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President Trump tried to assure Americans on Monday that hospitals and health care facilities across the country will be stocked and supplied with the necessary equipment to handle the expected surge of causes related to the coronavirus over the next two weeks.
“Progress has been made before the surge,” Trump said during the White House coronavirus briefing on Monday. “The next week, week and half is when the big surge is going to come.”
The president rattled of a list of medical supplies – from ventilators to N95 respirator masks – that the government has acquired and plans to distribute through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the states most in need.
Trump also thanked private companies like 3M, Apple and Salesforce who have vowed to produce masks, face shields and other medical supplies.
“Resources from national stockpile need to reach these warriors in the hospitals as soon as possible,” Trump said.
The president also confirmed that he’d called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier Monday to let him know that the USNS Comfort can now be used for COVID-19 patients.
“We hadn’t had that in mind at all, but we’re going to let him do it,” said Trump, adding that the ship will be used for patients from both New York and New Jersey.
“Hopefully that will be very helpful for both states,” he said.
Trump offered up his support to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was taken into intensive care earlier in the day as he battles the new coronavirus.
“Americans are all praying for his recovery,” Trump said during the briefing. “He’s been a really good friend. He’s been really something very special, strong, resolute, doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up.”
Trump said he asked two “leading companies” to contact officials in London about therapeutics that could be of help. He did not specifically identify the companies, but said “we have contacted all of Boris’s doctors and we’ll see what’s going to take place but they are ready to go.”
During the task force press briefing, the president confirmed that he spoke to former Vice President Joe Biden over the phone.
“We had a really wonderful, warm conversation, a very nice conversation,” Trump said.
“We talked about, pretty much…what everyone is talking about, this is what they want to talk about,” Trump said, referring to coronavirus. “He gave me his point of view and I fully understood that.”
“It was a very friendly conversation, lasted probably 15 minutes,” Trump continued. “It was really good, really good. Really nice.”
He added: “I appreciate his calling.”
Overall, the president struck a much more optimistic tone during Monday’s press conference than he had in recent days – noting that while the surge of the contagion has not yet arrived, he is hopeful that the country is now well-prepared to meet it.
“We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Trump said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The president’s sanguinity, however, has been countered in recent days by grimmer assessments by public health officials and state governors.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned on Sunday that “This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly.”
“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,” said Adams, the nation’s top doctor, told CNN. “It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the toll in the coming week is “going to be shocking to some, but that’s what is going to happen before it turns around, so just buckle down.”
Fauci said the virus probably won’t be wiped out entirely this year, and that unless the world gets it under control, it will “assume a seasonal nature.”
“We need to be prepared that, since it unlikely will be completely eradicated from the planet, that as we get into next season, we may see the beginning of a resurgence,” Fauci said. “That’s the reason why we’re pushing so hard in getting our preparedness much better than it was.”
A review of federal purchasing contracts by The Associated Press shows federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers.
By that time, hospitals in several states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate equipment and were pleading for shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile. That federal cache of supplies was created more than 20 years ago to help bridge gaps in the medical and pharmaceutical supply chains during a national emergency.
Now, three months into the crisis, that stockpile is nearly drained just as the numbers of patients needing critical care is surging. Some state and local officials report receiving broken ventilators and decade-old dry-rotted masks.
Trump and his appointees have urged state and local governments, and hospitals, to buy their own masks and breathing machines, saying requests to the dwindling national stockpile should be a last resort.
Trump deflected from recent criticism from Democrats and some governors regarding the slow pace of the federal government’s response to the pandemic, instead he spent his time of the dais praising his administration’s response over the last few weeks.
“They’re very happy on the phone,” Trump said of a conversation Vice President Mike Pence had with the country’s governors. “They’re very happy every one of them…States are very happy, if they’re not happy they can call me directly.”
The president also bemoaned that the “cupboards were bare” of the supplies needed to battle a pandemic when he took office.
At the start of the crisis, an HHS spokeswoman said the Strategic National Stockpile had about 13 million N95 respirator masks, which filter out about 95 percent of all liquid or airborne particles and are critical to prevent health care workers from becoming infected. That’s just a small fraction of what hospitals need to protect their workers, who normally would wear a new mask for each patient, but who now are often issued only one to last for days.
Federal purchasing records, however, show the Trump administration delayed making big orders for additional supplies until the virus had taken root and was spreading.
HHS first announced its intent to purchase 500 million N95 masks on March 4, with plans to distribute them over the next 18 months. The following day, Congress passed an $8.3 billion coronavirus spending bill, more than three times what the White House had originally asked for.
The number of people infected in the U.S. has exceeded 362,000, with the death toll climbing past 10,000. More than 3,000 of those deaths are in New York City alone, but a glimmer of hope there came in the last two days when Cuomo said his state registered a small dip in new fatalities over a 48-hour period.
Another glimmer of hope coms from California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday the state would lend 500 ventilators to the national stockpile for use by New York and other states experiencing a crush of coronavirus-related hospitalizations.
The loan comes after California’s hospitals added more than 3,000 ventilators to their supplies through refurbishing old or broken ones and buying some new. In total, California hospitals have more than 11,000 ventilators, a boost that Newsom said made the state comfortable to share its supply.
“We’re very proud to be able to extend a hand of support with those 500 ventilators and send them back east,” Newsom said during a news conference. But he said the state is “not naive” to its own needs.
“We need to continue to procure more ventilators,” he said.
Newsom’s decision follows Oregon and Washington committing to transfer ventilators to New York. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the state will return more than 400 ventilators of the 500 it got from the federal government. Inslee, a Democrat, said his statewide stay-at-home order and weeks of social distancing led to slower rates of infections and deaths in Washington, which saw the first serious coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Fox News Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.