The move unlocks up to $50 billion in funds to fight the outbreak, which has hit Seattle area hard and is now bearing down on New York.
“We will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said in an address from the Rose Garden at the White House. He said every state would set up emergency operations centers while hospitals will prepare for more cases.
With him at the Rose Garden ceremony were key executives of Walmart Inc., Target Corp., Walgreens and CVS.
Trump said Google is also helping develop a web site to help determine who will need to get tested for COVID-19, dedicating 1,700 engineers to the effort.
Drive-through testing facilities will be set up — something retail is helping with.
Doug McMillon, chief executive officer of Walmart, said the retailer would do “everything it can” to help and that a portion of the company’s parking lots would be used for people wanting to get tested.
Brian Cornell, ceo of Target, noted the retailers would normally be viewed as competitors. “Today, we’re focused on a common competitor and that’s the spread of the coronavirus.”
This week, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Together with increase in cases, that ushered in an intense new phase to the outbreak in the U.S., where life has started to radically change for millions.
If COVID-19, which first disrupted China, didn’t feel real in the U.S. before, it does now.
The emergency declaration comes after Trump downplayed the threat of the coronavirus for weeks. But clearly he is now in motion and looking to get ahead of the crisis, especially after his address to the nation Wednesday night. During the address he unilaterally banned travel from Europe and sowed confusion and worry, contributing to the worst stock market decline in over 30 years on Thursday.
Governments around the world have been taking more-drastic steps to contend with the virus. Italy is virtually shut down, central banks are pumping more money into the system while more cities and states unlock emergency funds.
Declaring a state of emergency and invoking the Stafford Act gave the federal government authority to assist states as they cope with COVID-19.
The move opens up access to billions of dollars in disaster relief funds appropriated by Congress.
Under the act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will coordinate where relief goes. Assistance ranges from direct federal services, grants and technical support, or reimbursements to states, according to a primer by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents U.S. public health agencies.
The law also provides immediate support to individuals for housing and opens up grants to help reduce the hazard.
For retail there could be little relief.
The general focus in the hardest hit areas, including New York, is now on social distancing and reducing the density of crowds.
The National Basketball Association has hit pause on games, Broadway has gone dark, museums have closed and many people are working from home.
None of that bodes well for retail. Consumer confidence is falling and foot traffic in stores — beyond the mad rush to get canned goods and water — is slipping.
Retailers have been putting out more information about how they’re cleaning their stores and emphasizing health and safety, although consumers now are in hunker-down mode.
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