Today, March 13th, 2020, President Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency. During the Friday afternoon press conference, Trump cited The Stafford Act, a 1988 federal law that gives the president the power to allocate funds to states and localities during a disaster or emergency. The declaration gives FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, access to $50 billion in disaster relief funds to assist state and local governments responding to the virus. The money will go towards testing, setting up emergency operation centers across the country, as well as food, medical supplies and equipment.
The president announced these funds in addition to the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill he signed into law earlier this month. Congress is also working on its own coronavirus relief package that will likely ramp up testing across the U.S., while providing financial relief to those impacted by the virus, including hourly workers, those in quarantine, and those carrying for infected patients.
Let’s take a look at how this emergency response declaration will go into effect.
State-by-State Emergency Operation Centers
President Trump is urging all 50 states to establish emergency operation centers to help state and local governments respond to the outbreak. The majority of cases are still in Washington state, New York, and California, however states around the country are prepping for the worst.
The American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association have been pushing for an emergency declaration for some time. It gives the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services more authority to respond to the virus, so it can coordinate efforts between various hospitals and treatment centers. The move would also give doctors and care providers “maximum flexibility” in terms of their response to the virus.
Several companies, including Walmart, CVS, and Target, have agreed to pitch in, as well. Walmart will start turning some of its store parking lots into drive-thru clinics. Patients will be able to get tested and access treatment without getting out of their vehicles, thus minimizing the spread of infection.
An Emphasis on Testing
The U.S. has suffered from a lack of coronavirus testing since the outbreak was first reported. Many healthcare centers aren’t sure if their patients have the virus. The president said the government is working with the private sector to increase the rate of testing across the country. During the press conference, Trump said individuals should only get tested if they have “certain symptoms.” The government doesn’t want to waste valuable testing kits on patients that aren’t showing symptoms.
The president vowed that half a million testing kits will be available early next week and over 5 million kits will be available by April. The government is also working with Google to set up a list of testing centers across the country, so patients can find out if they have the virus.
Ramping up testing isn’t just about giving citizens and healthcare providers some much-needed peace of mind. It will also help the U.S. economy get back on track. If individuals know they aren’t infected, they can get back to work and start shopping again.
The president said a list of testing centers will likely be available online Sunday night. Google currently has 1,700 engineers working on a new coronavirus test website, according to the president. Once it goes live, patients in hard hit areas will be able to log on and find drive-thru testing centers in their community. Users will be asked a number of questions about their health, so the app may prioritize certain patients based on their symptoms.
What This Means for You and Your Patients
Thanks to the emergency declaration, your state or local government should receive additional funding in the coming days or weeks. That money should go to additional food, medical supplies, equipment and testing facilities.
If you live in an area with lots of confirmed cases, drive-thru testing centers will soon be available. If you or one of your patients would like to know if they have the virus, be on the lookout for information on where to find local testing centers in the coming days.
We should know more about the government’s response strategy in the near future. Stay tuned for more information.