April 15, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday announced a new program intended to facilitate ventilator sharing among U.S. hospitals, as the number of reported cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in the country surpassed 600,000 and the number of reported deaths tied to the virus rose above 25,000.

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US Covid-19 cases surpass 600K, death toll tops 25K

As of Wednesday morning, U.S. officials had reported 606,800 cases of Covid-19 in the country—up from 580,878 cases as of Tuesday morning.

Officials as of Wednesday morning also had reported 25,922 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 23,607 deaths reported as of Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, New York City's reported Covid-19 death toll rose sharply after the city's Health Department revised its count to include the deaths of more than 3,700 people with presumptive cases of the disease. Officials said those 3,778 people did not have lab tests confirming they were positive for the virus, but their death certificates list Covid-19 as their suspected cause of death based on their medical histories and symptoms. In total, New York City—which is an epicenter of the United States' Covid-19 epidemic—reported 10,367 Covid-19 deaths as of Tuesday.

Trump announces ventilator lending program

As the number of U.S. patients with Covid-19 continues to grow, hospitals in areas most affected by the new coronavirus are facing shortages of ventilators used to treat patients with severe cases of the disease.

To help address the issue, President Trump during a meeting with health care executives on Tuesday announced a new public-private partnership called the "Dynamic Ventilator Reserve" that's intended to facilitate ventilator sharing among U.S. hospitals.

Adam Boehler, a former HHS official who serves on the Trump administration's coronavirus response team, said the program, which the administration developed in partnership with the American Hospital Association (AHA), aims to give hospitals in Covid-19 hot spots access to the more than 60,000 unused ventilators that are available at hospitals across the United States that aren't currently seeing a surge in Covid-19 patients.

Hospitals will lead the program using an online inventory of ventilators and related parts, including filters and tubing. AHA in a release explained, "Hospitals and health systems will input into the database available equipment that they are able to lend to others in the country. Providers are then able to access this virtual inventory as their need for ventilators increases."

Trump said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and HHS will support the program.

Separately, HHS on Monday announced the federal government expects to receive tens of thousands of ventilators for the Strategic National Stockpile in the next two months from manufacturers producing ventilators for the government under Trump's invocation of the Defense Production Act. The manufacturers are scheduled to deliver 6,190 new ventilators by May 8 and an additional 29,510 ventilators by June 1. HHS said, in total, the federal government will receive 137,431 new ventilators by the end of this year.

Trump says US will freeze WHO funding pending investigation into Covid-19 response

Trump on Tuesday also announced the United States will pause funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) pending a formal investigation into the global health agency's response to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Trump in prepared remarks accused WHO of "severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the [new] coronavirus." He suggested the organization relied heavily on unverified reports from China regarding its Covid-19 outbreak, resulting in a "twenty-fold increase in cases worldwide." Trump did not cite a source for the figures he provided.

WHO in January began warning countries about the potential spread of the new coronavirus and, in February, recommended countries prepare for the virus' wide-scale spread.

Some observers applauded Trump's move, but many criticized the decision—including some foreign leaders and American Medical Association President Patrice Harris, who called the move "a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating Covid-19 easier."

Trump announces new council to advise admin on when to reopen US economy

In addition, Trump on Tuesday announced a new council comprised of dozens of business leaders across various industry sectors who will advise his administration on when and how to reopen U.S. businesses that have been shut down under social distancing measures intended to curb the new coronavirus' spread.

Trump said the council will include more than 50 executives and leaders, such as:

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook;
  • JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon;
  • Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots;
  • Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman; and
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Trump said he plans to announce on Wednesday elected officials and members of Congress who also will serve as consultants to the administration on reopening U.S. businesses.

In addition to the council, FEMA and CDC have developed a public health strategy intended to combat Covid-19 and reopen parts of the United States, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post. The strategy includes guidance on how state and local governments can ease social distancing measures, the Post reports.

Currently, the Trump administration recommends that Americans follow social distancing guidelines issued by CDC through April 30, and governors in more than 40 states have issued so-called "stay-at-home orders," closed non-essential businesses, and put other social distancing measures in place in accordance with those recommendations. However, Trump has indicated that his administration is considering whether to lift CDC's guidelines, at least in certain areas of the country, starting May 1.

On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an interview with the Associate Press said the United States currently lacks the testing and contact-tracing procedures necessary to safely lift the guidelines across the entire country, and it's "a bit overly optimistic" to think many areas of the country will be ready to ease social distancing measures by May 1.

"We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet," Fauci said, adding, "I'll guarantee you, once you start pulling back there will be infections. It's how you deal with the infections that's going count" (Goodman/Rashbaum, New York Times, 4/14; Rummler, Axios, 4/14; Chalfant, The Hill, 4/14; Lim, Politico, 4/14; Loftus, Wall Street Journal, 4/14; HHS release, 4/13; Treene/Swan, Axios, 4/14; Florko, STAT News, 4/14; Perry/Kelland, Reuters, 4/14; Karni, New York Times, 4/14; Lemire et al., Associated Press, 4/15; Sun et al., Washington Post, 4/14; Neergaard/Pace, AP/ABC News,  4/14; New York Times, 4/15).

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