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Administration Clarifies Trump’s Inaccurate Comments About the Upcoming European Travel and Trade Ban

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  • President Donald Trump announced that all travel and trade with Europe will be barred from entering the United States for 30 days starting Friday as the coronavirus pandemic worsens in the United States.
  • Trump also announced that he has instructed the Small Business Administration to provide loans to affected businesses and people.
  • The Department of Homeland Security later clarified his comments by saying that trade will not be affected and this measure will only apply to foreign travelers.

Trump Bans U.S. Travel Between Europe

In an address from the Oval Office Wednesday night, President Donald Trump announced that all travel and trade between the United States and Europe would be suspended starting Friday.

Within an hour after his address, Trump and the Department of Homeland Security then had to walk back those claims with additional statements clarifying that the travel ban only applied to foreign travelers.

“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” Trump originally said in his address. “There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval.”

“Today, President Donald J. Trump signed a Presidential Proclamation, which suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States,” the DHS clarified. “This does not apply to legal permanent residents, (generally) immediate family members of U.S. citizens, and other individuals who are identified in the proclamation.”

Additionally, about an hour after his address, Trump announced on Twitter that the ban will not affect trade between the U.S. and any European country.

Notably, these travel restrictions will not be imposed on the United Kingdom.

This was also only the second time Trump has addressed the nation from the Oval Office, only implementing it once last year to speak on the 2018-2019 government shutdown.

Health Insurance and Warning to Older Americans

In his address, Trump continued by detailing a meeting between his administration and some of the nation’s top health insurance companies. He then said they have agreed to waive co-pays on coronavirus testing and cover treatment for those who have the virus.

Thursday, Trump’s comments were later again clarified by those health insurance providers, who said while they would cover testing, they have not agreed to cover far more costly treatment. 

Trump also warned older Americans to be careful and avoid travel after advising nursing homes to suspend all non-medical visits.

In a warning to all Americans, Trump said people should brace for even more disruptions such as school closures and cancellations to more large gatherings. Later on Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom called for all public gatherings of more than 250 people to be canceled.

Economic Measures

Trump also announced that he has instructed the Small Business Administration to provide loans in affected states and territories, also asking Congress for an additional $50 billion in assistance.

“To ensure that working Americans impacted by the virus can stay home without fear of financial hardship, I will soon be taking emergency action, which is unprecedented, to provide financial relief,” Trump said. “This will be targeted for workers who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others due to coronavirus. I will be asking Congress to take legislative action to extend this relief.” 

Other emergency actions include instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments for certain businesses and people affected by the virus, with Trump saying such a move would put $200 billion of liquidity back into the economy.

Regarding his push for Congress to pass payroll tax cuts, Trump once again doubled down on his calls for the government to provide relief to workers affected by the virus.

“This is not a financial crisis,” Trump said. “This is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.” 

Stocks Stop Trading

If that statement was meant to assuage investors, however, it did not work. 

Following Trump’s address Wednesday night,  Dow futures fell by 1,100.

Even before his address on Wednesday, stocks had already begun entering bear market territory, which occurs after those stocks drop 20% or more after recent highs. 

Just six minutes after opening on Thursday, those drops were so big that investors stopped trading for about 15 minutes. That is the second time this week such an instance has happened. Outside of this week, stocks haven’t been temporarily halted since 1997. 

For some context, however, those breaks meant to help investors slow down and think about their decision on where or not to invest in a stock.

Still, stocks for businesses in the travel industry plunged Thursday. Shares for cruise lines like Royal Caribbean shares dropped nearly 27% while Carnival was down 19%. Airlines such as United, Delta, and American all down more than 12%.

Other Reactions to Trump’s Oval Office Address

Thursday morning, the European Union condemned the Trump Administration’s travel suspension, saying the decision “was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”

Others, including many analysts, argued that the suspension probably came a little too late, many pointing out that the coronavirus outbreak has already reached American soil and seen community transmission.

In a heated exchange with Ohio Governor John Kasich, CNN Anchor Don Lemon blasted Trump for sending mixed messages and providing the public with inaccurate information during his address. 

“This has been going on long enough for them to get it straight,” Lemon said. “We need straight, accurate information for this president, and this administration we’re not getting it, and I don’t understand why you are tiptoeing around it. He came out, gave an address that happens very rarely, and he doesn’t get it right?!” 

Kasich then fought back, saying the president had finally taken the coronavirus seriously, alluding to criticism that Trump has downplayed the threat of the virus by recently comparing it to the flu and using it as an opportunity to talk about the border wall. 

House Dems Propose Paid Leave Legislation

After Trump’s address, House Democrats unveiled a sweeping coronavirus release package that consisted of a number of measures, including national paid sick leave program, free coronavirus testing, food security assistance, and expanded unemployment benefits.

Very notably, that proposal does not include a payroll tax cut. According to reports, both Democrats and Republicans rejected the proposal, arguing that payroll tax cuts do not help those hit the hardest and are largely aimed at helping the wealthy.

Thursday morning, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the House is expected to vote on the legislation later in the day before leaving for a 10-day recess. According to reports, Pelosi is still hashing out the details with the Trump Administration, but not everyone is on board.

“The legislation that Speaker Pelosi introduced at 11pm last night—written by her staff and her staff alone—and plans to vote on just 12 hours later is not only completely partisan,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter. “It is unworkable.”

McConnell Slams House Bill, Senate Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, Mitch McConnell slammed the House bill, calling it an “ideological wish list.”

I hope Senate Democrats will not block potential requests from our colleagues today to pass smaller, non-controversial pieces of legislation today,” he said.

While some Republican senators have expressed support for at least some parts of the bill, it’s unclear what the Senate will do. It may decide to consider the package or just propose one of its own.

Thursday morning, McConnell announced that the Senate will cancel its plans for the scheduled recess next week and will instead work through that.

To make matters worse, senators are now facing another problem that could complicate things even more. Wednesday night, Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) office confirmed that one of her staffers tested positive for coronavirus, marking the first case on Capitol Hill.

Cantwell later announced that she was closing her D.C. office to have it deep-cleaned. In response, other Senators closed their D.C. offices as well.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Axios) (The Guardian)

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Trump Signs Order Allowing Former Troops to Be Called Upon for Coronavirus Fight

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  • President Trump signed an executive order that allows for former troops to be brought back to active duty to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
  • This is not an immediate order to call former service members back, but it is typically used when the military is in need of specific skill sets, like persons with high demand medical capabilities. 
  • Officials are still reviewing who might be activated.
  • The order comes just days after the Army called upon former service members to voluntarily rejoin and help in the military’s response efforts. Over 14,000 have expressed interest as of Friday. 

Trump Signs Executive Order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday that allows the Pentagon to bring former U.S. troops and members of the National Gaurd and reserve back to active duty to help those already battling the county’s coronavirus outbreaks.

During his press conference Friday night, Trump said the decision allows the federal government “to mobilize medical, disaster and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus by activating thousands of experienced service members including retirees.”

“We have a lot of people, retirees, great military people — they’re coming back in,” Trump added.

What This Means

The executive order released by the White House states that anyone recalled can remain on active duty for up to 24 months straight. It provides the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security the authority to order as many as 1 million individuals at one time, however, it is not an order to do so. 

According to Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman, the order applies to units and individual members in the National Guard and Reserves and certain Individual Ready Reserve members who are normally in an inactive status.

Hoffman said that decisions about who may be activated are still being reviewed, but he added, “Generally, these members will be persons in Headquarters units and persons with high demand medical capabilities whose call-up would not adversely affect their civilian communities.” 

As of now, the Individual Ready Reserve contains 224,841 members, according to the Department of Defense, and nearly 11,000 of those members “have medical capabilities.”

“This is a dynamic situation, we do not currently have a projected number of expected activations, but the Department is now fully authorized to make activations as needed,” Hoffman said. 

He also stressed that the departments would consult with state officials before using any National Gaurd Reserve Component units under the executive order.

Earlier this week, the Army called upon former service members to voluntarily rejoin and help in the military’s pandemic response efforts. The Army said the initial response has been positive, with at least 14,6000 people expressing interest as of Friday.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (CNN) (Fox News)

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FDA Authorizes Portable Test Kit That Can Detect COVID-19 in 5 Minutes

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  • The FDA has approved the use of a new coronavirus test kit that can give positive results in as little as 5 minutes and negative results in 13, leaps faster than the hours and sometimes days laboratory tests normally take. 
  • The tests are run on a lightweight and small portable device that can be used in emergency rooms, urgent care clinics, and even outside hospital walls.
  • Abbott, the medical device company that makes the kits, plans to send out 50,000 tests a day starting next week.

New Test Approved

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave Emergency Use Authorization to the medical device company Abbott for a new coronavirus test kit that gives results within minutes.

Abbott announced the news in a Friday press release, saying it plans to start delivering 50,000 tests a day beginning next week. The tests run on the company’s ID NOW platform, a portable device about the size of a small toaster than weights only 6.6 pounds.

Its portability means it can be used directly in an emergency room or urgent care clinic and even, “outside the traditional four walls of a hospital in outbreak hotspots.”

The company called it “the fastest available molecular point-of-care test for the detection of novel coronavirus(COVID-19), delivering positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes.”

Second Rapid Test to Be Approved by FDA 

The approval from federal health officials means that regulators were satisfied with the test’s validation data and are confident that its benefits outweigh any risk, like false positives or negatives. 

The FDA’s approval marks the seconds time it has green-lit a fast working test that could accelerate testing across the country.  Last week, it approved a 45-minute rapid point of care test by the molecular diagnostics company Cepheid. However, that test is primarily intended for emergency rooms and hospitals, not doctors’ officers or urgent care clinics.  

Still, those turnaround times are leaps faster than the hours to days it takes most laboratory tests to bring results. 

Medical Shortages Still Cause Concern 

The approval of the Abbott test comes as cities across the nation battle with numbers of potential patients that surpass available tests and resources. Even with insufficient testing, the United States became the country with the largest number of reported cases of coronavirus on Thursday, exceeding China and Italy. By Friday, the U.S. hit more than 100,000 cases. 

Many fear that shortages of other critical medical equipment, like masks and swabs, could stifle the new rapid test’s impact. That’s because the kit requires a swab sample collected from patients, and many health care facilities are running desperately low on the tools needed to safely collect those samples.

The Center for Disease Control issued guidance Tuesday that allows some patients to collect their own nasal swabs in health care facilities, in an effort to reduce the amount of protective equipment needed for health care workers. 

On the opposite end, however, others note that fast and efficient testing can help medical professionals determine how much protective equipment they actually need to wear when interacting with a patient, as well as what kind of care to provide. Since this test can be done in a doctor’s office, it could even potentially help diagnose patients with mild or asymptomatic cases of the virus and help stop them from unknowingly spreading it. 

Experts also say drastically increasing testing capacity can help get the economy back on track sooner. With increased testing, measures like keeping everyone at home could be replaced with more targeted identification and isolation of those infected. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNBC) (CNN

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EPA Limits Environmental Regulations During Coronavirus Crisis

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  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is scaling back its enforcement of environmental rules during the coronavirus emergency as businesses face challenges like layoffs and accessibility issues.
  • The temporary policy allows companies to monitor their own compliance with environmental laws, and the EPA said it will not issue penalties for violations of certain reporting requirements.
  • Many critics slammed the move, arguing that it opens doors to excess pollution and does not prioritize the health and safety of people and wildlife.   
  • The EPA defended the policy, saying it has reserved its authorities for situations other than routine monitoring and reporting and will consider the pandemic’s impacts on a “case-to-case basis.”

Temporary Policy 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will limit the enforcement of certain regulations as the coronavirus pandemic continues, leaving companies in charge of monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws. 

The agency unveiled the temporary policy on Thursday, arguing that businesses are running into obstacles like layoffs and accessibility issues as the virus alters normal life across the nation.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.  

Under normal circumstances, companies must report when their facilities release a certain amount of pollution into the air or water. Now, that requirement will be put on hold for the time being. 

“In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request,” the policy states.

The agency also said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules. It noted that the policy does not apply to criminal violations or hundreds of the country’s most toxic waste sites that fall under the Superfund act. The EPA also said it expects public water systems to maintain high standards. 

“Public water systems have a heightened responsibility to protect public health because unsafe drinking water can lead to serious illnesses and access to clean water for drinking and handwashing is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the policy says.

The memo said that the changes will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, with no set end date indicated. 

Criticism of New Policy

Some, including people in the oil industry, had been asking for these regulations to be loosened, but others slammed the EPA’s choice, claiming it is too broad and lax. 

Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under the Obama administration and is now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the policy an “open license to pollute.” 

Some called the changes “outrageous” and “evil,” accusing the EPA of prioritizing businesses over the health of individuals and wildlife.

Prominent figures in the climate change fight slammed the move as well.

“The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment,” teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted. “This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for.”

Others pointed out the irony of suspending rules that preserve air quality while a respiratory disease makes its rounds across the country. 

“What part of, ‘air pollution increases our vulnerability to respiratory diseases LIKE CORONAVIRUS,’ is not clear, EPA?” one Twitter user wrote.

Defense of Policy

The EPA stood behind their move and did not agree with its classification as a dismissal of regulations. 

“It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” Andrea Woods, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “For situations outside of routine monitoring and reporting, the agency has reserved its authorities and will take the pandemic into account on a case-by-case basis.”

Susan Parker Bodine, the EPA official who issued the policy, said that it does not excuse organizations from consequences if they do committ environmental violations.

“If you do have violations of your permit, you’re still obligated to meet your permit limits, you’re supposed to do everything possible,” Bodine told ABC. “And after the fact the agency will take that all into consideration but there isn’t a promise of no penalties in those kinds of situations.”

“If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat … the facility has to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or come into the agency,” she added. “And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping these facilities safe keeping communities safe.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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