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Trump invokes WWII-era law to make up medical shortages, fight COVID-19

By
Don Jacobson
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Wednesday in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. Photo Kevin Dietsch/UPI
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Wednesday in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. Photo Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

March 18 (UPI) -- Promising "total victory" over the coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump announced a series of additional measures Wednesday to help beat the pandemic -- which include invoking a 70-year-old law that allows him to use the private sector to make up the shortage of medical supplies.

At a White House briefing with his Coronavirus Task Force, Trump said the 1950 Defense Production Act -- which allows the federal government to the marshal the manufacturing capabilities of the private sector during wartime -- will be used "in case we need it."

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"It can do a lot good things if we need it," he said, adding that he would sign an order activating the law immediately.

The United States has more than 7,300 coronavirus cases, according to a live tally tracked by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. death toll is 115 so far, with the majority recorded in Washington state.

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Trump said using the Defense Production Act shows that his administration is taking a wartime footing in response to the disease, and said, "Now it's our time."

"We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through together," he added. "It's the invisible enemy. That's always the toughest enemy. But we are going to defeat the invisible enemy.

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"I think we are going to do it even faster than we thought, and it'll be a complete victory. It'll be a total victory."

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Trump said he may use the law to shore up shortages of medical supplies and equipment nationwide -- something that many experts say initially kept the United States behind the COVID-19 curve.

The president made the announcement after warnings from some doctors and industry groups about possible shortages in supplies, including face masks and protective medical gear like surgical gowns.

Trump also said he will send two Navy hospital ships, the Comfort and Mercy, into service to help treat patients. One of the ships, he said, will go to New York City. There are nearly 2,500 cases in New York state.

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The president added that he will push for the Food and Drug Administration to approve "self-swab" coronavirus tests as a way to quickly expand access.

The new measures Wednesday also included an order to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to suspend foreclosures and evictions through the end of April.

During the briefing, Trump again referred to COVID-19 as "the Chinese virus" and later defended his use of the term. Officials in Beijing have denounced Trump for insinuating the disease is China's doing.

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"It's not racist, it comes from China, I want to be accurate," Trump said. "As you know, China tried to say at one point... that it was caused by American soldiers. That can't happen. ... It comes from China."

Before the briefing, the president conferred with CEOs of the nation's major airlines after promising on Tuesday to funnel billions of dollars in relief to the hard-hit industry. During the call, Trump thanked them for their willingness to help.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump acknowledged the closure of the U.S.-Canadian border for non-essential travel.

"We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our northern border with Canada to non-essential traffic," he wrote. "Trade will not be affected."

He also said the United States would take action to bar entry by migrants illegally crossing the southern border, including those seeking asylum, stating the border would not be closed but he would instead invoke "a certain provision that will allow us great latitude a to what we do."

U.S. copes with COVID-19 pandemic

Bass Pro Shops marketing manager David Smith (R) carries a box of donated face masks into Mercy Health in Chesterfield, Mo., on May 13. The company is donating 1 million FDA-approved ASTM Level 1 Procedure Face Masks to healthcare workers and first responders working on the front lines of the pandemic. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

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