- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2020

President Trump on Saturday said the private sector was stepping up its efforts and doing its part to help combat the coronavirus spread and expressed hope that several drugs could provide relief to people while scientists work on a vaccine long-term.

Mr. Trump spoke as the federal government grapples with the expanding outbreak. The number of U.S. cases surpassed 21,000 on Saturday, with more than 260 coronavirus-related deaths in the country.

Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries, also reported 793 new deaths on Saturday The worldwide cases topped 280,000, with more than 12,000 deaths in total.

Mr. Trump said that testing in the U.S. was going “very well,” despite persistent stories from doctors and members of the public about a lack of availability of tests around the country.

“It’s an invisible enemy, and we will be successful — very successful — hopefully very much sooner than people would even think,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to be celebrating a great victory in the not too distant future.”

The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency authorization to Cepheid, a California-based company, for a point-of-care coronavirus test the company said had a detection time of about 45 minutes. The company said shipments will start next week.

The administration is urging people to avoid congregating in groups of more than 10, to postpone or cancel elective surgeries, and to stay home if at all possible to try to avoid spreading the disease.

Several states, including California and New York, have taken drastic steps on their own to restrict people from leaving their homes except for essential services.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed such an order on Saturday that bans public gatherings and shuts down non-essential businesses starting at 9 p.m.

Mr. Trump said the time hadn’t yet come to invoke the Defense Production Act, which allows the president broad latitude to order the procurement of certain goods, because the private sector was stepping up on its own to fill demand needs for protective masks, ventilators, and other equipment.

“We have the act to use in case we need it, but we have so many things being made right now by so many — they’ve just stepped up,” he said.

Mr. Trump also said Hanes is retrofitting manufacturing capabilities to produce protective masks.

And General Motors said Friday that it would be working with Ventec Life Systems to try to ramp up the production of ventilators.

Ventilators are a critical part of the response, with many people who test positive reporting difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest, in addition to other symptoms like a fever and a persistent cough.

Congressional Democrats have pushed the president to immediately invoke the Korean War-era law to ramp up the production of needed supplies.

Congress is working on a spending package that could end up topping $2 trillion to try to respond to and mitigate the economic effects of the virus.

The House and Senate have already passed legislation that boosts federal health funding, as well as another bill that includes items like free testing for people who need it and increased unemployment and other government benefits.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday that people who aren’t displaying symptoms shouldn’t get tested so that resources wouldn’t be diverted from people who truly need the help.

Still, Mr. Pence said that he and First Lady Karen Pence would be tested after a staff member in his office did test positive.

Mr. Pence said the White House doctor has indicated there’s no reason to believe Mr. Pence was exposed and that there was no need to be tested.

“Given the unique position that I have as vice president and as the leader of the White House coronavirus task force, both I and my wife will be tested for the coronavirus later this afternoon,” Mr. Pence said.

Though experts say a coronavirus vaccine won’t be developed in the near future, Mr. Trump said he sees great promise in several drugs to have more immediate positive effects in helping combat the spread of the disease.

“As the expression goes, what do we have to lose?” Mr. Trump said. “I feel very good about it.”

Earlier this week, Mr. Trump directed the Food and Drug Administration to repurpose hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, for use against the coronavirus.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier in the day that his state was going to start conducting drug trials with hydroxychloroquine and zithromax, an antibiotic, and that the FDA was going to accelerate the delivery of 10,000 doses to his state.

Earlier in the day, the president said that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, taken together, have a real chance “to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.”

“The FDA has moved mountains - Thank You!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents)…be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST, and GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Saturday that there may be “anecdotal” instances of such drugs having a positive effect.

“They may be true, but they’re anecdotal,” he said. “If you really want to definitively know if something works…you got to do the kind of trial that you get the good information.”

“The president is talking about hope for people, and it’s not an unreasonable thing to hope for people,” Dr. Fauci said.

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