1:05 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for being here. At the President’s direction, we have initiated, since the advent of the coronavirus here in the United States, a whole-of-government approach.
President Trump took unprecedented action when he suspended all travel from China, quarantined Americans that were returning. We’ve issued recent travel advisories for affected areas in Italy and South Korea, and initiated screening of all passengers from all airports at either one of those countries coming into the United States of America.
We’re doing everything in our power to prevent the coronavirus from further coming to the United States, but we’re also working every bit as hard to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in this country. And we all grieve — we all grieve the loss of American lives.
Word this morning from the CDC is that one more American has expired, and their family has our condolences.
Ten Americans have succumbed to this disease, and now we have a little more than 100 Americans who have contracted the coronavirus. We’ll continue to bring the full resources of HHS, the CDC, and every agency of this government to address this crisis.
But as President Trump also directed us, not just a whole-of-government approach, but a whole-of-America approach. Earlier today, given the fact that we are increasingly aware of the unique vulnerability of our senior citizens, we met with nursing home leaders in this room. And today our administration announced increased standards for all nursing homes in the United States of America to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
And later today, we’ll be implementing a new policy to focus all of our inspection efforts in all 50 states on nursing homes complying with infectious disease protocols that have been put into place by the federal government.
We met, as you all are aware, with airlines. Given the advisories that have been issued around the world, the role that airlines have played in funneling and screening personnel, it’s been a strong collaboration, and it will continue to be a strong collaboration with our airlines following the President’s meeting with those executives today.
But obviously, of greatest concern to many millions of Americans is the issue of testing. President Trump took decisive action this weekend when he changed the way that testing is approved through the FDA. Now I’m pleased to report that we have more than 2,500 kits that are being distributed around the country this week that will make more than 1.5 million tests available at hospitals that have requested them and in areas of the country that have been particularly impacted by the coronavirus.
In addition to that, as I’ve spoken with many governors, we’ve also approved a process for testing that can be conducted at state laboratories anywhere in the United States of America and also at university laboratories. And that’s now available.
But as Dr. Birx and I discussed, and the Secretary and I discussed, our objective is to make tests available broadly to the American public. We want to make sure the American people can go to their doctor, can go to the local MedCheck or CVS, and obtain access to coronavirus.
In fact, yesterday, the administration just recently changed the guidance from CDC that any American that wants to be tested for the coronavirus, on their doctor’s indications, can be tested.
Now, meeting that need is the reason we have this meeting today. I’m glad to be surrounded by CEOs of the nation’s leading commercial laboratories who have immense capacity to do testing and to facilitate this effort. And I want to thank — I want to thank those that are gathered around the table for being here and for informing me, just a few short minutes ago, that, in cooperation with our administration, with some changes with the FDA rules that are going forward, that they have formed a consortium in this industry to share information and to speed the availability of tests to the broader American public.
We are going to focus the availability of testing in the areas that have been most impacted: communities where we have coronavirus cases.
And, for my part, after I travel to Minnesota to visit 3M — that is a leading manufacturer of surgical and healthcare masks — we’re also announcing today that I’ll be traveling to Olympia, in Washington State, meeting with Governor Jay Inslee. We’ll be taking our entire team there with an effort to really continue to support Governor Inslee’s efforts, to focus resource on the community in the Seattle area and in California that’s been uniquely impacted by the coronavirus.
But on behalf of the President, let me just say how grateful we are to each and every one of you for the swift and collaborative and, frankly, distinctly American way that you’ve approached this issue.
This is a powerful industry, and we know working with you that, literally, we can make thousands of tests available within a week to the American public and literally — literally millions of tests available in the weeks ahead.
But it’s going to take all of us to do it. And I can pledge to you that you’ll have the full cooperation of HHS, our entire task force team, and the FDA so that the American public can know that they will soon, very broadly, have access to testing across this country. But in the immediate, the public should know that we are speeding tests and now tests are available in state laboratories and university laboratories in every state in this country.
So we’ll continue to lean into this, but let me thank Adam Schechter and invite you to make a few comments about LabCorps’s role. And thank you for putting this consortium together. We are grateful for the leadership of everyone at this table.
MR. SCHECHTER: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. And we appreciate you convening this very important meeting. We represent the national, the regional, local, but also the academic institution laboratories. And we’ve decided to come together as one to help really focus on this important health crisis. So we will be sharing information, we’ll be working together on capacity, and we’ll be doing everything we can across our industry to meet the needs of the American people.
Where we stand today at LabCorp, we are at final validation of our laboratory test. We would expect to launch that at the end of this week or at the beginning of next week, and we’ll begin to have that available for physicians to utilize around the country throughout next week.
I’ll turn it over to my colleague, Steve, from Quest Diagnostics.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Steve.
MR. RUSCKOWSKI: Thanks, Mr. Vice President. I appreciate the opportunity and your leadership on this matter. We understand this a public health issue that we all have a role in, and we’re deeply committed to working through this together.
We also appreciate the support of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control. They’ve been very good partners in this regard. And particularly over the weekend — the decision that was made to give us — a decision that accelerated our path to bringing tests to the market place. As Adam said, we’re validating it as we speak. And, hopefully, by the next week, we’ll able to ramp that up at a number of our laboratories throughout this country.
So we’re all in. We’re here to help. And we believe we have some capabilities to manage this in a very proactive way.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Steve, very much. And Marc Casper with Thermo Fisher.
MR. CASPER: Mr. Vice President, thank you. It’s been an incredible collaboration with the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, and with Secretary Azar to put ourselves in a position as a manufacturer of the diagnostic test kits that will be used in the laboratory, that we will be shipping kits starting next week and working with the FDA to get the various additional approvals so that we can ramp up and have millions of tests available per week should they be needed by our health system across the country.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me emphasize again — and I’m going to recognize Dr. Birx for her reflections on this group — about the importance of this consortium being formed and the availability of these tests.
The risk to the American public of contracting the coronavirus remains low. But at the President’s direction, we are bringing the full resources, not just of the American government, but the American economy, to make sure that in our meeting with the pharmaceutical companies, that we have — that we’re developing vaccines, which may not be available for another year or year and a half, but we’re also developing therapeutics that we believe could be available in fairly short order for people that are struggling with coronavirus.
But beyond that, we want every American, as soon as possible, to have access to testing. The people should know that today, thanks to the changes that the President directed through the FDA, that state laboratories, university laboratories can conduct testing. The HHS has made sure that 2,500 kits have been distributed and 1.5 million tests are arriving at hospitals around the country, especially in areas that have been impacted by coronavirus.
But we do believe this consortium can make, in a matter of weeks, not months, a test for the American people more widely available across the country. And we’re going to work very energetically around the clock with each one of you, in cooperation, to make that possible.
But, Dr. Birx, maybe you might share about the significance of this, and then I’ll ask the Secretary, and we’ll take a question or two.
DR. BIRX: Thank you, Mr. President — Mr. Vice President. What has been really helpful in these discussions is understanding that, obviously, diagnostics is a gateway both for prevention and ensuring that they can provide prevention, intervention, as well as treatment.
And so this is really why we have assembled. We’ve had meetings about treatment, about vaccines, and prevention. But making sure that every American family understands, if they have someone in the household that is positive, what preventive measures we can take right now to ensure that that virus is not transmitted to others. You have to have that information in order to be proactive and have that understanding.
This group can solve this issue for the general practitioner out there and for the MinuteClinics and other available outlets. And so while we work within the healthcare delivery system, we want to make sure that we’re covering every single aspect of where the American people seek their healthcare.
And I’ve been so impressed in just three days of them — as soon as a barrier comes up, the administration immediately addresses that, understanding that that gets us to the result and the goals quicker. And it’s just been a privilege to be here the last three days.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Dr. Birx.
MS. MILLER: All right. Thanks guys.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I said a question or two. Go ahead.
Q You said, Mr. Vice President, that you’d be going to Washington. Can you tell what the goal of that trip is? And is that tomorrow?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We’ll be traveling tomorrow. I’ll be visiting Minnesota, visiting 3M. We’re working with them, working with members of Congress to pass a supplemental bill to see to the manufacture of literally tens of millions of masks for our healthcare workers.
It’s very important to say that our medical experts made it clear: The American people don’t need to buy masks. But we want to make sure that people that are caring for the American public have the protective gear — masks and gloves and goggles — to be able to be safe as they administer their care.
Then we’ll be traveling on to Washington State. I’ll be in Olympia. I’ll be meeting with Governor Jay Inslee, and we’ll be bringing our team with us to further coordinate and ensure that we are giving all support necessary to Washington State’s efforts there.
I will tell you, having spoken to Governor Inslee yesterday, we continue to be very grateful and very impressed with Washington State’s efforts. But by being there on the ground, I want assure the people of Washington State, the people of California, people that are in the communities that are being impacted by the coronavirus, that we’re with them. We’re going to ensure that the full resources of the federal government are brought to bear on those that are struggling with this illness, and also supporting the community and the efforts to determine the nature and exactly how widespread the coronavirus might be at this point.
Q Mr. Vice President, obviously there are efforts to expand testing and to expand the number of kits, but there have been criticisms that this may be too little too late. What do you say to those who say this should’ve been done far sooner?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. Secretary, do you want to address that?
SECRETARY AZAR: Yes. So, first, I want to express, on behalf of our country, the immense gratitude that we need to have to Dr. Robert Redfield in the CDC and to Dr. Steve Hahn and the FDA for the unbelievably fast work that is leading to 1 million tests being available by the end of the week in this country. And these are validated tests. These are quality, American regulated tests that are available because of the work of these agencies.
We also, at the President and Vice President’s direction, are, as usual, leading the rest of the world in diagnostic testing. There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal today — I would encourage you to look at that — that actually discusses how America’s practices on testing here are equal to or ahead of what the other major countries are.
Remember, we only have over 100 cases so far in the United States. We are not South Korea. South Korea may be doing tens of thousands of tests because South Korea is in a very different epidemiological position. It is more like China’s situation than like the United States or Canada’s situation.
But now, thanks to this leadership, before we are at that point, we will have in the field millions of diagnostics over the next several weeks ready for this challenge because of the President and Vice President’s firm international leadership.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Q Mr. President, Congress has reached a bipartisan agreement on a multi-billion-dollar package. Can you address that? It’s much more than the original amount that the administration had proposed. Is the administration prepared to support this? I mean, can you provide a comment on that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ve been working very closely with members of Congress in both political parties. Very shortly, I’ll be back on Capitol Hill bringing our team to meet with the Republican and Democrat caucuses in the House of Representatives.
We had a very productive meeting yesterday in the Senate with Republican and Democrat members. But, you know, as the President said so well, we’re all in this together. Our administration has taken the approach to listen to members of Congress. We’re listening to governors.
And we’re absolutely committed to ensure that not only do all the federal agencies that are dealing with the coronavirus have the resources they need, but we’re going to make sure that states, local health officials have their resources. And, frankly, all of our private partners — all of our private partners can be confident that, as they make investments in this space, that there’ll be the compensation for that.
HHS has already denominated a test for coronavirus to be an essential health benefit, which — which is a — which ensures that it will be covered by people’s private health insurance. It’ll be covered by Medicare and Medicaid. And we’ll — we’ll continue to work in that way.
But we look forward to seeing the details. But I can assure you the White House legislative team has been working in a very collaborative, very cooperative way with members of Congress and — but we look forward to them completing their work on this important supplemental within the next 10 days.
Thanks, everybody. Thank you all.