President Trump said much of the responsibility to secure enough ventilators, masks and tests lies with governors rather than the federal government, as he delivered a press conference alongside members of the Coronavirus Task Force Thursday. Mr. Trump has enabled the Defense Production Act, but says he won't implement it until he needs to, despite criticism that production of needs to be ramped up now.
But there may be a problem with that plan: Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts said that when his state took the president's advice to try to make such orders on its own, it lost out on bids to competition — the federal government.
Health care providers are also still reporting a lack of the tests they need, and a backlog in processing those tests. The total number of confirmed cases in the U.S. is at least 9,415, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Mr. Trump told reporters in the White House Briefing Room Thursday that governors should be trying to acquire ventilators and tests on their own first, adding that the federal government will help and work with them.
"First of all, governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work and they are doing a lot of this work," the president said Thursday. "The federal government's not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping, you know, we're not a shipping clerk. The governors are supposed to be, as with testing, the governors are supposed to be doing it."
"We'll help out and we'll help out wherever we can," he continued. "And we can buy in volume and in some cases, great volume. With the masks as an example, which were really a problem, we have helped out. And there are right now millions of masks being made. But this is really for the local governments, governors and people within the state, depending on the way they divide it up."
Still, the president added his administration is working "very hard" to secure more ventilators, and said officials will have a much better idea of what they will need in the next couple days. Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Thursday the administration is "increasingly confident" it will have the number of ventilators needed.
Baker himself pointed out to Mr. Trump the problem with the status quo during a subsequent teleconference with governors Thursday.
"We took very seriously the push that you made previously on one of these calls that we should not just rely on the stockpile, and that we should go out and buy stuff and put in orders and try to create pressure on manufacturers and distributors," Baker said. "And I've gotta tell you that on three big orders, we lost to the feds. So my question is, could you give some of these guys some guidance that says, you know, if states are doing what the feds want and trying to create their own supply chain on this, that people should be responsive to that? Because I've got a feeling that if someone has a chance to sell to you or a chance to sell to me, I'm going to lose every one of those."
"All right, Charlie, well thank you very much," Mr. Trump said, after chuckling slightly. "Well, we do like you going out seeing what you can get if you can get it faster. And price is always a component of that, also. And maybe that's what you lost to the feds — I'll tell you that's probably why."
The president also said Thursday he's directed the Food and Drug Administration to cut red tape to develop therapies and vaccines, as the race is on to find a way out of this public health and economic crisis.
Mr. Trump suggested themight be able to help treat the virus, but added the caveat that it might not work. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said they're looking at a broader clinical trial to assess how the drug might work on coronavirus patients.
"We are looking at everything that comes across our desks as possible treatments for the coronavirus," Hahn said.
The president emphasized Thursday that the virus might have been stopped if China had done more to contain it. The president added it's "too bad," because the economy was stronger than ever before.
Mr. Trump has signed a coronavirus bill that provides free testing, expanded funding for food security programs and paid sick, family and medical leave for workers at companies with 500 employees or fewer.
on Wednesday following the fourth trading halt in two weeks, with Wall Street spooked by the deepening economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's not a financial war, it's a war — it's a medical war," the president said Thursday.