvement be made without data from other states which may not have yet hit their spikes. She said that California and Washington reacted early, and that is what they are hoping to do with New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago and Boston in trying to have them act more like California.
  12. Regarding what models would have looked like if we had started social distancing earlier, Dr. Birx referred to the charts and what she called the “confidence interval” above and below the solid lines as to ranges of possibilities. But she said she could not answer the question until we get antibody tests back. Was there virus, where was it, and when did it occur are all unknown factors.
  13. Birx was asked about the CDC recommendation of people not using masks for the goal of the public helping doctors, and if in fact it might be good for people to use masks. She did say that it is reasonable to wear a mask if a person has the virus or is near another who does. The mask issue is being considered by the Task Force.
  14. When asked if a model had been constructed based on a national lockdown. Dr. Birx said the model is based on stay in your home. It is not called a lockdown. If everyone maintains social distancing of 6 feet, it works.

Summary of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s remarks and questions:

  1. Fauci said there are two dynamic forces opposing one another: the virus left to itself will result in a big curve versus what we can do to bring down this curve with mitigation. He said when the increase in cases levels off it will be followed by less hospitalization, less intensive care, and fewer deaths. Deaths always lag behind new cases. We are seeing little inklings of improvement in New York, but over the next days we will see things go up and cannot be discouraged by it. We want to prevent the cluster of other areas that haven’t had a spike from hitting that spike with mitigation. Now is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator. This is tough and inconvenient, but it is the answer to our problem.
  2. With respect to the projected death counts Dr. Fauci said he does not accept the model’s numbers, and wants to do all that we can to do much better. He also said deaths always lag counts.
  3. When asked if we should prepare for 100,000 deaths, Dr. Fauci said yes, we should prepare, and hope for less.
  4. He was then asked if the country can handle the death count. He acknowledged that the projection is really tough, but that is what it is.
  5. On demographics Dr. Fauci said that we are anticipating the deaths but do not accept it. We want to work to improve the numbers.
  6. Fauci was asked if the deaths are held to 100,000 with full mitigation, how can he say the number can be pushed lower. Dr. Fauci said that it is based on a model. As we get new data we can feed it back in and get a lower number. The model is only as good as its assumptions so as we get data results we get better projections.
  7. Fauci was asked about the outlook for vaccines. He said that there are a number of candidates, some with compassionate use and others with emergency use. They have not been approved for anything as of yet. It takes months to evaluate them. He hopes that as we get into summer we might get a positive result.
  8. Regarding what models would have looked like if we had started social distancing earlier, Dr. Fauci said if there was no virus there was nothing to mitigate. If there had been one that we had not known about, then yes. But this all becomes a sound bite that can be misunderstood.
  9. When the President was asked about considering clinical trials for hydroxychloroquine that are being conducted elsewhere in the world, Dr. Fauci acknowledged these other trials, said this is an FDA decision, and said it is too early to make a decision.
  10. Fauci was asked about a claim from an MIT professor that the virus could be transmitted 27 feet with coughs and sneezes. Dr. Fauci said the claims are misleading because of the type of sneeze that would be needed to project 27 feet. The 6-feet social distancing standard is sufficient.
  11. Fauci was asked if there is any data to suggest a second wave to the virus. He said that after the 30-day period there is a danger that if we do not maintain mitigation practices we could have a resurgence. There is also a second wave if the virus circulates in other parts of the world and we see it next season. At that point we will be better prepared to recognize it and may have a vaccine.

Summary of the Vice President’s remarks and questions:

  1. Vice President Pence said that with the presentations by Drs. Birx and Fauci the American people have seen what the President has seen. He asks the American people to give another 30 days for the social distancing guidelines. It will help hospitals.
  2. The President and Vice President are continuing to work with governors. There have been 29 major disaster declarations, and 10 states are using Title 32 funding for the National Guard.
  3. There have been 1.1 million tests. They are working to assist governors with drive-thru testing.
  4. They have told the governors the importance of using the National Guard to move medical supplies.
  5. The Vice President reviewed the growing volume of supplies that have been distributed, and the new Air Bridge flights that have already arrived or are about to arrive in New York, Illinois, and Ohio.
  6. FEMA is delivering ventilators, and he reviewed the amounts previously provided.
  7. Business continue to move the food supply, and he will join Secretary Perdue at a Walmart distribution center tomorrow.
  8. With respect to claims that more tests are needed, Vice President Pence talked about the new Abbott tests and the work being done with Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Giroir and FEMA to distribute the tests. New York had an earlier challenge. The lower levels in other states gives evidence that the 15 days to stop the spread has been working, and that is why they are asking Americans to follow the protocols for another 30 days.
  9. When the President was asked about the conditions necessary for him to call for a national stay at home order, the Vice President said health experts wanted the 15-day social distancing guidelines extended for an additional 30 days. They provide a flow of information to the governors and will defer to state and local authorities on what they believe to be appropriate practices.
  10. With respect to the question to the President about what models would have looked like if we had started social distancing earlier, the Vice President referred to the January 31 China travel restriction, and other travel restrictions shortly thereafter along with the traveler screening. Those actions bought time. We went from prevention to mitigation strategies.
  11. When the President was asked by a claim made by former CDC Director Thomas Frieden that an incident commander should have been named, Vice President Pence said we have one, and it is FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor.

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