Trump signs $8.3B coronavirus-defense package; HHS assess lower mortality risk

“I asked for two-and-a-half, and I got $8.3 billion,” Donald Trump said as he signed the emergency appropriation into law, “and I’ll take it.” The bill clears the way for ramped up production of tests and research into treatments and a vaccine, with a good chunk going to the CDC for those purposes. Trump himself was supposed to sign the bill at the CDC, but that got changed at the last minute:

CBS breaks down the bill’s particulars:

The $8.3 billion package includes $7.8 billion in discretionary appropriations, plus $500 million in Medicare telehealth mandatory spending, which would allow Medicare providers to furnish telemedicine services to seniors.

The deal also has funding for research and development of vaccines, support for state and local government, and assistance for small businesses, a House Democratic aide told CBS News. The aide also said the package includes $300 million to help ensure that all Americans can afford a potential vaccine.

The Trump administration has faced criticism over the availability of test kits in the United States. Vice President Mike Pence has said any American would be able to get tested for the disease, but he acknowledged Thursday, as the government raced to distribute tests, that the capacity wasn’t there yet. “We don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” he said.

There have been 12 deaths from coronavirus in the United States — 11 in Washington state and one in California, which has declared a state of emergency as it tests passengers on a cruise ship quarantined off the San Francisco coast. There were at least 230 confirmed cases in 21 states, including Nevada and Colorado, which reported their first cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Thus far it’s still not at all clear just how far the virus has spread, or even what its fatality rate might be. The initial reports of 3-4% are significantly higher than influenza, but those might not be accurate either. Those calculations apparently were focused on the most acute and problematic cases, and last night the assistant secretary for health at HHS said the true calculation might be in line with the flu after all.

With that in mind, the administration’s message today is get back to work, if possible:

Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s chief economic advisor, told CNBC on Friday that he doesn’t want to “panic on policy measures” designed to combat the new coronavirus and said that U.S. growth remains strong.

“We would prefer a targeted approach, a rather micro approach,” Kudlow said. “Let’s think about individuals who might lose paychecks because they have to stay home if they get the virus. Let’s think about small businesses that might get hurt by this.”

“I just don’t want to panic. I don’t want to panic on the economy, which looks sound. I don’t want to panic on the virus, which frankly, most Americans are not at risk. And I don’t want to panic on policy measures. Let’s try to be calm and not overreact,” he added.

Kudlow explained that the White House would rather take a more specific, tailored response to the virus and hold off on broad-stroke policies that could upend local economies such as quarantines.

“Can we possibly do this fact by fact, day by day? Because we don’t know what the magnitude of the economy might be in terms of a slowdown,” Kudlow added on Friday. “We don’t actually know what the magnitude of the virus is going to be. Although, frankly, so far it looks relatively contained.”

That’s still a fairly bold statement, but the White House might be looking at data that has it worried about consequences of a panic. Southwest Airlines reported today that its numbers are starting to have a post-9/11 feel to them even though they fly domestic routes within the US. Having tourism redirected to within the US is perhaps a good way to keep dollars in the economy, but a turndown of domestic travel is going to have wide impacts throughout the economy. Kudlow has good reason to be worried about overreacting, but he and the White House had better be careful not to be seen as under-reacting, either.