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President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, a move that would enable federal officials to direct billions of dollars to fighting the virus.

USA TODAY

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday, pledging to dramatically speed up coronavirus testing. And he’s drafted the private sector to help him do it. 

Trump, flanked by members of the coronavirus task force and business executives in the White House’s Rose Garden, said his administration would team with retailers, pharmacies and diagnostics companies to get more tests into affected communities, including with drive-thru facilities in parking lots.

By early next week, a half million additional tests will be available and 5 million tests within a month, Trump said.

Demand has outpaced testing as sick people across the country complain they’ve been denied screenings, even as the death toll from the pandemic mounts. Concern is deepening over a shortage of tests and supplies of the products and chemicals needed to run them.

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Executives from Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, Roche Diagnostics and other companies began working with the White House Friday to help expedite testing for the quick-spreading virus.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. have surpassed 1,700 as the fallout from the pandemic seeps into every aspect of American life, with schools shutting down and sports leagues postponing games, people working and worshipping from home, and supplies of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes disappearing from store shelves.  

“Everyone has got the same shared goals: just get as many of these tests to vulnerable people in need completed as fast as possible,” Kyle Armbrester, CEO of Signify Health, which dispatches doctors and nurse practitioners on house calls, told USA TODAY following the White House announcement. 

Armbrester said in an interview that his company has agreed to supply trained medical professionals to screen patients and administer tests at testing centers and in patients’ homes.

This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

Q: How did Signify Health get involved?

A: We got an outreach from the White House late last night, and they just asked us to be there early in the morning. We work with various federal agencies doing home-based care so they are aware that we have a nationwide network of doctors and nurses that go into every county in the United States and they see 1.5 million unique individuals in their homes a year. We have a whole logistics and routing platform that helps manage that.

Q: What is your part in the effort?

A: The initial focus of the team, as the president mentioned today, is to get sites set up in parking lots. Where I think we will come in to help is potentially staffing and, as they continue to grow and build this out, we also want to make sure that, beyond the physical facility, we have the ability to go into the home as well. 

Q: So you are going to be able to administer tests in people’s homes?

A: We are getting the tests shipped from Quest this week, and we should be kicking that off starting next week. Obviously, the home is a great care setting because it’s completely isolated, you don’t have to go into public at all. 

Q: How will you protect doctors and nurses going into people’s homes to administer these tests?

A: We are scrambling like everybody. The big shortage is in protective gear, so there is a lot of pressure and intensity focused on getting surgical masks and other protective gear out to providers as we start to scale this out nationwide. All of us are still working on the logistics of getting equipment. I’ve been on calls for days working through this. 

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Q: Have you ever been involved in or seen a collaboration across the private sector and the White House of this magnitude or urgency before?

A: It’s unprecedented. It’s incredible what they pulled together today. A bunch of massive retail competitors, diagnostics competitors. We were all just on a call for an hour and we are all collaborating collectively. It’s truly, in my opinion, one of the first big,  broadscale healthcare collaborations like this which I think is a testament to the situation we are dealing with.  

Q: How critical and how urgent is coronavirus testing at this point? 

A: From my point of view, if you can’t measure something you can’t manage it. We have got to start measuring and figuring out the mortality rate, where the curve is, where hot spots are, where do we need to deploy resources. In anything, in business and in life, you have to be able to measure and quantify the problem.

Q: Based on what we have seen in other countries, with healthcare systems getting overloaded and overwhelmed, are you concerned about the preparedness of the healthcare system in our country?

A: My perspective, and why we created Signify Health and why we are growing so much, is that we don’t have enough capacity to handle something like this.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/03/13/coronavirus-testing-trump-ceo/5048241002/

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