Joe Biden

Statement by Vice President Joe Biden on Immediate Actions the Trump Administration Must Take to Address the Public Health Crisis

March 18, 2020

My heart goes out to all Americans who are suffering from the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — those who are sick, those who are caring for others, those who have lost loved ones, those who cannot spend time with family members due to social distancing, and those who are already dealing with the economic fallout.

I'm so proud of Americans across the country who are driving a community-led response, despite the sacrifices and hardship that can entail, and by helping their neighbors. The people of this country know how to answer the call in a crisis. They know that now is a time for empathy, decency, and unity.

The Congress is hard at work at economic measures to help working people, families, and seniors cope with the economic blow. So many governors, mayors, and other local officials on the front lines of the pandemic are making tough decisions to protect their communities and modeling the leadership we need from our elected officials. They deserve a partner in the White House.

Much has been made of changes in the President's tone in recent days. But with our health care system at risk, a virus spreading, our economy on the brink — and so many lives at stake — it's time to be less interested in the President's words and more focused on his actions — or inaction.

Here's what President Trump needs to do, immediately:

First, he must institute a transparent reporting process regarding testing. While it's good that the number of tests are increasing, it's not good enough. Other countries have had the tests they've needed, when they've needed them. The United States hasn't — and still doesn't. Last week, I called for the Administration to report every single day on how many tests have been ordered, how many have been conducted, and how many have produced positive results. That reporting still is not happening. It must.

Second, President Trump must take action to expand the number of beds and facilities ready to accept sick patients. Last week, I called for using our Department of Defense resources and the deployment of the National Guard, if necessary, to help support the response. I'm proud to see governors taking this step and acting in the interests of their communities. And I'm pleased that the Pentagon announced yesterday that it is opening its labs, prepping its hospital ships, and making equipment like respirator masks and ventilators available. The Trump Administration should act now to prepare for the deployment of beds and facilities.

Third, President Trump must surge medical personnel to the places that need it most and make sure these personnel and first responders are equipped to more safely do their jobs. As I called for last week, this should include expanding and mobilizing the Medical Reserve Corps, which consists of nearly 200,000 volunteer health care professionals who stand ready to serve across America. And, this should include standing up a reserve Corps for the U.S. Public Health Service so we have the medical and public health expertise available to deploy to areas of need. It should also include adapting FEMA just-in-time training for first responders through the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, the Center for Domestic Preparedness, and the Emergency Management Institute. And all of our medical personnel and first responders should have the personal protective equipment they need to ensure they can do their jobs safely and effectively.

This leads to a final point: Vital equipment is in short supply, including personal protective equipment for health care providers and first responders, basic supplies for lab technicians, and ventilators for patients. One reason for that is Trump's misguided trade war with China, which led to tariffs on essential medical supplies and reduced their availability in the United States.

Today, I am calling on the Trump Administration to take the following steps immediately:

(1) Level with the American people by providing accurate and complete information on:

  • existing U.S. supply of essential medical equipment, including in every hospital and clinic closet;
  • the supply chain for essential medical equipment, from manufacturing to delivery;
  • the measures being taken to ensure that manufacturers, distributors, and providers collaborate to prevent hoarding or the unfair allocation of limited supplies; and
  • how the Strategic National Stockpile and Defense reserves have been and will continue to be distributed.

(2) Prioritize and immediately increase domestic production of any critical medical equipment required to respond to this crisis — such as the production of ventilators and associated training to operate — by invoking the Defense Production Act, delegating authority to HHS and FEMA. This action must be built on forecasted demand, using the best modeling currently available for negative scenarios. It would involve:

  • Issuing a priority call for essential supplies above other contracts or orders, in collaboration with the health community so the federal government doesn't strip the private sector of necessary supplies;
  • Expanding domestic production, potentially using loans, purchase commitments, and other incentives to meet anticipated demand without displacing production for other essential supplies; and
  • Granting relief from antitrust laws, if necessary, to allow industries to work together and to remove any barrier to increased production capacity.

The Administration should provide a regular update to the public on the status of all of these steps, which should be taken under the guidance and direction of experts and public health and emergency response professionals. Also, Congress gave the White House more than $8 billion to fight the virus 12 days ago. The White House should report weekly on how quickly and well that money is being used.

Americans are already making sacrifices and readjusting their lives, and I know that as a people, we are capable of meeting this challenge, coming together, caring for one another, and saving lives. We just need President Trump and his Administration to demonstrate the same level of dedication and aggressive leadership at the federal level to mount an effective national response.

Joseph R. Biden, Statement by Vice President Joe Biden on Immediate Actions the Trump Administration Must Take to Address the Public Health Crisis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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