WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on March 13 declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, and he said the government has established a public-private partnership with retailers and others to expedite testing for COVID-19.
Declaring the state of emergency would “unleash the full power of the federal government” and “open up access to $50 billion” to respond to the health crisis, he said during the Rose Garden press conference.
The president also announced a new partnership with retailers for COVID-19 testing. Top executives from Walmart, Walgreens and Target pledged their support to the effort “to vastly increase and accelerate our capacity to test for the coronavirus,” Trump said.
Drive-thru testing will be available in locations identified by public health professionals. “The goal is for individuals to be able to drive up and be swabbed without having to leave your car,” Trump said.
“We’ve been asked to make portions of our parking lot available in select locations in the beginning and scaling over time as supply increases,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said during the press conference.
“Normally, [retailers are] competitors,” said Target CEO Brian Cornell at the press conference. “But today, we’re focused on a common competitor, and that’s defeating the spread of the coronavirus. … We’re all committed to making sure we’re keeping our stores open to serve the American consumer who is rapidly stocking up on household essentials, key food and beverage items that they need during this time; making sure we run safe stores; and creating an environment that’s safe for our team members, making sure that they feel supported during this very critical time.”
In a statement issued after the press conference, Walgreens said it will dedicate temporary space in selected parking lots for non-Walgreens health personnel to administer testing.
“These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures,” said Richard Ashworth, Walgreens president. “Collaboration with health officials, the government and across our industry and other sectors is critical at this time.”
- To see what actions convenience-store retailers are taking to deal with the coronavirus threat, click here.
“Leading retailers are doing everything they can to help stop the spread of the coronavirus,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, in a statement following the White House announcement. “This includes stepping up during this global health crisis to assist with drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites on their store properties. Utilizing parking lots and partnering with the government to expedite testing is paramount right now as everyone works to ensure public health and safety. This is an unprecedented situation that demands an all-hands-on-deck approach, and community retailers are eager to do their part.”
The National Retail Federation also issued a statement. “Our retail leaders stand at the ready to react and respond to help ensure the security and safety of employees and consumers alike in the communities they serve,” said President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retail brands are always on the front line with citizens in communities large and small, and they are partnering with the healthcare industry and government officials to ensure COVID-19 is contained and mitigated as quickly as possible. Retailers are grateful for the opportunity to play such an important role and look forward to continued collaboration on the municipal, state and federal levels.”
An official timetable for the retail initiative has not been announced.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would make COVID-19 testing free and provide paid sick leave, reported The Wall Street Journal. The measure passed in a 363-40 vote on Saturday. It could clear the Senate next week, the report sid.
In a statement released ahead of passing the legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is focused directly on providing support for America’s families, who must be our first priority in this emergency. We cannot fight coronavirus effectively unless everyone in our country who needs to be tested knows they can get their test free of charge. We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying home to avoid spreading illness and the paycheck their family can’t afford to lose.”
The legislation includes:
- Free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured.
- Paid emergency leave with both 14 days of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave.
- Enhanced unemployment insurance to protect furloughed workers.
- Strengthened food security initiatives, including SNAP, student meals, seniors nutrition and food banks.
- Clear protections for front-line workers, including healthcare workers and other workers who are in contact with those who have been exposed or are responsible for cleaning at-risk places.
- Increased federal funds for Medicaid as states face increased costs.