- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2020

President Trump warned House Democrats on Thursday to back off plans for what he called another “witch hunt” investigation, this time over his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is not the time for politics, endless partisan investigations — here we go again,” Mr. Trump said at his daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. “It’s not any time for witch hunts. It’s time to get this enemy defeated.”

Mr. Trump hammered Capitol Hill Democrats for organizing an inquest of the administration in the middle of a health crisis as he hinted that federal officials will advise that Americans wear masks to limit the spread of coronavirus, only to then suggest a scarf might be better.

“If people wanted to wear them, they can,” Mr. Trump said of masks.

Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the coronavirus task force, said the forthcoming advisory will not be a substitute for hand-washing and standing far apart from others, because people tend to touch their faces and might get a false sense of security from masks.

For his part, Mr. Trump scolded Democrats after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday at least two of her committee chairs — Reps. Bernie Thompson of Homeland Security and Adam Schiff of Intelligence — are calling for a 9/11-like after-action review of the administration’s handling of the coronavirus threat.

Mrs. Pelosi said there is “absolutely” a need for such an investigation, but not right now.

The president said Democrats have a lousy track record of investigating him, saying the Russia investigation and the impeachment inquiry over aid to Ukraine have “already done extraordinary damage to our country.”

“We want to fight for American lives, not waste time and build up my poll numbers because that’s all they’re doing,” Mr. Trump said. “Conducting these partisan investigations in the middle of a pandemic is a really big waste of time.”

Mrs. Pelosi did announce the creation of a special bipartisan House committee on Thursday to review how the administration spends part of the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package for businesses harmed by the nationwide shutdown.

“Is there a need for an after-action review? Absolutely,” she said. “But I don’t want to wait for that because we are in the action now.”

The fireworks came as the coronavirus pandemic reached the grim worldwide milestones of 1 million cases and 50,000 deaths.

Global cases crossed the somber threshold in the mid-afternoon Thursday while the U.S. nears a quarter-million cases and 6,000 deaths. Nearly 9,000 people have recovered from the disease, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

Mr. Trump flexed his wartime-production powers by ordering 3M, a company in Minnesota, to produce N95 masks that protect health workers. He also said manufacturers must “facilitate the supply of materials” to General Electric and several other companies that are making life-saving ventilators amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Today’s order will save lives by removing obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators,” he said in using the Defense Production Act of 1950.

Mr. Trump’s order follows a similar move last week to compel automaker General Motors to build ventilators for the fight against the virus.

Ventilators can mean life or death for patients hit by respiratory distress from the viral disease, COVID-19, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state could exhaust its supply in the coming week.

Mr. Cuomo also said Mr. Trump granted his request to let the Javits Convention Center in New York City to accept COVID-19 patients. It had been set up as a makeshift hospital site in partnership with the federal government. Originally, the 2,500-bed emergency medical facility was intended to house non-coronavirus patients to free up space for COVID-19 patients in other hospitals.

Mr. Cuomo has estimated that his state could need 110,000 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients, and the current capacity is half that — roughly 53,000 beds.

Vice President Mike Pence said Mr. Trump took the “unprecedented step” of directing the Defense Department to operate COVID-19 operations at convention centers in New York City, New Orleans and Dallas.

Mr. Trump characterized his efforts as a courtesy to states, saying the federal government is a “backup” to state efforts.

“The states should be building. We’re a backup, we’re not an ordering clerk,” he said. “They should have been on the open market just buying.”

The White House outlined its role and plans hours after the Democratic National Committee moved its presidential convention from July to August, making it the latest mass gathering to face a delay.

The Democratic convention in Milwaukee had been scheduled to take place from July 13 to July 16. Now, it will start on Aug. 17, just one week before Republicans gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, to renominate President Trump.

The delay gives the party more breathing room as the nation tries to “flatten the curve” and eliminate cases.

The DNC announced the delay shortly after their likely nominee, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, called for one.

The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It killed thousands in East Asia before the crisis shifted elsewhere.

Mr. Trump tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday in a follow-up test that produced results in 15 minutes.

“He is healthy and without symptoms,” White House Dr. Sean P. Conley said.
The doctor used a new, “rapid point-of-care” test.

“It took 14 minutes or something to come up with a conclusion,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump previously tested negative earlier this month after socializing in Florida with Brazilian officials who later tested positive for the disease.

In the states, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued shelter-in-place rules Thursday for the Peach State, relenting after computer models and medical professionals insisted the worst is yet to come in a state far from peaking in terms of infections.

The rules will go into effect Friday and will remain in place, tentatively, until April 13, according to the Republican governor.

Georgia had nearly 5,350 cases of COVID-19 and 163 deaths as of noon Thursday. The state has a population of roughly 10.5 million; over 1,000 have been hospitalized as a result of the virus.

“We are taking action to protect our hospitals, help our medical providers and prepare for patient surge,” Mr. Kemp said. “This action will ensure uniformity among jurisdictions for Georgians sheltering in place and help families and businesses comply with its provisions.”

Mr. Kemp previously closed Georgia schools for the remainder of the academic year. State officials said the governor would offer more details about his orders after they’re signed.

California was the first state to issue stay-at-home orders on March 19, a move that has since been adopted by 38 states and other cities and counties. Almost 300 million Americans are now under such rules, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, dropped his piecemeal efforts and issued a statewide order Wednesday to stay at home except for trips for essential services, such as grocery shopping, pharmacy visits or pet care.

Mr. DeSantis said Thursday he exempted religious services from his order because people need the solace of worship more than ever and services can be set up safely, with congregants spread out.

New York remains the epicenter of the crisis, with nearly 92,500 positive coronavirus cases among its population of 20 million.

It’s seen 2,373 coronavirus-related deaths, a 22% increase from a day earlier, while 7,434 patients have been discharged, about a 21% increase from a day earlier.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said his state has enough ventilators in its stockpile to last about six days, though he said it’s taking extraordinary measures that put them in “fairly good shape” to meet demand amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“If a person comes in and needs a ventilator and you don’t have a ventilator, the person dies,” Mr. Cuomo said at his daily briefing on the COVID-19 outbreak. “That’s the blunt equation here. And right now we have a burn rate that would suggest we have about six days in the stockpile.”

He said they’re in the process of moving ventilators from upstate locations to areas in greater need downstate.

Mr. Cuomo has estimated that the state could need 30,000 to 40,000 ventilators at the apex of the crisis.

He said hospitals are taking steps to increase supply by ending all elective surgeries, using anesthesia machine ventilators, and experimenting with “splitting” ventilators so more than one person uses them.

He also said they’re converting some BiPAP machines, which are used to treat sleep apnea, to be used as ventilators.

“The burn rate of ventilators is troubling and six days of ventilators in the stockpile is troubling, but we have all these extraordinary measures that I believe, if push comes to shove, [will] put us in fairly good shape,” he said.

Also Thursday, Mr. Trump said his administration is ordering nursing homes to use the same staff for the same group of residents to minimize any potential spread of the virus. It is also ordering homes to set up separate areas for healthy and sick residents.

The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, issued Thursday revised blood-donation guidelines that relax the waiting period for sexually active gay men, citing “the significant shortage in the supply of blood” created by the novel coronavirus crisis.

In a revision to its December 2015 guidance, the agency reduced the waiting period for men who have had sex with other men from 12 months to three months, acting without prior public comment in response to the national emergency declared March 13.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the agency’s Center for Biologics and Evaluation and research, said that the COVID-19 pandemic “has caused unprecedented challenges to the U.S. blood supply.”

“Donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives,” he said in a statement. “Maintaining an adequate blood supply is vital to public health.”

Gabriella Muñoz, Valerie Richardson and James Varney contributed to this report.

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