Trump blends upbeat virus info and high US death forecast

BY ALEXIS SIMENDINGER AND AL WEAVER  |  THE HILL

Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this week: Monday, 2,513; Tuesday, 3,170.

President Trump on Monday walked into a sunny White House Rose Garden to describe response efforts he said showcase how Washington and states are getting ahead of the coronavirus emergency, even as “we will have lost a lot of people.”

The president’s information this month has been contradicted by state, local and public health officials as well as members of Congress (The Hill). Speaking about his Monday conference call with governors, the president said, “People are very happy with what we’re doing.” Accounts from some state capitals were not quite as upbeat (The New York Times).

The United States will have sufficient ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients hospitalized with respiratory distress, Trump said. Citing reports that Ford and GE Healthcare plan to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days, the president said 10 companies are revving their ventilator production and that the United States could wind up with an oversupply.

“As we outpace what we need, we’re going to be sending them to Italy, we’re going to be sending them to France, we’re going to be sending them to Spain, where they have tremendous problems, and other countries as we can,” Trump said. “We’re going to be sending approximately $100 million worth of things, of surgical and medical and hospital things to Italy.”

The president said he’s also optimistic that a web of stay-at-home orders from governors, together with federal guidelines extended through April 30, can hold down the escalation of new cases of infection in the country. “This is a very vital 30 days. We’re sort of putting it all on the line,” he told reporters. It is unlikely the federal government would need to issue mandatory quarantine orders, he added. “We’re letting the governors do what they want.

Trump touted the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement on Sunday authorizing the emergency use of two malaria drugs to treat patients, although medical specialists underscore that no randomized clinical trials have yet shown that patients recover faster with certain therapies that are at the moment seen as potentially helpful when administered to some critically ill patients infected with COVID-19 (NPR).

The drugs will be “distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalized teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible,” the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) said (The Hill). 

HHS said in a statement that the authorization would allow 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate and 1 million doses of chloroquine phosphate to be donated to the Strategic National Stockpile. The doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate were donated by Sandoz, while the chloroquine phosphate was developed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals.

In New York, the transformation of the Javits Center into a temporary 2,900-bed hospital in three and a half days (pictured below) with help from the federal government earned effusive praise from the president. He also hailed the docking in Manhattan of the USNS Comfort, a floating hospital ship, to serve as backup for the country’s current epicenter of the coronavirus.

Access to COVID-19 test kits and lab processing continues to be a point of confusion and contention between the federal government and the states. Trump again touted the total volume of tests administered in the United States as superior to other countries, including South Korea (The Hill).

But public health experts argue the relevant indicator is how many people have been tested per capita. Using that metric, the United States trails other countries and  immunologists and physicians would like to see asymptomatic Americans tested, as well as people so sick they are assumed to be infected but never tested.

The Hill: Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a political animal and not a public health specialist, resigned from Congress Monday to become Trump’s fourth White House chief of staff. Shifting to a top post in the executive branch for the first time during a national security emergency is a tough assignment. Meadows self-quarantined this month as a precaution when he was exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus.

The Hill: House Democrats eye major infrastructure spending as a key component in future coronavirus response legislation. … And there’s more under discussion for legislation after Easter, including additional funding for cities and states, and more help for small businesses (Reuters).

The Hill: House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said Monday that she has been diagnosed with a “presumed” case of the coronavirus, although she has not been officially tested.

The Hill – Special Section: Big tech companies are cracking down on coronavirus misinformation with help from artificial intelligence, and while there are benefits, there are also challenges.

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