The various policy moves left many questions unanswered, among them whether a website Trump said Google is developing to screen and test patients could compromise their privacy.
Here are some key features:
The president said the administration is working with pharmacies and other retailers to make drive-thru testing available “at critical locations.” And he announced a series of partnerships with private labs to boost testing capacity just one day after top federal infectious disease official Anthony Fauci told House lawmakers that the federal government’s current testing system had been a “failing.”
The president said there would be another 1.4 million tests available by next week and 5 million within the months, adding, “I doubt we’ll need anywhere near that.”
Public health experts would disagree: Multiple tests are often used on one person, and while federal officials have been hesitant to project case numbers, Fauci himself warned lawmakers that a complacent mitigation response could boost case numbers to the “many, many millions.”
Administration officials told lawmakers yesterday that 11,000 Americans had been tested. The FDA approved the first high-volume coronavirus test today.
Consumer screening website
The president also appeared to oversell an effort by an affiliate of Google to help develop a website that will aid the administration’s efforts to screen and test for people with the virus.
Trump suggested a sweeping effort, saying Google had 1,700 engineers working on the project and had made “tremendous progress” — and that the site will be able “to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location. … We have many, many locations.”
But Verily, the life-sciences arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, later said in a statement that the website is in “the early stages of development” and would be initially tested in the Bay Area, “with the hope of expanding more broadly over time.”
Vice President Mike Pence said the administration by Sunday evening will “be able to give specific guidance” on when the website will be available.
The announcement instantly raised red flags for patient privacy groups, which have pushed for greater scrutiny of Google’s use of health data. “It sounds like @Google just figured out how to get the personal health data of every single American,” tweeted Kyle Plotkin, chief of staff for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), after Trump made the announcement.
Trump outlined emergency measures hospitals can take under the declaration, most of which would free up beds for a potential surge in coronavirus patients. “Critical access” hospitals that are limited to 25 beds and get higher Medicare rates can boost their capacity and extend patient stays now limited to 96 hours.
The order lifts rules for where hospitals can treat patients within their facilities and lets them add doctors as needed. The hospital industry supports these steps and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to release more detailed guidance later Friday that could expand on Trump’s list.
The declaration lets HHS Secretary Alex Azar waive certain laws to expand the use of telehealth, which public health experts say can help reduce risk of transmission. The new order appears to let Azar waive federal licensing requirements so out-of-state doctors can treat patients virtually in states with the greatest need.
The $8.3 billion coronavirus emergency funding package Trump signed last week also allows Azar to waive restrictions on Medicare payment for telehealth, as Congress has typically done for past emergencies. Telehealth groups and lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the committee overseeing Medicare, have encouraged Azar to activate that authority.
Trump in his Rose Garden remarks called telehealth a “fairly new and incredible thing,” though health care providers have used the technology for over a decade.
Adriel Bettelheim, Sarah Owermohle, Susannah Luthi, Cristiano Lima and Mohana Ravindranath contributed to this report.