- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2020

The White House on Monday said America’s coronavirus-testing is in far better shape and the administration is ready to work with governors to meet their diagnostic demands, “dramatically” increasing the number of tests to help states reopen safely.

“The testing is not going to be a problem at all,” Mr. Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. “In fact, it’s going to be one of the great assets that we have.”

Members of the coronavirus task force said they will marshal the public and private sector to expand rapid testing at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, tap unused lab capacity and make sure governors have the supplies they need, such as swabs, to check people for the virus after governors said they had a hard time navigating supply chains.

The guidance also calls for identifying new clusters of cases, isolating people who might have been exposed and ramping up “serological” tests that check for antibodies, signaling a more collaborative effort than previous calls for governors to figure out a way forward.

“We’re deploying the full power and strength of the federal government to help states, cities,” Mr. Trump said.

The coronavirus has upended life in America and around the globe. The domestic case count of COVID-19 neared 1 million Monday and the death toll exceeded 55,000, though the White House says the broad picture is beginning to improve.

“Things are moving along — really a horrible situation that we’ve been confronted with, but they’re moving along,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump pointed to corporate efforts as a sign of progress in the fight to expand testing so that states aren’t flying blind as they tell residents it’s OK to go back to work, get a haircut or see a movie.

For instance, CVS President and CEO Larry Merlo said it is expanding its testing operation, which checks 35,000 per week, at the start of May. The company will start testing operations in up to 1,000 pharmacies, using its drive-thrus and parking lots.

Adm. Brett Giroir, the U.S. testing “czar,” said the administration worked with individual companies to produce 20 million swabs and 50 million testing tubes.

“Early in April, the United States averaged approximately 150,000 tests per day. That’s up very, very substantially from a couple of weeks before, and the 150,000 a day has gone to way over 200,000 tests per day since Wednesday,” Mr. Trump said at a meeting with retail executives earlier Monday. “This includes a 122% testing increase in Michigan, 124% increase in Maryland and many other locations are right in that vicinity.”

The administration touted its efforts and goals as it faces criticism for early stumbles in developing a COVID-19 diagnostic tests and its failure to meet prior benchmarks for expanded testing.

Vice President Mike Pence said the gap between promises and results was due in part to the gulf between having the tests and being able to process them.

The U.S. has performed 5.4 million tests, or far more than any other nation, Mr. Trump boasted Monday.

Mr. Trump’s coronavirus task force outlined its ambitions as governors continued to roll out their plans for gradually getting life back to normal.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he will let his stay-at-home order expire Friday, without restrictions. That means restaurants, retailers, libraries and movie theaters are allowed to operate at 25% capacity as of May 1. Places that host non-contact sports, like tennis, can also resume operations.

Salons, bars and gyms were not among the businesses told they can reopen.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said manufacturing, distribution, construction companies and general business offices can reopen starting May 4, with retailers to follow May 12.

The reopening businesses will have to practice social distancing measures, such as ensuring at least six feet of distance between people and installing barriers if that’s not possible. Employees must wear face coverings while they’re working.

“We’ve gotten this far. We’ve got a ways to go. These are first steps,” said Mr. DeWine, a Republican. “A lot of moving parts, a lot of things going on — this is the beginning.”

In Louisiana, however, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday he had no choice but to extend his stay-at-home order until May 15, when he promised a “phased re-opening” would begin.

Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, said he decided to continue the state’s economic shutdown after speaking with the White House.

He left open the possibility of extending shelter-in-place orders that are shattering the state’s economy past May 15.

“While this is not the announcement I want to make, I am hopeful, and all of Louisiana should be hopeful that we will enter into the next phase of reopening soon, in mid-May,” Mr. Edwards said. “I am anxious to get all areas of our economy reopened, but if we accelerate too quickly we may have to slam on the brakes. That will be bad for public health and for businesses, bad for our people and bad for our state.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his stay-at-home order will remain in place “until further notice,” though he’s coloring in the lines of a plan to reopen. It’s unclear when the state can return to normal, yet the announcement in one of the country’s hardest-hit states is notable.

“We will move as quickly as we can, but as safely as we must,” Mr. Murphy said.

The governor reported positive trends in terms of hospitalizations, but said the “curve” needs to stay down before moving further along in the process.

Over 6,000 people have died of COVID-19 in New Jersey, the nation’s second-worst toll after New York, where the virus has killed over 22,000.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said 337 people in the state had died in the previous 24 hours.

His stay-at-home restrictions last until at least May 15. On Monday, he said he would likely extend them for at least some parts of New York beyond that date.

While New York City has an incredibly high number of cases, “higher than some countries globally,” upstate New York is “a very different reality,” the governor said.

“In some parts of the state, some regions — you could make the case we should un-pause on May 15,” Mr. Cuomo said. “But you have to be smart about it.”

Likewise, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said it might make more sense to approach things region-by-region, since areas like Miami-Dade County are significantly harder-hit than other parts of the state.

“For Florida, it really is a different ballgame when you compare southeast Florida to the rest,” he said. “I think pretty much the rest of the state has really handled this very well — there’s never been even close to a stress on capacity of health care resources.”

Mr. DeSantis, a key Trump ally, vowed to be “methodical” and “data-driven” moving forward.

“I think that people want to have confidence that things are going in a good direction,” he said.

Out West, Nevada and Colorado said they are joining a West Coast pact with California, Oregon and Washington that seeks to coordinate plans on opening the region’s economies.

Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee have announced a partial reopening of some kind, while a handful of states — particularly rural ones — never really shut down their economies at all, according to a New York Times analysis.

Economist Stephen Moore, who is advising the White House on reopening plans, on Monday described the coronavirus as an “urban disease.”

“That’s not anything that’s a big surprise — every pandemic hits urban areas,” Mr. Moore said on Fox Business Network. “So you have about half of the counties in the United States that were hardly affected at all — in some cases, no cases whatsoever.”

Mr. Moore said moving forward on reopening plans now should get the U.S. to recovery by the end of the summer.

While a vaccine probably won’t be widely available until 2021, federal and state leaders hope to see effective drug treatment for the virus later this year.

There are myriad clinical trials of different therapies across the country. While the administration does not comment on specific products, an existing antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences, known as remdesivir, is widely considered a contender.

“I think remdesivir is still a leading candidate,” said Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s a true anti-viral, versus something like hydroxychloroquine.”

Hydroxychloroquine is typically used to treat malaria. It was pushed hard by Mr. Trump earlier this month, though hasn’t touted it much of late, as studies raise questions about its effectiveness and possible side effects on the heart.

Dr. Mina said monoclonal antibodies — lab-produced molecules that can enhance the body’s immune system — might be another promising path.

“I personally think monoclonals are a good way to go,” he said. “Our bodies know how to handle them.”

James Varney contributed to this report.

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