President Donald Trump declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus a national emergency in an address on Friday, giving providers access to additional federal funds, resources and providing more flexibility by easing requirements to treat a growing number of Americans.
In a joint letter sent to the White House on Thursday, the nation's largest medical organizations urged the president to take this step "to ensure that health care services and sufficient health care items are available to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak," the leaders of the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association wrote.
The declaration opens up to $50 billion additional funds for states as Trump said "now we're in a different phase."
The administration has been under fire for a disjointed and slow response to the pandemic and Wall Street has been in free fall all week.
This action will remove as many constraints as possible for providers and states and local agencies, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Though he cautioned there is still a long way to go, he added the action will help the outbreak end sooner.
In addition to the declaration, the administration urged every state to set up emergency operation centers and asked every hospital to activate their emergency preparedness plans.
The declaration would waive laws or requirements to allow providers to quickly respond to the disease. In particular, it waives the three-day hospital stay requirement prior to being moved to a nursing home. It also waives restrictions on where hospitals can care for patients. It also eases licensure requirements, allowing physicians to provide care in other states, including for telehealth.
Some of the executives from the nation's largest healthcare companies spoke and Walmart offered the space in its parking lots to be used for drive-thru testing for residents.
Chris Cebollero, president and CEO of Cebollero and Associates and a nationally registered paramedic, said the move aids hospitals in their preparations for a worst-case scenario, mainly through additional federal funding.
"Now this opens up resources from things like FEMA and the CDC. It also gives you access to the resources that have been stored for things like this," he told Healthcare Dive.
Hospital consultants also told Healthcare Dive it eases barriers to allow hospitals to reopen beds that may have been delicensed to create additional capacity, a growing worry among the healthcare community.
With execs from BD, Quest, Roche and Thermo Fisher on hand at the White House, the administration also announced a public-private partnership and referenced FDA's Friday approval to Roche for the first commercial test getting emergency use authorization status for SARS-CoV-2.
Roche has said it's committed to "going to the limits" of its production capacity to churn out millions of tests per month.
The administration is also looking to leverage the scale of LabCorp and Quest, diagnostics giants that both in recent days have made tests for the virus available.
"We are up and running with a test in a number of our facilities. As the president mentioned, we now have capabilities from Roche that we will bring into our facilities this weekend and I know my colleague at LabCorp will be doing the same," said Quest Diagnostics CEO Steve Rusckowski at the event.
Rusckowski added that the "capacity available to the American public to support this [Roche] action with consumers will be considerably increased in the next few weeks."
Trump also announced that the FDA's goal is to "hopefully authorize" within 24 hours an application from Thermo Fisher. "It'll go very quickly, it's going very quickly," he added.
He also promised "additionally 1.4 million tests on board next week and 5 million within a month."
Thomas Polen, CEO of BD, announced at the White House event that his company is "ramping up" its manufacturing capacity to "ensure that the right collection devices and testing equipment are ready to address this issue."
Greg Slabodkin contributed reporting.