WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Friday that he is declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, as Washington struggles with providing Americans with relief and officials race to slow the spread of the outbreak.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency.” He said it would free up as much as $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak. Trump also waived interest on federally held student loans and moved to prop up energy markets, by directing the Department of Energy to buy oil to fill the strategic petroleum reserve “'right up to the top.”
Trump said he was also giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws to give doctors and hospitals “flexibility” in treating patients.
“Through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said.
He also announced a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities, as his administration has come under fire for being too slow in making the test available. The partnership will include drive-thru testing in some locations and an online portal to screen those seeking to get tested.
Still, Trump said that officials don't want people taking the test unless they have certain symptoms. “It's totally unnecessary," Trump said. He added, "This will pass.”
Trump made no reference to negotiations between the White House and Congress on a broader aid package, as House Democrats prepare to vote on their own measure Friday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the House would approve its coronavirus aid package, imploring the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to “put families first” by backing the effort to provide Americans with relief.