President Donald Trump officially declared a national emergency over the Wuhan virus Friday, invoking the Stafford Act to release additional resources to combat the nationwide outbreak for state and local governments.
“Through very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the virus. … This will pass,” Trump announced from the Rose Garden. Trump also ordered the opening of “emergency operation centers” and requested that every hospital “activate its emergency preparedness plan” in the wake of the outbreak.
According to the latest numbers as of Friday afternoon, nearly 1,300 Americans have tested positive for the virus and 31 people have died, which is less than 0.000003 percent of Americans. The number of actual cases is expected to be far higher, however, due to lack of testing. Nearly all who have died are elderly in long-term care facilities, and the U.S. surgeon general reports the average age of those who have died of the disease is 80.
In declaring a national emergency over what the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared a “global pandemic,” the president is opening access to $50 billion in funds set aside by Congress in the Disaster Relief Fund.
The Stafford Act allows the administration to empower the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide direct relief and assistance to state and local governments and coordinate a national response. States will now be able to request that the federal government share at least 75 percent of the costs of combatting the Wuhan virus, including outlays for emergency workers, medical tests, medical supplies, vaccinations, security for medical facilities, and other items that might be necessary, according to a letter reviewed by Bloomberg that Democrats sent to the president urging Trump to invoke the measure this week.
Trump hinted at using his executive authority to invoke the emergency act when speaking with reporters at the White House earlier this week.
“We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act,” Trump said in the Oval Office on Thursday. “I have it memorized, practically, as to the powers in that act. And if I need to do something, I’ll do it.”
The few times the Stafford Act have been invoked have usually targeted specific regions of the country. President Bill Clinton activated the 1988 law in 2000 to combat the West Nile Virus outbreaks in New York and New Jersey.
Trump’s Friday remarks follow a prime-time address to the nation on Wednesday in which the president announced a near-total travel ban on Europe, with an exception for the United Kingdom.
“We are marshalling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people,” Trump said.
Earlier Friday afternoon, the WHO declared Europe the new epicenter of the pandemic as cases in China are reportedly tapering off while continuing to rise in Italy, which has a disproportionately high percentage of elderly people in its population. There is reason to doubt China’s numbers, however, given that the government tried to suppress the warning signs of the outbreak and downplay its threat.
Stock markets around the globe this week have continued to slide as the outbreak grows and annual events that draw millions of people are cancelled or postponed to slow its spread. On Thursday, the stock market had its worst day since 1987 while the MLS, NHL, and NCAA joined the NBA in delaying spring season games or cancelling them altogether.
The Dow Industrial Average suffered a 10 percent loss while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq saw a similar levels of decline. On Friday, stocks began to rebound as government action in the form of stimulus appears more likely.