The federal government is cracking down on hoarding and price gouging of medical supplies, even as self-administered tests are being prepared for wider distribution, it was announced at a White House press conference Monday evening.
President Donald Trump said he signed an executive order Monday under authority of the Defense Production Act to prevent the hoarding of vital medical supplies and price-gouging. Even before that happened, officials shut down a fake vaccine website.
Attorney General William Barr said the president is authorizing the Department of Health and Human Services to designate which items will be deemed vital, which has not yet happened. Each attorney general’s office will have a designated person to take the lead in cracking down on the problem.
Barr said the order addresses hoarding on “an industrial scale to manipulate the market. If you have a big supply of toilet paper at home, don’t worry, but if you have a warehouse full of masks, you will be hearing a knock on your door.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who leads a coronavirus task force, said he was on a conference call today with the state governors, who were told that all labs are required to report the test results to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee last week said his administration would comply, but that it would take some time to get the data from private labs. The state has only been reporting negative results from tests taken at public health departments, not from private labs. The CDC is now authorized to require all negative reports.)
Pence also said there was progress on rolling out self-administered nasal swab tests for clinics and drive-through test sites to speed up collections and reduce the risk to healthcare workers. But that does not change guidelines that not everyone needs the test.
“If you don’t have symptoms, you don’t need to get a coronavirus test,” Pence said.
The task force asked governors to speak with their members of Congress about the stimulus bill and urge them to take action, Pence said.
HHS is issuing new guidance for all commercial labs to prioritize tests for hospitalized patients, the vice president said. States were asked to survey surgical centers for ventilators. Surgical ventilators used by anesthesiologists can be adapted for coronavirus patients.
Comments by the president included:
“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem.”
Once the 15 days of social distancing end March 31, it will be the “reopening of our country.”
The government last week approved paid sick leave and money for vaccines and treatments.
“Now Congress must demonstrate the same bipartisanship,” and he urged Congress to reach a deal on a stimulus. “It must go quickly. It should not be a time for political agendas. We are going to save American workers and we are going to save them quickly.”
FEMA is distributing 8 million N-95 masks and 13.3 million surgical masks; 6.5 million masks have been donated.
The administration is obtaining large doses of drugs that might be used to treat patients.
The government is postponing the deadline to comply with the REAL ID law with a new deadline to be announced soon.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott helped work with Brazil to bring home 103 Americans who had been on a cruise, many of them being senior citizens.
A total of 148 countries so far have been affected by the “invisible scourge.”
Dr. Deborah Birx of the coronavirus task force:
European countries are sending mortality data, which helps. No child under 15 has died in Europe. One 14-year-old in China had died. Generation Z and Millennials, and people under 50, in Europe have a mortality rate of less than 1 percent. So, 99 percent of the deaths in Europe are people over 50 and people having a pre-existing condition. In Italy, that was three or more pre-existing conditions.
Commercial labs are running around the clock and personnel are risking exposure. The priority is for hospitalized patients. Self-swab options should be available sometime this week for individuals to do their own tests, with hospitalized and emergency rooms having first priority. People do not need to come in to be tested.
The New York metro area had a higher rate of infection with 28 percent of submitted specimens showing positive, vs. less than 8 percent to the rest of the nation; the virus had circulated there a number of weeks.