US President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency due to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, which thus far has killed 50 people in the country.
The declaration of a national emergency would mean that the federal government would be allowed to tap into US$50 billion in relief funds.
The Stafford Act is invoked
The national emergency has invoked the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988, which is rarely used for public health emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will act as the coordinator of the emergency funds, mobilizing the fund to support the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to the coronavirus.
“The center of gravity switches from HHS headquarters to FEMA,” said Daniel Kaniewski, a former deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA.
Designating COVID-19 a national emergency frees up more funds, more supplies and more resources for the response, including healthcare personnel and temporary medical facilities.
The US Health Secretary Alex Azar and health officials are able to waive certain laws and license requirements to provide more flexibility to healthcare providers responding to the outbreak.
The Stafford Act was not used in other health crises in the US, such as H1N1, Zika and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
According to health officials, no other disease outbreak has come close to the threat posed by COVID-19.
“None of those became as big of an outbreak as we’re seeing with COVID-19. But those were examples of FEMA being in support of HHS in some way, but without the use of a Stafford emergency declaration or major disaster declaration,” said Michael Coen, a senior adviser for emergency management at IEM who served as the FEMA chief of staff during the Obama administration.
The only other time the Stafford Act has been used for a public healthcare response was in 2000 for the West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease that spread through the US.
Trump denies responsibility in test kit situation
Trump blamed the slow distribution of coronavirus test kits on previous administrations and refused to take any responsibility for it.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump stated. “We were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time.”
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