Coronavirus: Mike Pence to be tested as $2 trillion economic rescue plan nears
Congress and the White House are nearing a deal on a raft of economic measures to ease the impact of coronavirus on citizens
US Vice President Mike Pence revealed he and his wife would be tested for coronavirus after a member of his office staff tested positive for the virus.
Neither President Donald Trump nor Mr Pence have had close contact with the individual, Mr Pence confirmed in a White House press conference on Saturday.
"The White House doctor has indicated he has no reason to believe that I was exposed and no need to be tested," he said.
"Given the unique position I have as vice president and as the leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, both I and my wife will be tested for the coronavirus later this afternoon,” he added.
Mr Pence will join the more than 195,000 people in the United States to have been tested for coronavirus and received results, Assistant US Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said on Saturday.
Mr Giroir said that tally does not include data from hospital-based laboratories, for which the government will receive data this week.
"There are priorities for testing," Giroir said, noting healthcare workers, symptomatic individuals and the elderly.
The US currently has 19,931 cases of the virus; 278 people have died and 147 recovered.
Mr Trump and Mr Pence contradicted each other on the issue of ventilators, amid a global race by countries to add more potentially life-saving breathing devices needed by critically ill patients to give them a fighting chance of survival.
“A ventilator is a very complex machine. They are hard to get," Mr Trump told reporters. But moments later, Mr Pence said "manufacturers tell us that actually a ventilator is not a very complex piece of equipment," adding production was "surging forward".
Mr Trump’s administration has come under fire for seeming not to take the virus seriously enough, including not ordering more ventilators or rolling out testing earlier.
On Friday Mr Trump said he was tapping the Defence Production Act to order American businesses to manufacture and send supplies, like testing kits, ventilators and masks, to hospitals preparing to be overwhelmed by a wave of coronavirus cases.
It came as the US Congress debated a financial relief package that could reach $2 trillion (Dh 3.67 tn). Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said the senate would vote on the bill on Monday, while Democrat Senate leader Chuck Schumer said they were making good progress.
The economic measure is intended to to “keep companies together, keep workers paid, so they can live and sustain,” Mr Trump said at the White House briefing. “We’re asking people not to work because we have to stay away from each other,” he said. The hope is to “win with as few lives lost as possible.”
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters earlier Saturday that the spending bill itself is expected to total $1.3 trillion to $1.4 trillion, plus additional loans that would eventually be paid back, for a total economic impact of about $2 trillion.
“The package is coming in at about 10 per cent of GDP. It’s very large,” Mr Kudlow said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who also arrived at the Capitol for negotiations, and Senate Democrats have been pushing to expand the GOP’s economic rescue plan.
Updated: March 21, 2020 10:45 PM