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Vice President Mike Pence announced Saturday that the U.S. would be expanding its preventive travel ban to the United Kingdom and Ireland effective at “midnight Monday night.”
A ban on foreign travelers coming from the European Union went into effect late Friday after a hasty and chaotic implementation meant to help authorities contain the spread of the coronavirus.
American citizens are not subject to the controversial bans. Pence, who is heading up the administration’s coronavirus efforts, said Saturday that Americans who had visited areas affected by the virus are “encouraged” to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return.
Moments before, President Donald Trump told reporters that he was considering domestic travel restrictions but did not offer additional details. Pence later reiterated that the administration was considering a wide range of domestic options. Public health officials have repeatedly stressed that social distancing is crucial to helping prevent the health care system from being overloaded.
The coronavirus is already a grave public health danger in the U.S., with thousands of people infected and dozens of deaths ― and the numbers are only going to increase as the virus spreads through communities. But at this point a travel ban does nothing to address the primary problem: a catastrophic lack of available testing.
Both the president and vice president have made varying claims about the availability of tests; Trump claimed Friday that a million tests would be available by “early next week.”
Late Friday night, White House and congressional leadership finally came to an agreement on a coronavirus relief bill to deal with the testing gap and some of the financial fallout many American families are facing amid the crisis.
Both Trump and Pence praised the coronavirus relief deal on Saturday, signaling they expected it to pass the Senate next week.
“If you’re sick, stay home. You’re not going to miss a paycheck because of the legislation moving through the Congress,” Pence said.
The bill, however, does not apply to a significant portion of American workers. It creates a national paid sick leave program for one year, providing two weeks’ leave for workers affected by the coronavirus and reimbursing 100% of the cost to employers. But it does not help companies with more than 500 employees.
It also makes it easier for people to be tested for COVID-19, which is the name of the illness caused by the coronavirus, regardless of insurance status.
“This legislation is about testing, testing, testing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Friday night.
The White House has also claimed to be working on a website for Americans worried they might have the virus that would provide health care information. Trump said Friday that his team was working with Google to develop the site, but the company later said in a statement that such a website was only in the early stages of development and would only serve people living in the Bay Area of California.
On Saturday, Pence once again asserted that a website was in the works, promising more details Sunday evening.
White House data counts 2,226 official reported COVID-19 cases across the country, with 50 deaths.
“We have not reached our peak,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious diseases chief at the National Institutes of Health.
“We will see more cases,” he added. “We will see more suffering and death.”
Trump declared a national emergency over the outbreak on Friday, allocating $50 million in disaster relief funding. He spent much of the press conference, however, explicitly refusing to take responsibility for testing failures and the federal government’s sluggish initial response.