- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Americans who can postpone medical services should do so because hospitals will need the beds and patients shouldn’t be distracting doctors amid the pandemic, the U.S. coronavirus coordinator said Tuesday.

Deborah Birx, an HIV/AIDS expert tapped by President Trump to coordinate his team, said ventilators and space will be at a premium, so everyone needs to do their part.

“If you’re a person with an elective surgery, you don’t want to go into a hospital right now,” she told reporters at a White House briefing. “There’s a lot of distraction. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of other things to save people’s lives.”

The administration also said seniors on Medicare can check in with their doctors remotely, through telehealth, at no extra cost as the administration scrambles to blunt the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“They can talk to their doctor via Skype, and they don’t have to risk exposure to the virus,” said Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Officials advised patients as part of Mr. Trump’s broader plea to stay home and avoid unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

Mr. Trump is striking a more serious tone in responding to the outbreak, a few weeks after he suggested 15 domestic cases could be knocked down to zero within days.

“I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday.

The virus has infected 5,200 people and killed over 90 people in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker. Yet testing is just ramping up, meaning many more cases are likely to be uncovered.

Looking ahead, Mr. Trump reminded people to avoid unnecessary travel and groups of 10 or more for the next two weeks.

“We’ll see what happens after that,” Mr. Trump said. “Our country can be rolling again pretty quickly.”

“One day will be standing up here and say: We won,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “Sure as you’re sitting there, we’re going to say that.”

Mr. Trump said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on standby in case they need to conduct emergency construction. Those operations may include renovations to expand and retrofit existing facilities or setting up smaller mobile field hospitals, or MASH units, to render care.

Officials also said mobile testing units are “blossoming” in states across the country, with federal help, and that states have wide latitude to authorize tests in addition to the Food and Drug Administration.

Vice President Mike Pence said that as more diagnostics come online, each and every American must act on Mr. Trump’s push for “social distancing.”

“You don’t need the results of testing to know what you should do,” Mr. Pence said.

Mr. Trump wants people to use takeout and drive-thru services instead of entering bars and restaurants, saying it’s another way to put the nation closer to victory against the pathogen.

The White House said executives representing Chick-fil-A, Olive Garden, McDonald’s and other restaurants agreed to emphasize those options Tuesday in a phone call with the president.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said many eateries use apps that allow for home delivery or quick handoffs.

“You can order ahead of time,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “They can give it to you with social distancing, and it’s very fast.”

Officials made direct appeals to millennials to avoid partying and congregating together, saying they will spread the virus to at-risk patients or get sick themselves, even if they feel invulnerable.

“We can’t do this without the young people cooperating,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Amazon, meanwhile, said it is suspending shipments to its warehouses of items other than medical supplies or household staples so it can focus on the supply of things that are needed amid the outbreak.

Individual states continued to take action. The San Francisco area faces the most stringent lockdown, with 7 million residents told to limit outings to trips for supplies.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state has recorded more than 1,300 cases, the most in the nation, though he rejected rumors that New York City would go into total quarantine.

“That is not true,” the Democrat said. “That cannot happen. It cannot happen legally. No city in [the] state can quarantine itself without state approval, and I have no interest whatsoever and no plan whatsoever to quarantine any city.”

Mr. Cuomo compared the situation to a tabletop snow globe.

“Somebody picked up our country and just shook it,” Mr. Cuomo said.

“It is a frightening time on every level. At the same time, it’s this much time,” the governor said, placing his hands slightly apart. “We will get through this much time. Understand what we’re dealing with, understand the pressures that we’re feeling — but we will get through this much time.”

Mr. Trump said he had a constructive conversation with Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday, despite warring tweets over the past two days.

“We’re both doing a really good job,” Mr. Trump said.

The president also deferred to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s judgment in closing the state’s primary polls Tuesday.

“He’s definitely somebody who knows what he’s doing,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump said the best thing the country can do to preserve future elections is to defeat the virus.

• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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