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What you should know from Thursday’s White House coronavirus briefing

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The White House coronavirus task force held its latest briefing Thursday.

Here’s what we learned, without all the noise.

1. Mnuchin assures stimulus payments are coming in ‘weeks, not months’

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on April 2 that Americans with direct deposit information on file should see covid-19 economic relief in two weeks. (Video: The Washington Post)

In the hours before the briefing, a memo from the House Ways and Means Committee raised questions about how quickly Americans would see the payouts promised from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. The memo said certain people who had not set up direct deposits might not see the money till August.

But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected the idea that the speed of the payouts would be a problem.

“I don’t know where you’re hearing these things,” Mnuchin said. “I told you this would be three weeks; I’m now committing to two weeks. We’re delivering on our commitments to the IRS, which I oversee, within two weeks.”

Mnuchin said the process for getting checks to people who don’t have direct deposit would also be easy.

“If we don’t have your information, you’ll have a simple web portal,” Mnuchin said. “You’ll upload it. If we don’t have that, we’ll send you checks in the mail to be processed. We can process a lot of checks, but we don’t want to send checks in this environment.”

Mnuchin added: “This money does people no good if it shows up in four months. And we will deliver on that promise … as in a matter of weeks, not months.”

2. Birx doubts report about coronavirus patients testing negative

Coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx was at one point confronted with a Wall Street Journal report about concerns among medical professionals that coronavirus tests are coming up negative when the patients are actually positive — in as many as 1 out of 3 cases.

Birx cast doubt on whether that could be the case, and said she would look into it.

That would almost be impossible without having 35 percent positives,” Birx said. “If that was true, you would have 100 percent positive or 66 percent positive. So what I can tell you is the number of positive tests is tracking very closely with the number of cases diagnosed. So I don’t — I will look into that.”

Birx pointed out that tests made by different companies turned up similar numbers of positives.

3. New York will get 200,000 masks

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner made a rare public speaking appearance at the briefing, in which he announced a big shipment of supplies to New York City, the hardest-hit area in the country.

“I called [New York City hospitals chief] Dr. [Mitchell] Katz, who runs the system. I asked him which supply he was most nervous about,” Kushner said. “He told me it was the N95 masks. I asked what his daily burn was, and I basically got that number, called Admiral [John Polowczyk], made sure we had the inventory. We went to the president today. And earlier today, the president called Mayor [Bill] de Blasio to inform him that we are going to send a month of supply to New York public hospital system.”

Vice President Pence clarified there would be 200,000 total masks sent to New York.

Kushner added: “We’ll be doing similar things with all the different public hospitals that are in the hot-spot zones and making sure that we’re constantly in communications with the local communities.”

4. The U.S. wants 100,000 ventilators by the end of June

Polowczyk, who is managing the government’s coronavirus supply chain, also said the government was seeking to procure 100,000 ventilators by the end of June.

“As we’ve indicated, we have ventilators in the national stockpile. We pushed ventilators out. We’re holding ventilators to the point of need,” Polowczyk said. “But we’re also buying ventilators, asking the industrial base who produces approximately — before covid — approximately 30,000 ventilators a year. We are going to, over the next several months, by the end of June, work to acquire 100,000.”

Polowczyk said the government would assist manufacturers with any supply-chain issues they would encounter in making the ventilators.

He also detailed how much of each type of equipment the federal government has produced: 22.4 million pairs of protective gloves, 5.2 million face shields and 7,600 ventilators.

Polowczyk suggested hospitals with resource shortages should look to their states first.

“We put up a lot of numbers,” he said, referring to slides shown with the federal numbers. “I said that if you’re not — you’re in a hospital and you’re not seeing PPE, I would look up to the state level first.”

5. Trump warns Democrats against coronavirus investigation

On April 2, President Trump warned House Democrats against launching a select committee to scrutinize his administration's response to covid-19. (Video: The Washington Post)

Another piece of news that broke Thursday was that House Democrats were launching a select committee to scrutinize the federal government’s coronavirus response and oversee its management of the stimulus package.

Trump suggested the effort would be the latest attempt to take him down.

I want to remind everyone here in our nation’s capital, especially in Congress, that this is not the time for politics,” Trump said. “Endless partisan investigations — here we go again — have already done extraordinary damage to our country in recent years.”

He also suggested it would backfire.

“In the end, the people doing the investigating have been losing, and they’ve been losing by a lot,” he said, saying Democrats should “not waste time and build up my poll numbers, because that’s all they’re doing, because everyone knows it’s ridiculous.”

6. Trump took a quick-response coronavirus test, and it’s negative

Trump said early in the briefing that he had taken one of the new coronavirus tests that provide results within 15 minutes, and that it turned up negative.

“It took me literally a minute to take it, and it took me — I guess it was 14 or 15 minutes,” Trump said. “I went to work. I didn’t wait for it. But he said it took 14 minutes or something to come up with a conclusion. And it said the president tested negative for covid-19.”

Trump previously took a coronavirus test last month after he came into contact with a number of people who later tested positive for the coronavirus. He said at the time that the existing process was not at all pleasant.

7. Trump tells states to raise a flag when suppliers go to the feds

Some governors have said they’ve seen orders for equipment canceled or prices raised when they learn the suppliers are prioritizing the federal government.

Trump said when such things happen, the states should alert the federal government so that the two aren’t bidding against one another, and that states can take the lead.

If you think there’s bidding between federal government and state, let us know and we’ll drop out immediately — or you drop out and we lower the price,” Trump said. “You know, if we’re bidding against each other, I said find out who it is. And usually they know, everyone knows. … And we’ll either drop out or they’ll drop out.”

Trump emphasized yet again that people shouldn’t rely on the federal government, saying states were to blame for not stocking up in the first place and that “in some cases, their shelves were bare.”

“We’re a backup,” Trump said. “We’re not an ordering clerk. We’re a backup.”