James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

April 24, 2020
5:39 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, everyone.  Thank you.  We continue to see evidence that our aggressive strategy is working and working at a very high level.  Nationwide, the percent of tests that come back positive has declined very significantly.

Last week, roughly 38 percent of the tests in New York were positive.  This week, that number is down to 28 percent.  New cases in New York are down 50 percent compared to a week ago.  And fatalities are down 40 percent over the same period.  In Louisiana, the rate of positive test result had declined from 25 percent down to 15 percent in the last seven days alone.

Eighteen states now show a decline in a number of positive tests in the last seven days.  So, over the last seven days, there’s been very, very significant progress.

Half of all Americans live in states that have now taken steps to open their economies.  Just yesterday, Governors Gavin Newsom, California; Tim Walz of Minnesota; and Bill Lee of Tennessee announced additional plans to restart certain sectors.

We ask every American to maintain vigilance and hygiene, social distancing and voluntary use of face coverings.  We’re opening our country.  It’s very exciting to see.  We have a lot of talent involved, from governors down to people that just stand there and help you with the doors.  There’s been tremendous talent involved and tremendous spirit from our country.  The country is a great place, and it’s going to be greater than ever before.  I really believe that.  I think there’s going to be a tremendous upward shift.

I spoke with Tim Cook, today, of Apple.  And they have a good sense of the market, and he feels it’s going to be a “V.”  The “V” is sharply upward later on as we actually get it fully open.

Today, I signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, providing $320 billion to keep American workers on the payroll.  Thirty billion dollars of the Paycheck Protection funds will be reserved for small financial institutions, including those that serve minority and distressed communities, extending vital relief to thousands of African American and Hispanic American small-business owners and their employees.

The bill also delivers $75 billion for hospitals — so badly needed for hospitals; they’ve taken a very big hit — and medical providers.  In areas less affected by the virus, hospitals and doctors should work with their state and local health officials on ways to safely resume elective medical treatments and care.

Under the CARES Act, we’re sending back payments to millions of American workers.  More than 80 million Americans have already received their payment: $3,400 for a typical family of four.  Three thousand four hundred dollars.  That’s great.  And you deserve it.

The CARES Act requires that the federal government send out a notice of what benefits Americans are receiving.  To fulfill the requirement, the Treasury Department is mailing a letter to me.  It will include the amount, their economic impact payment, how it will arrived — direct deposit, check, or prepaid debit card — as well as a message to the nation, letting each American know that we are getting through this challenge together as one American family.  And that’s what’s been happening.

The whole world is watching us.  You have 184 countries out there that have been hit, and now it’s probably higher than that.  But they’re all watching us.  They’re all watching and they’re calling, and they respect what we’re doing, so much.

I spoke with the leaders of numerous countries today.  They’re asking if we can send them ventilators, and I’m agreeing to do it.  We have tremendous capacity — now, over-capacity of ventilators.  We’re filling up stockpiles for our states and for ourselves.  The federal government has over 10,000 ventilators, and we could have a lot more if we wanted to do that.  But we’re helping Mexico, Honduras, Indonesia, France.  We’re sending to France.  We’re sending to Spain.  We’re sending to Italy.  And we’ll probably be sending to Germany, should they need them.

Over the last three years, we built the strongest economy and the most successful country the world has ever seen.  Greatest economy the world has ever seen.  Nobody has ever done anything like what we were able to do.

And we will rebuild that economy.  Our economy in the not-too-distant future, I really believe, with all that we’ve learned and all that we’ve done, will be just as strong and maybe stronger than ever before — even stronger than it was just two months ago.

Some interesting note is that the FDA approved the first at-home COVID-19 test kit.  It just got approved.  And Dr. Stephen — where is Stephen?  Stephen Hahn.  Stephen?  — is going to say a couple of words about that and some other things.

I want to thank Stephen.  The FDA has been incredible. They’ve been approving not only this, but they’ve been approving many things at a pace that’s never happened before.  And they’re being very safe about it, as Stephen told me.  He’s told me — told me very strongly.  But at the same time, they’re approving things at record numbers, in a record — at a record rate.  And it’s really been helpful.

Many tests are going on — many vaccine tests and tests of every different kind.  And things are happening.  Just like this event, things are happening very rapidly.  And I’d like to have Stephen tell you a little bit about it.

Thank you very much.  Stephen, please.

DR. HAHN:  Thank you, Mr. President.  I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about what’s happening at the FDA.  We have a team of more than 18,000 employees, including 10,000 scientists, doctors, pharmacists, and nurses, and they’ve been working around the clock because, as you probably know, many of the medical products that are being used for the COVID-19 outbreak are, in fact, regulated by FDA.  The staff have been hard at work authorizing tests and other medical products.

As part of these efforts to support diagnostic test development during this global pandemic, the President has asked us, and under his leadership, to actually cut down as many barriers as we possibly could to get medical products into the medical community, and we have done that, of course recognizing the urgency of the situation.

I do want to emphasize what the President said, that — is that we are very much paying attention to safety and with respect to test validity and reliability of those tests.

And I think it’s really important to understand how far we’ve come in just a few short months.  The academic community, which I come from; the private sector; the government — we’ve come together to develop diagnostics for a completely new infectious disease.

And it’s really important — we’ve heard from many test developers, both in academia and in the manufacturing world: This normally takes years to develop.  You’ve heard Dr. Birx talk about the fact that HIV tests has taken many, many years to develop.  This has happened in weeks and months.  We’ve been laser focused on working with both industry and academia to actually make this happen.

To date, under our emergency use authorization approach, we’ve quickly reviewed and authorized 63 tests, both diagnostic, as well as serologic — that is the antibody test.  We’ve had several point-of-care tests, and that’s important because those can be done in the emergency room or in a doctor’s office, et cetera, and much more convenient for the patient.

And this week, as the President said, we authorized the first at-home test by a company called LabCorp.  This is a test where, under certain circumstances, with a doctor’s supervision, a test can be mailed to a patient and the patient can perform the self-swab and then mail it back and get the results after that time — all under the guidance of a licensed physician.

And we’re not just letting up with these 63 tests we’ve approved.  We are working with more than 400 test developers who are pursuing authorization for their diagnostics under our current policies.  And under our regulatory approach, which is quite flexible, many other tests are becoming available.

We are — we have heard, and have reported to us, 220 labs around the country have begun patient testing using their own validated tests.  This has allowed us to increase, significantly, tests around the country.

I updated you earlier this week on serologic tests — these antibody tests that are used to detect natural immunity — and the FDA’s approach to help make these tests available.  While these are just one part of our larger response effort, they can play a role in helping move our economy forward by helping healthcare professionals identify those who have immunity to the COVID-19.

And just finally, when it comes to therapeutics, we are leaving no stone unturned in finding treatments for COVID-19.  You do know that we don’t have any approved currently therapeutics for COVID-19, but we are actively involved with both the academic and the commercial and private sector to find those.  Seventy-two trials of therapeutics are underway in the United States under FDA oversight and 211 are in the planning stages, so we expect to see more.  This includes convalescent plasma, as well as antiviral therapies.

Work continues on vaccines.  And two firms have announced that the FDA has authorized their trials to go forward, one of which we’ve mentioned here before.

And finally, in response to the President’s and Task Force’s request, we’ve stood up the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program.  We are leaving no stone unturned, as I said, and we’re working around the clock to develop these therapeutics for the American people.

Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

Q    Dr. Hahn, a question about antibody tests, please?

THE PRESIDENT:  Go ahead, Doc.  Would you like to maybe —

Q    It’s a quick question —

DR. HAHN:  Okay.

Q    — and it’s timely, because just about an hour ago, a Subcommittee with Oversight released some findings that the FDA doesn’t have any review of the antibody tests that are on the market.  There are no guidelines to tell which ones should be out there, and there’s no way to test their accuracy.  They’re quite worried that these are junk tests on the market because they weren’t reviewed before they were approved.  Is that true?

DR. HAHN:  So, under our policy, we provide a flexibility.  What we’ve told manufacturers is that, in order to market in the U.S., they have to validate their tests, they have to tell us that they validated their tests, and then, in the package insert, they have to let people know — end users, labs, et cetera — that those tests were not authorized by FDA.

We’ve authorized four.  As I mentioned, more are in the pipeline.  And these tests that have come in without any information to us, but have been self-validated — as I mentioned at the podium a couple days ago, we are working with the National Cancer Institute, as well as CDC, to perform our own validation of the tests that that have been sent to us.

So we’ll provide as much information as we possibly can.  And there is transparency on our website about those tests, and also the tests that we have authorized.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

Mike, please.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Mr. President.  From early in this effort, President Trump has called forth a whole-of-government response to the coronavirus epidemic in America.  And by that, the President made clear, when he asked me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, not merely a whole-of-the-federal government but a full partnership with state and local governments across the country.  And today we renewed that with our latest conference call with governors all across America.

We met with them today, specifically to speak about the progress that our governors are making expanding testing across the country.  And we were pleased to hear about the extraordinary and rapid progress that governors are making.

At the — at the outset of the call, where we had more than 50 of our nation’s governors, we, of course, had Pete Gaynor of FEMA report on progress: more than 35,000 National Guard stood up, 5,000 active-duty military deployed in 10 states.  And we were also pleased to report that FEMA, HHS, and the private sector have coordinated the delivery of shipments to states around the country, including nearly 67 million N95 masks, 105 million surgical masks, surgical gowns, shields, gloves, more than 10,000 ventilators, and more than 8,000 federal field medical station beds.

Beyond the report that we provided to the governors, we assured them that, at the President’s direction, this is one team, one mission.  And we made it clear to the governors that we know we’re all in this together.  And the partnership that we have forged together really begins with mitigation efforts.  It moves to making sure our healthcare workers have the support they need, but also testing is in the forefront of all of our minds.

We’re working — working to make it possible for every governor to access the existing capacity to enable our states to be able to reopen responsibly under the phased approach that the President unveiled one week ago.

A little bit of context: You may recall that, one month ago, all of the testing that had been done in America — 80,000 Americans had been tested.  But as of this morning, 5.1 million Americans have been tested for the coronavirus.

A quick reminder to our fellow Americans, and this was something from our scientists today at the task force, and we reminded governors of this as well: that as testing increases dramatically across the country, cases will increase as well.  But people should not be discouraged by those numbers.  We are looking at very positive trends in hospitalization, in emergency room entrances.  And we continue to see, as we’ve said at this podium every day over the last several weeks — we continue to see positive progress not just on the West Coast, but even where the coronavirus epidemic has most deeply impacted in areas of the Greater New York City area, New Orleans, Detroit, and elsewhere.

On our nearly two-hour phone call today with those governors, we heard of the progress governors were making in implementing the resources that we’ve been working to provide them: not just the medical equipment, but also, as you recall, that map, a week ago, that showed where all of the equipment is all across the country in all 50 states.

Governor Cuomo joined us for the call today.  He spoke favorably of his meeting here at the White House, Mr. President, and his recognition that testing is a partnership between the federal and state governments.  As Governor Cuomo said today, he understood that the federal government works with national manufacturing and supply chain, and the governors deal with the labs to expand and implement testing at the state level.

Governor Cuomo also explained how he’s using his licensing authority as a governor to stand up the more than 300 labs that can do coronavirus testing in the state of New York.  And we congratulated him for his leadership in that and urged other governors to use their authority similarly.

In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee told us that he’s deployed the National Guard to stand up more than 20 drive-through test sites.  They’re testing 10,000 people a day and have already tested more than 130,000 people in Tennessee, and they expect to surge another 15,000 people in testing sites this weekend in Tennessee.

Massachusetts is an area we’re continuing to watch very closely as cases have not yet stabilized.  And Governor Charlie Baker, after he thanked us, Mr. President, for the Army Corps of Engineers deployment of four field hospitals, he described how they have rapidly expanded testing all across Massachusetts.  We commended him for that.  In the beginning of March, he said they had just one testing site in the state of Massachusetts.  And now, thanks to Governor Charlie Baker’s team, they have more than 30 testing sites.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz reflected on the call today about the partnership he’s forged with the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, and state health department.  They’re actually collaborating to perform 20,000 molecular tests and 15,000 antibody tests per day.  And I’m looking forward to traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on Tuesday of next week to learn firsthand from the governor about their efforts across the state to expand testing.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds gave us an update, Mr. President, on her progress.  She’s literally tripling testing capacity in her state through a partnership with the private sector, with the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.  She also launched the TestIowa.com website, which actually creates an access point for people to fill out a questionnaire about whether or not their symptoms or circumstances would justify a test.  She said, in the first 72 hours, 150,000 people went to the test site to receive an assessment.  And Iowa is now testing 4,500 people a day in their state.

In Indiana, I spoke also today with Governor Eric Holcomb.  They’ve tested 72,000 Hoosiers to date.  They’re adding drive-through sites.  They’ll have 10 drive-through sites established by the state of Indiana before the end of the weekend.  And as other governors have done, Governor Holcomb, last week, opened up half of their elective surgery sites and hospitals across the state.  And they’ll be opening up the balance of their elective surgery sites next week.

In Maryland, another area that we’re watching very closely, Governor Larry Hogan expressed appreciation for federal support, as he’s continuing to scale testing.  He had been in touch with the National Institute of Health, which is opening up its laboratories for Maryland to do testing.  And we were also able to confirm to him that Walter Reed Hospital’s laboratory capacity is available to Maryland.

And in Utah, Mr. President, Governor Gary Herbert told us that he actually diverted 1,200 state employees to do contact tracing in their state.  In the last 36 hours, 23,000 residents have also signed up for what they’re calling their “Healthy Together” app.  And they have 50 different testing locations across Utah and have tested 82,000 people in the state already.

Other state examples, Mr. President, were — were just as inspiring.

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey has forged a partnership with Rutgers University.  Working closely with the FDA, they’ve authorized a saliva-based test that is being deployed just at that site that’s expanding their ability to track what continues to be a very challenging environment in New Jersey.

And Governor Mike Parson of Missouri, Mr. President, also told us how they’d worked with Google Marketplace to create an online portal for more than 200 companies in Missouri who have repurposed their manufacturing lines to create medical supplies to meet their need within the state.

And in Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont spoke about positive trend lines in Connecticut, which has been really at the center of the outbreak in the Greater New York area.  But he also said they were hoping to double testing over the next week.

Mr. President, that’s just a sampling of what we heard today.  And I know it’s an encouragement to you, and I trust it’s an encouragement to people all across the country that, at your direction, we are implementing a testing strategy that is supported at the federal level but it is deployed and managed at the state level.

And we want to express our appreciation to every governor across the country that are — that are standing up all of those labs that are available, that are working with us and our supply chain personnel to make sure that the reagents and the swabs and the equipment is there to be able to process the tests.

And we’re going to continue to increase testing dramatically in the weeks ahead.  So we want to thank our governors for the progress that we’re making on testing and for their role in — in urging their citizens to practice the kind of mitigation and social distancing efforts that are really making real progress.

We’re one team, one mission, and that’s to save lives.  And because of all the efforts that have been made at the state level, the strong guidance that’s come from the federal level, and because of the amazing healthcare workers across this country and our first responders, but mostly, I believe, because of the cooperation of millions of Americans who’ve put the guidance into practice, their cooperation and their prayers have set us on a path where we are slowing the spread; we are protecting our most vulnerable.

And I truly do believe the day will soon come when we will heal our land, and we’ll be able to reopen America and put this great nation back to work.

Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

END                

6:01 P.M. EDT