President Donald Trump declared a federal state of emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the US. The move frees up additional funding that will allow the government to address the effects of the pandemic.
“I am officially declaring a national emergency,” Trump said today. “Two very big words.”
The declaration opens access to $50 billion, Trump said today. The federal government is asking states to open emergency operation centers and directing hospitals to enact their emergency preparedness plans.
Google is also creating a website that will screen people who think they have symptoms of COVID-19 and, if they need testing, direct them to a drive-though testing site. The test results would then be back in 24 to 36 hours.
This is different from the public health state of emergency that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared at the end of January. That declaration gave HHS more flexibility to assist local and state health departments and modify Medicare and Medicaid requirements, among other powers.
The US response to the pandemic has been significantly slower and less effective than in some other countries because of problems developing and rolling out tests for the virus. Trump had previously resisted calls to issue an emergency declaration, reportedly concerned that it would go against his assertions that the novel coronavirus outbreak was under control.
Test capacity is gradually increasing, and the Trump administration took steps today to speed the approval process for tests developed by private companies. However, it is still far too difficult for people who suspect they have contracted the virus to receive a test.
So far, over 136,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have been reported around the world. Over 5,000 people have died. In the US, over 1,200 cases have been identified, and that number is expected to rise in the coming days.