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Trump declares virus pandemic a national emergency

By Staff | Mar 13, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump announced Friday that he is declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency.

Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency.”

He said the emergency would open up $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak. So far positive cases have been confirmed in 46 states, including Florida where three cases have been confirmed in Lee County.

Trump said he was also giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients.

The administration also said Friday it was awarding $1.3 million to two companies trying to develop rapid COVID-19 tests that could detect within an hour whether a person is positive for the new coronavirus.

Meanwhile, also on Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would approve its coronavirus aid package.

“Our nation, our great nation has faced crisis before,” Pelosi said. “And every time, thanks to the courage and optimism of the American people, we have prevailed. Now, working together, we will once again prevail.”

The administration’s federal task force managing the crisis has been working furiously to break a bottleneck in the nation’s ability to test for the new virus, and weighing what sort of emergency powers Trump would need to invoke to provide needed aid to state and local governments.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover.

According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to be over it.

Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

The ability to ensure paychecks will keep flowing – for people who stay home as a preventative measure or because they’re feeling ill or caring for others – can help assure Americans they will not fall into financial hardship.

“We’re in an emergency, and we’re trying to respond as fast as we can,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., as lawmakers filed in and out of Pelosi’s office on Friday.

The House aid package builds on an emergency $8.3 billion measure approved last week.

Pelosi promised a third coronavirus package will follow soon, though the House is leaving Washington on Friday for a previously scheduled recess.

That measure will include more aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, which economists fear has already slipped into recession.