President Trump outlined on Sunday broad measures the federal government is taking to help combat the coronavirus pandemic in three states hardest by the contagion.
Trump announced that he already had signed major disaster declarations for New York and Washington, and was planning on putting his signature on one he received earlier in the day from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I spoke with all three governors,” Trump said in the White House briefing room. “They’re very happy with what we’re doing.”
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The president rattled off a list of supplies that crew already have sent to the states – including medical masks – and promised that more would be on the way soon. Trump also revealed for the first time the number of respirators and other personal protective equipment sent to the hard-hit states by the federal government.
He also said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] would be setting up medical stations in the three states to ease the burden caused by the coronavirus on local hospitals. In New York, FEMA will set up four large medical stations with 1,000 beds each, in California there will be eight large medical stations with 2,000 beds, and Washington state will receive three large stations with 750 beds and four small medical stations with 250 beds each, officials said.
Trump also announced that the Navy’s medical ships – the USNS Mercy and Comfort – will be deployed to ports in states most affected by the pandemic. The Mercy will dock near Los Angeles, while Trump said the Comfort – once it’s finished with its maintenance – will most likely be sent to New York Harbor.
“The decision was made that USNS Mercy would have the greatest impact in California,” Trump said, adding that the ship should arrive in Southern California within a week. “The projected need for beds in California is five times that of Washington.”
As of Sunday evening, New York was the hardest-hit state in the nation by the coronavirus with more than 15,000 confirmed cases and 117 deaths. Washington state, the first to have to deal with the outbreak on a widespread basis, had over 1,700 confirmed cases, while Caifornia’s fast-growing outbreak saw more than 1,600, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
Trump’s promise of help to the three states reeling most from the coronavirus came as critics said he initially responded too slowly to the outbreak and failed to use his power under the Defense Production Act to ramp up the output by companies producing medical equipment and supplies. Many states and municipalities have been pleading with the White House to invoke the act’s provisions before the virus spread more and overwhelmed some hospitals.
Officials in New York City, where the virus has spread rapidly in its tightly clustered neighborhoods, have warned that hospitals could run out of crucial supplies such as face masks by April.
Trump, however, argued that he would use the act if needed, but so far has received an outpouring of support from private businesses looking to help. He added that invoking the act would amount to “nationalizing our businesses” and would “send tremors through our business community and our country.”
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“We are using it now, the fact that I signed it means it’s in effect,” Trump said. “We’re not big on nationalizing our businesses.”
He added: “We have the threat of doing it if we need it…but it’s really working out very well.”
Trump added that it’s up to states to try to get the materials first.
“We’re sort of a backup for states,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.