US President Donald Trump has asked states to do more to secure their own critically needed masks, ventilators and testing supplies as pressure mounted on hospitals amid the coronavirus outbreak.
During another fast-moving day in the capital, Mr Trump and his administration took additional, once-unthinkable steps to try to contain the pandemic.
The State Department issued a new alert urging Americans not to travel abroad under any circumstances. And Mr Trump said the government should take partial ownership of companies bailed out during the pandemic, a step that would constitute an extraordinary federal reach into the private sector.
Hoping to inject some good news into the dreary outlook, Mr Trump held a White House briefing trying to highlight new efforts underway to find treatments for Covid-19 as infections in the country climbed past 11,000, with at least 168 deaths.
He offered an upbeat promotion of therapeutic drugs in early testing that he said could be “a game-changer” in treating those suffering.
But critics quickly accused him of spreading misleading information and overly optimistic projections after the head of the Food and Drug Administration made clear that the drugs Mr Trump discussed were still being tested for their effectiveness and safety. That process takes months and may or may not yield any results.
The FDA later reminded the public in a statement there were “no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent Covid-19”.
On Capitol Hill, legislators worked urgently toward a $1 trillion (£870 billion) aid package to prop up households and the US economy that would put money directly into Americans’ pockets.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed making direct payments of $1,200 (£1,044) per person, double that for couples, and $500 (£435) for each child, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by The Associated Press.
"We are looking at everything that's coming across our desks as possible treatment options for coronavirus. And we're extremely encouraged by the interest and promise that we've seen from these great American innovators." â @SteveFDA pic.twitter.com/0N6SkHDawu— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) March 19, 2020
Congress has also been discussing loans that would have to be paid back to shore up airlines and other industries.
It has also been working to increase production of medical supplies and build temporary field hospitals under new authorities activated when Mr Trump invoked the Defence Production Act on Wednesday.
Mr Trump also stepped up his criticism of China. Having previously praised the country, he chastised it for not warning the world earlier about a disease that started in Wuhan.
“If people would have known about it, it could have … been stopped in place, it could have been stopped right where it came from,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump grew agitated when one reporter noted the economy had essentially ground to a halt.
“We know that,” he snapped. “Everybody in the room knows that.”
More than eight weeks after the first US case of the virus was detected, the federal government is still struggling to respond. Testing in the US lags dramatically behind other developed nations, and states still say they cannot conduct wide-scale testing because they don’t have the swabs or other materials necessary to process them.
And as the number of confirmed cases mounts, doctors and nurses are sounding warnings about the shortage of crucial supplies, including masks and other equipment needed to protect health care workers, along with ventilators to treat respiratory symptoms of the virus.
Indeed, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention this week issued guidance telling health care workers that if no masks were available, they could turn to “homemade” options “(e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with Covid-19 as a last resort.”
But Mr Trump insisted against the evidence on Thursday that there were more than enough supplies available to meet needs. And he said it was up to states to obtain them.
“The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping,” Trump said. “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”
After the briefing, Trump travelled to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has now been tasked with leading the national coronavirus response, for a teleconference with governors — some of whom have complained about a lack of guidance from Washington.
Repeatedly during the call, governors said they were having difficulty securing supplies, including the materials needed to process tests, with some sounding panicked.
Mr Trump, who is at increased risk of serious illness because of his age, stood so close to some of the officials answering questions at the podium that they could not stand fully behind it.
He later turned on reporters, alleging “fake news” had been spread over his administration’s response to the virus, and suggesting he would like to limit such briefings to two or three of his favourite supporters.