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COVID-19 Update | Wednesday, March 18 (PM)

March 18, 2020

Below are highlights from the White House COVID-19 Task Force press conference held in the early afternoon of Wednesday, March 18:

  • The President announced that he would be invoking the Defense Production Act today and later mentioned that the focus would be on mask production, respirators, and ventilators.
  • Secretary of Defense Mike Esper discussed efforts that the Department of Defense (DOD) has implemented to respond to the outbreak including:
    • International and domestic travel restrictions for DOD personnel.
    • Making available 5 million N95 masks, 2,000 deployable ventilators, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
    • Certifying DOD labs, including what will soon be the 16th lab, to help boost test evaluation capabilities.
    • Readying field and expeditionary hospitals to be deployed along with two hospital ships (USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort).
      • The USNS Comfort will be deployed to New York City Harbor, while it is unclear where the USNS Mercy will deploy.
      • Army Corps of Engineers leadership is currently in New York meeting with Governor Cuomo to discuss additional efforts to bolster health infrastructure.
  • President Trump announced that HHS would issue a regulation today to allow all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines.
  • Both President Trump and Vice President Pence announced that following last week’s national emergency declaration the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now activated in every region at Level 1 which is the highest urgency level.
  • Members of the task force discussed continued work on expanding testing capabilities, including considering allowing self-swabs. However, the President could not confirm whether the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) had approved this testing method.
    • Ambassador Birx discussed that the increased commercial testing is prioritizing areas that are most affected and that testing could expand to tens of thousands of tests being run daily.
    • Ambassador Birx also mentioned that as the testing increases, diagnoses will rapidly grow and cautioned against panic. She mentioned that the infection curve is not expected to be stable until next week.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will today announce detailed recommendations on conservation of PPEs, including limiting non-essential medical procedures, including dental procedures.
  • Ambassador Birx discussed a troubling new trend that more young people are becoming seriously ill in France and Italy, including ICU hospitalization. She was also not yet willing to confidently discuss the seasonality of COVID-19.
  • President Trump announced that he would suspend all foreclosures and mortgages through April 1, though he provided little detail. This provision was also included in the Senate Democrats’ $750 billion stimulus proposal.
  • The President confirmed the closure of the northern border to non-essential travel and tentatively said that would remain in place for 30 days.
  • The President commented that he is not willing to suspend tariffs at this time.
  • The President announced that he plans to invoke additional provisions to limit additional individuals from entering the United States.
  • The President was asked about specific numbers within the third stimulus package currently being discussed for specific industries in Congress, but did not confirm any numbers instead mentioning that the work was ongoing and the numbers were changing constantly.


  • In Congress, the Senate has begun consideration of the House-passed H.R.6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which has also been referred to as “Phase II.”
  • Final passage is expected as soon as this afternoon, but could be pushed until tomorrow.
  • The Senate is also continuing to work on Phase III, which will likely include more specific industry assistance.
  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the Senate will stay in session until this third package is also passed.
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