An emergency under the Stafford Act would allow the federal government to use billions in relief money to further support local officials combatting the virus

By Adam Carlson
March 13, 2020 04:19 PM

Update: On Friday afternoon President Donald Trump declared a national emergency — “two very big words” — in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. He said that declaration would unlock about $50 billion in funding to aid the local, state and federal response to the virus.

Trump also touted partnerships with various private corporations and laboratories to dramatically increase the scale of coronavirus testing nationwide, which has so far lagged demand and been plagued by problems. The president insisted this increase would begin in a matter of days.

The original article, published on Friday morning, is below.

President Donald Trump was set Friday to declare an emergency over the novel coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 1,600 people nationwide and killed 41, Bloomberg reports.

Trump, 73, tweeted Friday morning that he will hold a news conference Friday afternoon.

According to Bloomberg, Trump plans to declare an emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, better known as the Stafford Act.

Such a declaration would unlock about $42 billion in relief funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to support state and local governments.

In California, New York and Washington state — where the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has spread quickly — officials have taken drastic measures to slow the rate of new infections. States like Maryland and Ohio have followed suit, in a bid to prevent similar numbers of cases there.

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An emergency under the Stafford Act would allow the federal government to use its vast resources to support and cost-share with state and local governments.

“An emergency declaration would allow a state to request a 75% federal cost-share for expenses that include emergency workers, medical tests, medical supplies, vaccinations, security for medical facilities, and more,” Bloomberg reported, citing congressional Democrats who have urged such a move.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic earlier this week, in a reflection of how far it had spread around the globe and its severity.

President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon
President Donald Trump
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty

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The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, which originated in China in December, has been under mounting scrutiny. The U.S. has lagged in its capacity to test patients, as a result of errors in the original government-supplied test kits and then bureaucratic obstacles.

Trump himself has also taken a contradictory tone from his own health officials. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has for weeks urged Americans to prepare for temporary and drastic changes to their daily lives to combat the virus — such as working from home, avoiding public gatherings and canceling schools — the president has regularly compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu.

In fact, experts say, the seasonal flu is much less deadly. Should the coronavirus infect millions, as the flu does each year in America, it would kill more people.

“From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats,” Trump said in a formal Oval Office address on Wednesday night. “This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond, and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.”

“We have been in frequent contact with our allies, and we are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people,” Trump said.

He pointed to the government’s travel restrictions on China, since expanded to include much of Europe.

“The vast majority of Americans: The risk is very, very low. Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus,” Trump said Wednesday. “The highest risk is for elderly population with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.”

Experts believe the fatality rate for the respiratory disease COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, is about 3.4 percent across all groups. But, as the president noted, older people and people with underlying health conditions such as heart and respiratory issues are much more at risk.

As of Friday morning, there were about 1,660 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 41 deaths, most of them in Washington state. Worldwide, there were about 137,000 confirmed cases and 5,000 deaths, most of them in China.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the CDC encourages maintaining basic forms of hygiene including careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.

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