WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday said he would invoke the Defense Production Act, a law that gives the federal government sweeping power to ramp up manufacturing capacity during a national crisis, as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The law could allow the president to effectively force private companies to manufacture specific goods necessary to the government’s efforts to stem the pandemic. Already, health experts have expressed concerns about shortages of drugs and of personal protective equipment that medical workers rely on to deliver care.
The move follows calls from top lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the top Democrat in the Senate, to invoke the law to ramp up production of needed medical supplies.
It was not immediately clear, however, how the Trump administration would wield the new authority. In a press conference, Trump said he was invoking the law “just in case we need it.”
Trump said his administration aimed to ramp up production for ventilators, “millions” of masks, and “certain pieces of equipment,” though he did not specify what the government’s specific needs were, or what quantity of supplies the White House hoped could be produced.
Trump also said he would deploy two Navy hospital ships to American cities hard-hit by cases of coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as Covid-19. One, the USS Mercy, will be deployed to New York, Trump said. The president said his administration would soon decide where on the West Coast to deploy the other ship, the USS Comfort, which is based in San Diego.
“We’ve also alerted a variety of field and expeditionary hospitals to be prepared to deploy as well, as needed, based on direction from the commander in chief,” said defense secretary Mark Esper.
The Pentagon, Esper said, was moving forward with plans to donate 5 million respirator masks and up to 2,000 ventilators to the health department. Esper said the first 1 million masks would be available immediately.
The White House also rolled out an array of new changes meant to stem the pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services was waiving regulations that limit doctors to practicing medicine only in the state where they’re licensed.
The regulation, said Vice President Mike Pence, “will allow all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines to meet the needs of hospitals that may arise in adjoining areas.”
Pence also urged the public to delay upcoming elective medical procedures to ensure that hospitals and health care providers maintain capacity for the expected onslaught of severe coronavirus cases. He urged hospitals to do the same proactively.
“We are again, today, asking every American and our medical community leaders and hospitals to partner with us in delaying elective procedures across the country in our health care system to ensure that medical supplies and medical capacity go where they’re needed most,” he said.