Sunday’s briefing: A gladiatorial battle between Coronavirus Task Force and information the public needs versus the press and Trump-blame it wants to publish.
Because the briefing yesterday happened on the Ides of March, when President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the rest of the Coronavirus Task Force stepped out into the podium, I remembered the ancient games of Rome.
These daily press conferences are mostly verbal gladiatorial battles between the Coronavirus Task Force presenting information it needs the public to hear versus the press and the Trump-blame it wants to publish.
I had the opportunity to watch Sunday’s press briefing in full. Some remarks in the background I heard before the start of the event told me the press was poised to focus on Dr. Anthony Fauci’s statements about the option of a 14-day “shut-down.” This made it seem like a dire recommendation to avoid doom instead of one possible response to actual developments that may occur in this country.
The government’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday he would like to see aggressive measures such as a 14-day national shutdown that would require Americans to hunker down even more to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci said travel restrictions within the United States, such as to and from hard-hit Washington state and California, probably will not be needed anytime soon.
However, the Trump team had an entirely different agenda. The President began his briefing with news that The Federal Reserve cut its benchmark interest rate by a full percentage point to near zero and promised to boost its bond holdings by at least $700 billion.
The central bank also announced several other actions, including letting banks borrow from the discount window for as long as 90 days and reducing reserve requirement ratios to zero percent. In addition, the Fed united with five other central banks to ensure dollars are available around the world via swap lines.
Trump also indicated he received an apology from the CEO of Google, over #FakeNews published in the wake of an earlier press conference.
“I want to thank the people at Google and Google Communications because as you know, they substantiated what I said on Friday,” said Trump. “The head of Google, who is a great gentleman — said — called us — and apologized. I don’t know where the press got their fake news, but they got it someplace. As you know, this is from Google [holds up printout of Google Communication’s statement on Twitter]. They put out a release [drops the paper on the ground] and you guys can figure it out yourselves and how that got out and I’m sure you’ll apologize. But it would be great if we could really give the news correctly. It would be so, so wonderful.”
Pres. Trump holds up a printout of Tweets from Google confirming they are making a website to assist with the government’s #COVIDー19 response, then flicks the paper to the floor. pic.twitter.com/rpciWIvlN4
— Alex Salvi (@alexsalvinews) March 15, 2020
Trump also named the CEOs of many major American grocery chains, who were coordinating efforts to keep supplies and maintain hours as they adjusted to higher demand and the need to sanitize the workplace.
Trump assured Americans, after speaking with leading grocery chain executives, that grocers would remain open and that the supply chain remained healthy. Vice President Mike Pence urged Americans to only buy the groceries they need for the week ahead.
“You don’t have to buy so much,” Trump said at a news conference. “Take it easy. Just relax.”
Pence and several members of the Task Force discussed the transition from manual testing to high-throughput testing. The discussion also included the location of the testing facilities, which would minimize the risk of spreading possible inflections and overwhelming emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. Labs across the country will be able to process coronavirus screenings of up to 4,000 people a day.
“We are going from somewhat manual, relatively slow phases to a testing regiment that we can test many tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of individuals per week and maybe even more,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, who is leading the Department of Health and Human Services’ efforts in coordinating coronavirus testing.
Nearly 2 million tests will be available this week and more than 10 states now have drive-through testing sites, officials said.
“That is really a game-changer for us,” Giroir said.
He said health care workers, first responders and people over the age of 65 who are showing symptoms of the virus will be prioritized.
One essential agenda item was the emphasis on protecting the vulnerable population (the elderly, those with health problems). To that end, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends canceling or postponing in-person events that consist of 50 people for the next eight weeks.
Now that they have resolved the testing issue, the press needed to find another focus for its panic reporting. Based on the post-conference questions, the availability of ventilators will be a new worry:
Local officials from around the country are worried about the readiness of the U.S. public health system, citing a sharply limited number of ventilators to help some of the sickest coronavirus patients and an inadequate supply of critical care beds in a hospital industry that has gone through years of cutbacks in inpatient beds.
As they prepare for an expected influx of patients, local public health officials painted a picture of a system with only a limited “surge” capacity, and stressed the importance of social distancing as a crucial way to keep the numbers of patients at a level the system can handle.
Then Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stepped in. He said that while national security didn’t allow for the actual number to come out, they had access to thousands of ventilators. Additionally, Azar noted that the US team head learned from the response in Wuhan to isolate COVID-19 patients for the more effective use of resources.
Additionally, Azard reminded the media that the reason that the focus was on “flattening the curve” of infections was so that it would not strain the health system.
Finally, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf addressed the long lines for screening at the US airports.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on airport processing delays:
– Lines overnight “unacceptable”
– Made “necessary adjustments” to “course correct”
– Adjustments not made quick enough at Chicago O’Hare
– Average wait time now 30 minutes, per Wolf pic.twitter.com/qwEJzlf8hr
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) March 15, 2020
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