Coronavirus government response updates: Trump declares May 'Older Americans Month'
Pence wore mask for the first time in public during tour of ventilator facility.
With the White House coronavirus social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday, President Donald Trump says he's eager to return to hosting mega rallies and attending sporting events, and more governors are looking to lift restrictions before the weekend.
Trump has hosted four governors at the White House so far this week, and in another Oval Office meeting Thursday morning with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, touted his administration's response to the virus, applauding himself for a "a spectacular job" and repeating his claim that the U.S. has become the "king of ventilators."
The president continued his pattern of not having an official coronavirus task force briefing but used other scheduled appearances to take questions and highlight his administration's response to the pandemic.
His push for a reopening comes as the country's economy sees its largest decline since the Great Recession, unemployment claims break records and as a November presidential election approaches.
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Here are Thursday's most significant developments in Washington:
- The White House social distancing guidelines, initially enacted for 15 days and extended for another 30, are set to expire Thursday
- Pence travels to his home state of Indiana to visit a General Motors plant, wears a mask after receiving backlash for not wearing one at Mayo Clinic
- McConnell faces criticism for decision to bring Senate back Monday after House lawmakers suspend their return
- Fauci says a vaccine could come as early as January, one day after saying the drug remdesivir shows promise in treatment
- Trump signs proclamation to declare month of May 'Older Americans Month,' outlines steps to protect seniors from coronavirus
Here are the latest developments in the government response:
Trump signs proclamation to make May 'Older Americans Month,' outlines steps his administration is taking to protect seniors as nursing home outbreaks persist
"I'll sign a proclamation declaring the month of may to be Older Americans Month," Trump, 73, said from the White House East Room. "I don't know if I'm in that category. I have a feeling I am."
The president outlined steps the federal government is taking efforts to safeguard nursing homes, including having FEMA send supplemental shipments of personal protective equipment to 15,400 Medicaid and Medicare certified nursing homes in the U.S. and increasing nursing home inspections with the CARES Act.
"That's a spot that we have to take care of. I guess you could call it a little bit of a weak spot, because things are happening at the nursing homes, and we're not happy about that. We don't want it to happen," Trump said.
He went on to say the administration is finalizing a rule this week requiring nursing homes report coronavirus cases directly to the CDC -- "and testing data will be posted online, so everyone gets to see it" -- along with a new "Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes" -- calling it "a big deal."
"This commission will be composed of leading industry experts, doctors and scientists, resident and patient advocates, family members, infection and prevention control specialists, and state and local authorities," Trump said. It "will convene in May and issue recommendations for further steps we can take to protect our nation's seniors."
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma also said there would be a "great" announcement soon about lowering the price of insulin for seniors.
Trump also called up GOP Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to the podium, the fourth governor to visit the White House this week, and Lee took the opportunity to express confidence in his state's testing capacity and the care they're providing to its senior population.
"In Tennessee, we are committed to testing every resident in every staff and every one of our 700 long-term care facilities. It will be a great undertaking, but it honors the value of these lives in those facilities," Lee said. "I haven't hugged my own elderly mom in eight weeks, but we are doing right by the citizens."
Separately, Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, announced all Los Angeles residents will be offered free COVID-19 testing, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
Pence wears a mask for the first time in public during tour of ventilator facility
Vice President Mike Pence wore a face mask and protective goggles for the first time in public on Thursday, while touring a ventilator facility in his home state of Indiana, after he faced backlash for not wearing one at the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday.
The vice president's wife, Karen Pence, told Fox News Thursday morning that he wasn't aware of the policy at the time of his visit to Mayo, although the clinic tweeted Tuesday that they "had informed @VP of the masking policy prior to his arrival."
The vice president on Tuesday defended his lack of a mask, saying he wanted "to look them in the eye and say thank you" and that he gets tested on a "regular basis."
When reporters followed up on Thursday, Pence's chief of staff said that the vice president is tested more than once a week, on a varying schedule.
-- ABC News' Jordyn Phelps and Ben Gittleson
Meat packing plants could reopen in 'days, not weeks' Purdue says
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said meat packing plants could be prepared to reopen in days after the president's executive order this week.
"I think we've had rolling outages, and the good news today is we are having these plants prepared to open in days, not weeks. Some maybe by the end of this week. Over the weekend, others, and early next week," Perdue said in an interview on Fox News. "So I think we may have kind of saved the situation here with this announcement that gives these companies better coverage."
Perdue said employee safety is "paramount" in reopening plants but that Trump's order to classify them under the DPA allows companies to reopen quickly, which will provide relief to the meat supply chain and farmers facing the threat of having to cull their herds.
Union officials and worker advocates have sounded the alarm, however, saying workers are already at risk of getting sick and companies have not done enough to protect them.
The AP reported Monday consumers could face less selection and slightly higher prices as meat plants struggle to remain open.
-- ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs
Trump touts 'spectacular job' of federal response, New Jersey Gov. Murphy says his state needs billions in federal aid to keep essential workers on payroll
President Trump met with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey in the Oval Office Thursday morning, his third meeting with a governor this week, as Trump starts to shift his message from grim health statistics to economic recovery and puts pressure on some governors to lift restrictions in their states.
The president continued to tout his administration's response after saying on Wednesday the U.S. has become the "king of ventilators."
"The federal government has done a spectacular job," Trump said. "To a point where we are building now -- we are going to have thousands and thousands of ventilators, and we are helping other countries. Because Phil doesn't need ventilators. You needed them very badly in the beginning."
"We did," replied the governor of New Jersey, whose state had seen nearly 7,000 deaths at the time of the meeting.
Murphy emphasized to Trump the need for significant federal financial aid moving forward -- something the president has resisted, saying the responsibility to handle the crisis, for the most part, is on the states.
"The financial assistance we need, and we need a significant amount, this is a big hit and this is somewhere, in New Jersey alone could be $20 to 30 billion. This is to allow us to keep firefighters, teachers, police, EMS on the payroll serving the communities in their hour of need. That's something we feel strongly about," Murphy said.
"We don't see it as a bailout," Murphy added. "We see this as a partnership, doing the right thing in what is the worst health care crisis in the history of our nation. I want to, again, thank the president for an extraordinary spirit of partnership across the whole spectrum of our needs."
Murphy also said he's allowing some golf courses and state parks to reopen in New Jersey starting on Saturday, but social distancing is required.
Two weeks ago, governors of seven states in the northeast, including Murphy, said they are working together to create joint recommendations on how they can reopen their economies in the coronavirus aftermath.
The National Governors Association has also called on Congress to ensure the next coronavirus relief package includes funding for states and local communities, but GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested states could declare bankruptcy rather than receiving a federal bailout.
Director of National Intelligence confirms US looking at theory the coronavirus originated in a lab
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a rare statement Thursday morning confirming media reports that it continues to look at whether the novel coronavirus outbreak began at a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.
"The IC will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan," it read.
The statement also says the intelligence community agrees with the "wide scientific consensus" that COVID-19 wasn't man-made or genetically modified.
Two administration officials confirmed to ABC News Wednesday that the White House ordered intelligence agencies to review communications intercepts and other data to see whether China and/or the World Health Organization concealed information early on about the emerging coronavirus. It was first reported by NBC.
The idea that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab is unproven though pushed by some Trump administration officials.
-- ABC News' Luis Martinez, Conor Finnegan and Jordyn Phelps
Trump to travel to Arizona on Tuesday to visit a Honeywell facility making N-95 masks
Trump said Wednesday he was planning to visit Arizona next week but didn't specify what exactly he was going to do.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said Thursday morning that the president planned to visit a Honeywell facility in Phoenix. The company announced last month the facility would be making N-95 masks, creating 500 jobs.
It will be an official visit with no campaign stops or events scheduled to be included on the trip, Deere said.
Local media in Phoenix first reported these details on Wednesday.
-- ABC News' Ben Gittleson
Fauci warns states against 'tempting' a coronavirus rebound, cautions that remdesivir is 'not the total answer'
As states begin to roll back restrictions and reopen businesses, the government's top expert on infectious disease Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Thursday that new cases of the coronavirus are a certainty and advised states to follow the guidelines for phased reopening laid out by the federal government.
"We will get blips ... there's no doubt," Fauci told NBC." "When you pull back there will be cases, and what we need to do is make sure (states) have in place the capability of identifying, isolating and contact tracing individuals."
"The guidelines are very, very explicit, and very clear," Fauci said. "There's a lot of leeway because we give the governors the opportunity to be very flexible, but you have to have the core principles of the guidelines. You can't just leap over things and get into a situation where you're really tempting a rebound. That's the thing I get concerned about. I hope they don't do that."
He also expanded on those initial results of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-sponsored trial of remdesivir, where he is the director, after announcing on Wednesday its results showed "good news"
"It's the first step in what we project will be better and better drugs coming along, either alone or in combination, drugs of this type, and drugs addressing other targets of the virus," Fauci said. "So it's good news, but I was very serious when I said this is not the total answer, by any means. But it's a very important first step."
He noted that while the results were "clearly positive from a statistically significant standpoint, they were modest" -- showing a recovery time reduced by 31% -- or from 15 days to 11 days.
Fauci also said he spoke with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn about granting approval for emergency usage of the drug, and that while the FDA had yet to make a final decision, Fauci thought the approval would come "reasonably soon."
He also revealed his optimism that a vaccine could be available in large quantities as early as January.
"We're going to safely and carefully -- but as quickly as we possibly can -- try and get an answer as to whether it works and is safe," Fauci said.
-- ABC News' Ben Gittleson
Department of Labor: 3.8 million jobless claims filed last week
A record-shattering 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks, wiping out a decade of employment gains and jobless claims reaching a number worse than the Great Recession, the key reason driving Trump's "Opening Up America Again" plan.
Last week alone, 3.8 million people filed for unemployment insurance, according to a Department of Labor report released Thursday morning.
The unprecedented influx in jobless claims has created a number of issues for those in dire need of benefits as businesses across the country are forced to close their doors and Americans report ongoing struggles in the unemployment application process.
Prior to the pandemic, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was at a historic low of 3.6%.
-- ABC News' Catherine Thorbecke and Ella Torres
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