Trump signs Defense Protection Act to manufacture PPE for COVID-19

US Pacific Fleet, Jeff Troutman / Flickr cc

Calling himself a "wartime president," President Donald Trump today signed the Defense Protection Act, a significant step that would allow the military to produce, among other things, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks as part of an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yesterday the Department of Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the military will make available as many as 5 million N95 masks and other PPE from US strategic reserves.

The military can also deploy 2,000 ventilators as needed. Today Trump announced that the USNS Mercy and Comfort Navy hospital ships, hospitals at sea, will be deployed to New York and the West Coast.

Also today during the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Deborah Birx, MD, the response coordinator, urged millennials to practice more social distancing, as new data from Europe showed that young adults may be spreading the virus.

"It's the invisible enemy," said Trump of the virus. Also today, the president announced via Twitter that the United States and Canada made a mutual decision to close the border between the two countries to non-essential travel. The closure does not apply to goods.

New York hardest-hit state

Case counts of COVID-19 surged overnight and through today in New York state, with a total of 2,382 cases and 20 deaths recorded on the New York Times tracker this afternoon. Washington is the second hardest-hit state, with 1,012 cases and 52 deaths as of yesterday, per the state’s department of health. California has 722 cases and 14 deaths.

Yesterday a nursing home in Illinois reported that 22 residents had contracted the novel coronavirus, raising the state’s total to 160, according to local news. Four residents at an assisted living facility near Jacksonville, Fla. also tested positive for the virus.

In total, the United States now has more than 7,000 cases in all 50 states, but the number is increasing hourly, according to CNN. According to the New York Times, there have been at least 121 COVID-19 related deaths.

Many Americans still unconcerned

As crowds continued to gather at Florida beaches for Spring Break, the state tracked 192 cases, according to media reports.

The press and social media images of crowded beaches reflected Americans’ beliefs about the virus, as seen in a new NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll. Only 56% of Americans said the virus was a "real threat," down 10 points from last month.

The difference of attitudes fell along party lines, with more Republicans than Democrats saying the virus threat has been blown out of proportion.

In a new Pew Research Center poll, 70% of Americans say the COVID-19 outbreak poses a major threat to the nation’s economy, and 47% say it is a major threat to the overall health of the US population.

"So far, Americans are less concerned about how the new coronavirus is affecting their health, finances and local communities," Pew said. "Still, 27% say the coronavirus is a major threat to their personal health, while 51% say it is a minor threat. Only 22% says it does not threaten their personal health." The poll was conducted Mar 10 to 16 with 8,914 adults.

Eighty-three percent of participants said they were somewhat confident in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 45% said they were somewhat confident in Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

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