COVID-19 Federal Responses: Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID-19 Federal Responses: Wednesday, March 18, 2020

White House and Federal Agencies

President Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force held a press conference that announced more sweeping federal actions.

  • Perhaps most notably, President Trump announced he will invoke his powers under the Defense Production Act which will encourage medical product suppliers to increase their production of emergency supplies.
  • Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will issue a regulation that will allow medical professionals to practice in states where they are not licensed.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will recommend that hospitals reduce elective procedures in anticipation of more COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization. VA hospitals are also canceling elective surgeries in case they need to take on COVID-19 patients as well.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is suspending its foreclosures and evictions through the end of April.
  • The U.S. is closing its Canadian border.
  • President Trump will hold another press conference either today or tomorrow with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to discuss testing.

An official HHS response plan dated March 13 outlines the full scope of the threat the virus poses. The report warns the pandemic could last 18 months and consist of multiple waves.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams is warning to expect more than 15 days of social isolation to bend the infection rate curve.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is suspending certain requirements to allow e-prescribing of controlled substances (e.g. opioids) that aren’t predicated with an in-person medical evaluation. According to the DEA: For as long as the Secretary’s designation of a public health emergency remains in effect, DEA-registered practitioners may issue prescriptions for controlled substances to patients for whom they have not conducted an in-person medical evaluation, provided all of the following conditions are met:

  • The prescription is issued for a legitimate medical purpose by a practitioner acting in the usual course of his/her professional practice.
  • The telemedicine communication is conducted using an audio-visual, real-time, two-way interactive communication system.
  • The practitioner is acting in accordance with applicable Federal and State law.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is preparing to increase its response to the COVID-19 situation. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the DOD will:

  • Provide around 5 million protective masks and 2,000 ventilators to health systems in need.
  • The DOD has the capability to open 16 labs for COVID-19 testing.
  • Prepare to call up additional members of the National Guard and Reserve forces.
  • The DOD is preparing two military hospital ships to help deal with a surge in patients that exceed hospital capacity. Each ship has the capacity to treat 1,000 patients. The ships would most likely be used to take on non-COVID-19 patients to free up beds in hospitals for COVID-19 patients. The medical personnel on board the ships would be civilian medical staff, not naval medical staff. 


The Senate passed the “Phase II” bill, H.R.6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act with broad bipartisan support. The bill is summarized in detail in our March 16 daily update and here by the House Appropriations Committee.

“Phase I” was the $8.3 billion supplemental appropriations bill Congress passed earlier in March.

Congress is already moving on to a “Phase III” bill which is projected to exceed $1.3 trillion. Phase III is intended to primarily focus on stimulating the U.S. economy.

The White House is also deeply involved in the Phase III negotiations. According to a proposal from the Treasury Department outlining key details, the White House is requesting:

  • $500 billion of that total would be allocated to give most Americans a check from the government for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 in April and May. Specifically, Congress would issue the checks on April 6 and May 18.
  • The White House is requesting Congress make $250 billion available for these payments for each of the two months.
  • Details of the checks are still being worked out. The amount will probably vary based on family size and income level. Both checks would be the same amount.
  • To help stimulate the economy, the bill would provide:
    • $50 billion in U.S. Government loans to airline companies.
    • $150 billion in for federal loans and loan guarantees to other sectors of the U.S. economy experiencing server financial distress.
    • $300 billion for a newly created small business interruption loan program. It appears the government would provide the funding to U.S. financial institutions who will facilitate the lending.
      • The government would fully guarantee these loans.
      • Employers with 500 employees or less could qualify for the loans.
      • The loans would provide 100 percent of six weeks of payroll capped at $1,540 per week per employee (equivalent to $80,000 annually).
      • Employers must continue to compensate their employees for eight continuous weeks after the loan is distributed.
      • The program would include a streamlined underwriting process based on the previous 6-week payroll amount.
      • The Treasury Department would issue a regulation that establishes the interest rate, loan maturity and other important loan terms.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has his own $750 billion proposal. At some point, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will need to negotiate with each other and with the White House on a final version of the bill. There is optimism that these negotiations will not result in the type of partisan fights that are typical with large bills.

Phase III could be passed into law as early as next week.