James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:21 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. So, I’m glad to see that you’re practicing social distancing. That looks very nice. It’s very good.
I want to thank everybody for being here today. This morning I spoke with the leaders of the G7 — G7 nations — and they really had a good meeting. I think it was a very, very productive meeting. I also spoke with our nation’s governors.
This afternoon, we’re announcing new guidelines for every American to follow over the next 15 days as we combat the virus. Each and every one of us has a critical role to play in stopping the spread and transmission of the virus. We did this today, and this was done by a lot of very talented people, some of whom are standing with me. And that’s available. And Dr. Birx will be speaking about that in just a few minutes.
It’s important for the young and healthy people to understand that while they may experience milder symptoms, they can easily spread this virus, and they will spread it indeed, putting countless others in harm’s way. We especially worry about our senior citizens.
The White House Task Force meets every day and continually updates guidelines based on the fast-evolving situation that this has become all over the world. It’s all over the world. It’s incredible what’s happened in such a short period of time.
On the guidelines of the task force, the new modeling conducted by Dr. Birx, and our consultation with governors, we’ve made the decision to further toughen the guidelines and blunt the infection now. We’d much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it, and that’s what we are. Therefore, my administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible. Avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people. Avoid discretionary travel. And avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants, and public food courts.
If everyone makes this change or these critical changes and sacrifices now, we will rally together as one nation and we will defeat the virus. And we’re going to have a big celebration all together.
With several weeks of focused action, we can turn the corner and turn it quickly. A lot of progress has been made. I’m also pleased to report today that a vaccine candidate has begun the phase one clinical trial. This is one of the fastest vaccine development launches in history. Not even close. We’re also racing to develop antiviral therapies and other treatments. And we’ve had some promising results — early results, but promising — to reduce the severity and the duration of the synd- — of the symptoms.
And I have to say that our government is prepared to do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes, we’re doing. We’re doing it in every way.
And with that, I’d like to just introduce Dr. Birx, who’s going to discuss some of the things that we strongly recommend.
DR. BIRX: Thank you, Mr. President. I think you know, over the last months, we’ve taken very bold action to stop the virus from coming to our shores. And because of that, we gained time to really get together and understand the progress across the globe of what has worked and what hasn’t worked.
We now need to appeal to every single American so that they can have their role in stopping the spread of this virus. We’ve talked about things before, about washing your hands, but we really want to focus on: If you are sick, no matter who you are, please stay home. If someone in your household is diagnosed with this virus, the entire household should quarantine in the house to prevent spread of the virus to others.
The reason we’re taking these strong and bold steps is because we know there is virus spread before you develop symptoms, and then we know that there’s a large group — we don’t know the precise percent yet — that actually is asymptomatic or has such mild cases that they continue to spread the virus. If your children are sick, please keep them home.
Now, to our older population or those with preexisting medical conditions, everyone in the household needs to focus on protecting them. Everyone in the household.
I want to speak particularly to our largest generation now: our millennials. I have — I’m the mom of two wonderful millennial young women who are bright and hardworking, and I will tell you what I told to them: They are the core group that will stop this virus. They’re the group that communicates successfully, independent of picking up a phone. They intuitively know how to contact each others without being in large social gatherings.
We’re asking all of them to hold their gatherings to under 10 people, not just in bars and restaurants, but in homes. We really want people to be separated at this time, to be able to address this virus comprehensively that we cannot see, for which we don’t have a vaccine or a therapeutic. The only thing we have right now is the amazing ingenuity and compassion of the American people.
We’re appealing to all Americans to take these steps to protect each other and to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread. These guidelines are very specific. They’re very detailed. They will only work if every American takes this together to heart and responds as one nation and one people to stop the spread of this virus.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Birx. So just to connect with what I mentioned to you in previous discussions in this room — and Dr. Birx said it very well — that in order to be able to contain and curtail this epidemic to not reach its maximum capability, we have a two-pillar approach, one of which I believe has been very effective in preventing the substantial seeding, and namely the travel restrictions that we’ve discussed many times in this room.
The other, equally, if not more important, is when you have infection in your own country, which we do. And you know I could read the numbers, but they’re really, essentially, what we’ve seen yesterday: incremental increases, both globally as well as in the United States, with the curve doing that. So therefore, the kinds of things that we do are containment and mitigation.
This — what we’re mentioning now — the guidelines, when you look at them carefully, I believe if the people in the United States take them seriously, because they were based on some rather serious consideration back and forth, some may look at them and say they’re going to be really inconvenient for people. Some will look and say, well, maybe we’ve gone a little bit too far. They were well thought out.
And the thing that I want to reemphasize, and I’ll say it over and over again: When you’re dealing with an emerging infectious diseases outbreak, you are always behind where you think you are if you think that today reflects where you really are. That’s not word speak. It means: If you think you’re here, you’re really here because you’re only getting the results; therefore, it will always seem that the best way to address it were to be doing something that looks like it might be an overreaction. It isn’t an overreaction. It’s a reaction that we feel is commensurate, which is actually going on in reality.
So take a look at the guidelines. Read them carefully. And we hope that the people of the United States will take them very seriously, because they will fail if people don’t adhere to them. We have to have, as a whole country, cooperate and collaborate to make sure these get done.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, go ahead.
Q Mr. President, a lot of people are concerned about how long all of this might last. Do you have any kind of estimate that if Americans really were to band together and do what the White House is suggesting, how quickly you can turn this corner?
THE PRESIDENT: My favorite question; I ask it all the time. How many times, Anthony, I think I ask him that question. Every day. And I speak to Deborah; I speak to a lot of them. I get the opinion.
So it seems to me that if we do a really good job, we’ll not only hold the death down to a level that is much lower than the other way had we not done a good job. But people are talking about July, August, something like that. So it could be right in that period of time where it, I say, wash — it washes through. Other people don’t like that term. But where it washes through.
Q So is this the new normal until either the summer?
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll see what happens. But they think August. Could be July. Could be longer than that. But I’ve asked that question many, many times.
Q With that being said, Mr. President, Americans today, and looking forward, are living with so much anxiety and so much fear facing uncertainty right now. I’m curious, how are you talking to your own family about this? How are you talking to your youngest son? Do you empathize with this sense of anxiety? People are really scared.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. No, I think they are very scared. They see that we’re doing a very professional job. We’ve been working with the governors and the — frankly, the mayors, local government at every level. We have FEMA totally involved. FEMA has been — you know, usually we see FEMA for the hurricanes and the tornados. Now we have FEMA involved in this. They’ve been doing a fantastic job locally working with people that they know because they work — like, as an example, in California, in the State of Washington, they work with them a lot on other things, and they’re very familiar. So they’re working on it.
What you can do and all you can do is — professional, totally competent. We have the best people in the world. We have, really, the greatest experts in the world. And someday soon, hopefully, it’ll end and we’ll be back to where it was.
But this came up — it came up so suddenly. Look, he was surprised; we were all surprised. We heard about it. We heard about reports from China that something was happening and all of a sudden — we did make a good decision; we closed our borders to China very quickly, very rapidly. That was a — that was a — otherwise, we’d be in a very — as Tony has said numerous times, we’d be in a very bad position, much worse than we would be right now. You look at what’s happening in other countries: Italy is having a very hard time.
Q But have you spoken to your family?
THE PRESIDENT: But I think that — I think that what we do — and I’ve spoken actually with my son. He says, “How bad is this?” It’s bad. It’s bad. But we’re going to — we’re going to be, hopefully, a best case, not a worst case. And that’s what we’re working for.
Q Mr. President, I’m hoping you can clear up some confusion on two key fronts. One is about your own test; the other is about containment efforts. Is the administration considering more aggressive containment options, like a quarantine, a national curfew, restricting domestic air travel?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have that very much. Yeah, we have that very much. And we are — we’ve been pretty aggressive. We were early with Europe, but we were very, very early with China and other places. And, fortunately, we were.
And as far as containment here, we are. We’re coming out with strong suggestions. And, you know, it’s becoming a little bit automatic. If you look at people, they’re not doing certain things. For instance, there’s obviously not — I wouldn’t say the restaurant business is booming, and bars and grills and all. People are self-containing for — to a large extent.
We look forward to the day where we can get back to normal.
Q But to be specific —
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead. What’s your second question?
Q Are you considering instituting a nationwide lockdown, a nationwide quarantine? The NSC knocked that down, but there’s still some questions about how it all came to be.
THE PRESIDENT: At this point not nationwide, but — well, there are some — you know, some places in our nation that are not very affected at all. But we may — we may look at certain areas, certain — certain hotspots, as they call them. We’ll be looking at that. But at this moment, no, we’re not.
Q The second question is, you said you had — you had your coronavirus test Friday night. The White House doctor’s office put out a statement around midnight Friday, saying that —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q — no test was indicated. So when exactly was your test administered, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I had my test — it was late Friday night. And the reason I did it was because the — I had no symptoms whatsoever, so the doctor said, “You have no symptoms, so we don’t see any reason.”
But when I did the press conference on Friday, everybody was going crazy. “Did you do the test? Did you do the test?” So, very late on Friday night, I did the test. And he may have put out — or the doctor may have put out something at a — I don’t know what time the letter went out, maybe it was put out by somebody else, but the results came back, I believe, the following day. And we tested negative.
Q But the question is, how could the White House doctor’s office say a test wasn’t indicated, implying that you hadn’t had one when, in fact, you had?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I told them that — and I went totally by what they said — the doctors, more than one. They said, “You don’t have any of the symptoms.” They checked what you’re supposed to check and that I didn’t have symptoms. But I did it — I did a test late on Friday night. And it came back probably 24 hours later or something. They sent it to the labs; it came back later.
Q Mr. President, you had a teleconference with the nation’s governors today —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q — and in that teleconference, you told them if they need things like respirators or masks, to try to get it on their own. What did you mean by that? And what will the federal government do to help?
THE PRESIDENT: If they can get them faster by getting them on their own — in other words, go through a supply chain that they may have. Because the governors — you know, during normal times, the governors buy a lot of things not necessarily through federal government.
If they’re able to get ventilators, respirators, if they’re able to get certain things without having to go through the longer process of federal government — we have stockpiles now and we’re ordering tremendous numbers of ventilators, respirators, masks. And they’re ordered, and they’re coming, and we have quite a few at this point. I think, Mike, we have a lot.
Q When will they arrive?
THE PRESIDENT: But if they can — if they can get them directly — it’s always going to be faster if they can get them directly, if they need them. And I’ve given them authorization to order directly
Go ahead, please.
Q Mr. President, one of the big weaknesses in our healthcare system is surge capacity for medical facilities. And I wanted —
THE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
Q — to ask: What precautions, what plan is being done to get — China was able to build hospitals in a matter of days. Are you prepared to use the Corps of Engineers or FEMA to start building surge capacity that we may need in a couple weeks?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, we hope we don’t get there. And that’s what we’re doing, and that’s why we’re taking a very strict look at this. But we also are looking at areas — and not only looking; we’re expanding certain areas. We’re taking over buildings that aren’t used. We’re doing a lot in that regard. We hope we don’t have to get there, but we are doing a lot in that regard.
Q Mr. President, could you clarify something? These guidelines say, “Stay home if you’re sick.” Yesterday, the Vice President said no one should worry about losing a paycheck if they stay home and they’re sick. But the House bill exempts companies of 500 employees or more from the paid sick leave —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q — requirement, and that’s 54 percent of the American workplace. Why is it a good idea to only require small businesses to provide paid sick leave?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re looking at that. And we may be expanding that. We are looking at that.
Q Do you want the Senate to add —
THE PRESIDENT: We want fairness.
Q — big companies?
THE PRESIDENT: We want it for everybody.
No, we’re looking at that through the Senate, because as you know, the Senate is now digesting that bill.
Q Right. Do you was the Senate to add big companies?
THE PRESIDENT: So we may very well be adding something on that. Okay? Good question.
Q Two questions for you, Mr. President. One, going off of what he was asking: How many ventilators and how many ICU beds do we have right now? And will it be enough?
THE PRESIDENT: I can get back to you with that number. We’ve ordered a lot. We have quite a few, but it may not be enough. And if it’s not enough, we will have it by the time we need it. Hopefully, we won’t need them.
Q And you’ll give us the exact number? Because —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, we’ll be able to give you —
Q — so far, they have not given us an exact number.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ll give you. We can give you a number. If it’s important, we’ll give you a number. Go ahead.
Q Okay. And yesterday, you said that this was “under tremendous control.” Do you want to revisit that statement if we are going to be experiencing this until July or August — five more months ahead of where we are now?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, when I’m talking about control, I’m saying we are doing a very good job within the confines of what we’re dealing with. We’re doing a very good job. There’s been a — there’s been a tremendous amount of the way they’re working together. They’re working hand-in-hand. I think they’re doing, really, a great job. And from that standpoint, that’s what I was referring to.
Yeah, Steve, go ahead.
Q But you’re not saying “it’s” under control, right?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not referring to “it,” meaning the –
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, if you’re talking about the virus —
THE PRESIDENT: No, that’s not under control for any place in the world. I think I read —
Q Okay. Yesterday you had said it was, so I just —
THE PRESIDENT: I think I read —
Q — wanted to clarify.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I didn’t. I was talking about what we’re doing is under control. But I’m not talking about the virus.
Q The stock market took another hit today. Is the U.S. economy heading into a recession?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it may be. We’re not thinking in terms of recession, we’re thinking in terms of the virus. Once we stop — I think there’s a tremendous pent-up demand, both in terms of the stock market and in terms of the economy. And once this goes away, once it goes through and we’re done with it, I think you’re going to see a tremendous — a tremendous surge.
Q Are you looking at any domestic travel restrictions? I know that’s been on the table before, but is that firming up at all?
THE PRESIDENT: We’re not really. We hope we don’t have to, Steve. We think that hopefully we won’t have to do that. But it’s certainly something that we talk about every day. We haven’t made that decision.
Q Mr. President, can I ask you: Doctors and nurses in this country are telling us across the board that they’re terrified of this virus, of the fact that they could get it, of the fact that they might take it home to their families. What can you say to assure healthcare providers in this country that the federal government is doing something today to ensure that they get personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their family?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, well, I think the federal government is doing everything that we can possibly do. We made some very good early decisions by keeping people out, by keeping bor- — countries out — certain countries where the infection was very immense. I noticed a lot of people are talking about South Korea because they’ve done a good job on one side, but on the other side, tremendous problems at the beginning. They had tremendous problems and great numbers of death.
I think that we’ve done a fantastic job from just about every standpoint. With that being said, you look — no matter where you look, this is something — it’s an invisible enemy. And — but we are speaking all the time, not only with the people, but also the professional people — the nurses, the doctors. They have been doing a fantastic job.
We are also working very much on getting them the kind of equipment that they need. And for the most part, they’re either — they either have it or they will be getting it.
But remember this: we want the governors, we want the mayors, we want them locally — from a local standpoint, because it can go quicker — we want them to work. And we had a great talk with the governors today. I think it was a really great talk. There’s a tremendous coordination. There’s a tremendous spirit that we have together with the governors. And that’s pretty much, for the most part, bipartisan.
Q Mr. President, you just — you told John that you think this could wash through, as you said, July, August. You just told Steve when he asked you about a possibility of recession, you said “it may be.” I’m curious, if there is a recession, when do you think that might hit?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t — I don’t, number one, determine recession. I just say this: We have an invisible enemy. We have a problem that a month ago nobody ever thought about. Nobody in the — you know, I’ve read about it. I read about — many years ago, 1917, 1918. I’ve seen all of the different — the different problems similar to this that we’ve had.
This is a bad one. This is a very bad one. This is bad in the sense that it’s so contagious. It’s just so contagious. Sort of, record-setting-type contagion. And the good part is the young people are — they do very well. And healthy people do very well. Very, very bad for older people, especially older people with problems.
My focus is really on getting rid of this problem — this virus problem. Once we do that, everything else is going to fall into place.
Q Mr. President, a lot of rumors last night — a lot of rumors last night that you were going to put in a national curfew —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q — or some kind of —
THE PRESIDENT: I’ve been reading — I’ve been watching.
Q Right. Exactly. Me too. Your people were saying this is a foreign disinformation campaign. Is that what’s going on? Are people messing with us on the Internet?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t know. I mean, that I can’t tell you, if they are or not. I think a lot of the media actually has been very fair. I think people are pulling together on this. I really think the media has been very fair.
I think it could be that you have some foreign groups that are playing games. But it doesn’t matter. We haven’t really determined to do that at all. And hopefully, we won’t have to. That’s a very big step. It’s a step we can take, but we have not decided to do it.
Q Mr. President, two things on — one on airlines and one on Jeff Bezos.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Can you talk a little bit, specifically, about what you’d like to do to help the airlines, first of all?
And then, second of all, we heard that Jeff Bezos has been in contact with the White House daily. Can you say what he’s been asking for or proposing to do?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ve heard that’s true. I don’t know that for a fact. But I know that some of my people have, as I understand it, been dealing with them or with him. And that’s nice. We’ve had tremendous support from a lot of people that can help, and I believe he was one of them.
As far as the airlines are concerned, the airlines — we’re going to back the airlines 100 percent. It’s not their fault. It’s nobody’s fault, unless you go to the original source. But it’s nobody’s fault. And we’re going to be in a position to help the airlines very much. We’ve told the airlines we’re going to help them.
Q They want $25 billion.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re going to be helping. We’re going to be backstopping the airlines. We’re going to be helping them very much, John. It’s very important.
Q Mr. President, what will you do about the stock market, sir?
Q But can you — can you fulfill their request for $25 billion for the passenger carriers and $4 billion for cargo?
THE PRESIDENT: We’re going to be looking at it very strongly. We have to back the airlines. It’s not their fault. In fact, they were having a record season — everybody was. They were having record seasons, and then this came out. And it came out from nowhere. So, not their fault, but we’re going to be backing the airline. Yeah.
Q Mr. President, stocks continue to fall today. Would the White House support negative rates?
THE PRESIDENT: The best thing I can do for the stock market is we have to get through this crisis. That’s what I can do. That’s the best thing we can do. That’s what I think about. Once — once this virus is gone, I think you’re going to have a stock market like nobody has ever seen before.
(Cross-talk from reporters.)
DR. FAUCI: He’ll be back in a sec. He’ll be back in a second. I think the question that I think maybe John asked about — until July: The guidelines are a 15-day trial guideline to be reconsidering. It isn’t that these guidelines are now going to be in effect until July.
What the President was saying is that the trajectory of the outbreak may go until then. Make sure we don’t think that these are solid in stone until July.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. That would be the outside number. Yeah.
Q Mr. President —
Q Mr. President, you’ve been criticized —
THE PRESIDENT: Hold on one second. Please, go ahead.