Trump’s coronavirus speech, annotated

By Zachary B. Wolf and Sean O'Key, CNN Published March 11, 2020

After weeks of appearing to downplay the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office Wednesday. He announced restrictions on travelers from Europe and pledged new emergency action to help Americans affected by the coronavirus crisis.

My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak with you about our nation’s unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak that started in China and is now spreading throughout the world.

This is Trump’s second address to the nation from the Oval Office. He made similar remarks in January 2019 during the partial federal government shutdown, when he used the same setting to make the case for money to pay for a border wall between the US and Mexico.

Trump moves to make clear at the outset that his response to this has already been unprecedented. He also makes a point of saying the coronavirus started in China. It did. But now it is spreading here, in the US, where it’s his problem to solve.

Today the World Health Organization officially announced that this is a global pandemic.

We have been in frequent contact with our allies and we are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people.

Read more about the WHO declaration. A pandemic is defined as the “worldwide spread” of a new disease. NIH Director Anthony Fauci has warned that it will disrupt daily life as federal, state and local authorities try to contain it.

The pandemic started to get very real Wednesday night. Schools across the country have either closed or considered closing. The NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive. Tom Hanks, the Hollywood actor, announced from Australia that he and his wife Rita Wilson have tested positive for coronavirus. People who have been ignoring this can’t ignore it any more.

This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history. I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens, and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.

A good portion of this speech is about appearing to be in control at a time when a lot of Americans have grown concerned Trump has been dismissive of the coronavirus. Previous Presidents have dealt with Ebola, H1N1 and SARS. The worst pandemic of recent history was the 1918 flu pandemic that killed many millions worldwide.

From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges, including large-scale and very dangerous health threats. This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.

Of course there are unforeseen challenges that have faced humanity before. Trump adds more reassurance here about the US government’s ability to respond.

Our team is the best anywhere in the world. At the very start of the outbreak we instituted sweeping travel restrictions on China and put in place the first federally mandated quarantine in over 50 years. We declared a public health emergency and issued the highest level of travel warning on other countries as the virus spread its horrible infection.

This is true. The travel restrictions on people who had been to China within 14 days, with exceptions for American citizens and others, remain in effect. Americans who had been in China’s Hubei province were placed in quarantine along with people evacuated from Wuhan. However, they were put in place after there were cases of the coronavirus in the US, so they were arguably put in place too late to have any real effect.

And taking early intense action we’ve seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe.

Click here for an animation of the spread of coronavirus from China around the world.

The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe. After consulting with our top government health professionals, I have decided to take several strong but necessary actions to protect the health and wellbeing of all Americans.

To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight.

This is an incredible move considering the volume of travel between the US and Europe. It also isn’t totally clear how this will help stop the spread of the disease, since new cases are being transmitted domestically. There are no restrictions on travel within the US, including in and out of the containment zone announced this week in New York’s Westchester County.

The Department of Homeland Security clarified shortly after Trump wrapped that this will apply only to foreign nationals and not to American citizens who have been screened, as with restrictions he applied to China last month.

These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground. There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing. These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom.

Britain, of course, is no longer in Europe. But there is coronavirus there. A UK health minister has tested positive for it.

Shortly after the speech, Trump tweeted to clarify that there is not a prohibition on European trade and cargo: “… Please remember, very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods,” he wrote.

At the same time, we’re monitoring the situation in China and South Korea and as their situation improves, we will re-evaluate the restrictions and warnings that are currently in place for a possible early opening.

The outbreak has slowed in China, and Trump is opening the door here for restrictions to be lifted.

Earlier this week I met with the leaders of health insurance industry who have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments and to prevent surprise medical billing. We are cutting massive amounts of red tape to make anti-viral therapies available in record time. These treatments will significantly reduce the impact and reach of the virus.

The private US health care system is unique in the developed world, where nationalized care is the norm. CNN’s Tami Luhby explains here how the US system could make it harder to fight coronavirus.

Additionally, last week, I signed into law an $8.3 billion funding bill to help CDC and other government agencies fight the virus and support vaccines, treatments, and distribution of medical supplies. Testing and testing capabilities are expanding rapidly, day by day. We’re moving very quickly.

Read more here about the money provided by Congress.

The vast majority of Americans: The risk is very, very low. Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus.

This is true. However, they can carry the virus to more at-risk populations. More on symptoms here.

The highest risk is for elderly population with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.

The CDC said this week that people over 60 should stay home as much as possible. Trump is 73. His 2020 campaign rivals, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are 77 and 78, respectively. They have all been on the campaign trail — though Trump on Wednesday canceled planned rallies and events.

In particular, we’re strongly advising that nursing homes for the elderly suspend all medically unnecessary visits.

Ground zero for the US outbreak is at a nursing home in Washington state. That’s the source of most US deaths. Nursing homes have already started closing to visitors.

In general older Americans should also avoid non-essential travel in crowded areas. My administration is coordinated directly with communities with largest outbreaks and we have issued guidance on school closures, social distancing and reducing large gatherings.

Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow.

Every community faces different risks and it is critical for you to follow the guidelines of your local officials who are working closely with our federal health experts and they are the best.

This is all good advice. It took a while for Trump to get to this point.

For all Americans it is essential that everyone take extra precautions and practice good hygiene. Each of us has a role to play in defeating this virus. Wash your hands, clean often-used surfaces, cover your face and mouth if you sneeze or cough, and most of all, if you are sick or not feeling well, stay home.

Again, good advice. Trump has been slow to follow it (Here’s how to wash your hands right.)

To ensure that working Americans impacted by the virus can stay home without fear of financial hardship, I will soon be taking emergency action, which is unprecedented, to provide financial relief. This will be targeted for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to coronavirus. I will be asking Congress to take legislative action to extend this relief.

Senate Democrats asked Trump on Wednesday to declare a federal emergency declaration. Trump, however, notably did not declare a national emergency in this speech, although that could allow him access to some money without approval from Congress. (At least 19 governors have declared states of emergency. Here’s what that does.)

Because of the economic policies that we have put into place over the last three years, we have the greatest economy anywhere in the world by far. Our banks and financial institutions are fully capitalized and incredibly strong. Our unemployment is at a historic low. This vast economic prosperity gives us flexibility reserves and resources to handle any threat that comes our way.

This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.

This is going to be a major storyline in the coming days. The 11-year bull market ended Wednesday. Many economists fear the US is heading for a recession, specifically because of coronavirus. Workers have already started to lose jobs and a slowdown seems imminent. Trump is correct that the economy has been doing very well. But this level of broad interruption will be a serious test of the prosperity he is counting on to carry him to reelection. Read more.

However, to provide extra support for American workers, families and businesses, tonight I am announcing the following additional actions. I am instructing the Small Business Administration to exercise available authority to provide capital and liquidity to firms affected by the coronavirus.

Effective immediately, the SBA will begin providing economic loans in affected states and territories. These low-interest loans will help small businesses overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus. To this end, I’m asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion.

Look for the travel and hotel industries to benefit here. They are particularly hard hit.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argued in congressional testimony Wednesday that this kind of action is not a bailout.

Using emergency authority, I will be instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments, without interest or penalties, for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted. This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy.

Finally, I am calling on Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. Hopefully they will consider this very strongly.

Here’s everything you need to know about payroll taxes. However, a tax holiday means bigger federal deficits. The US budget deficit topped $1 trillion in 2019.

We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus. We made a life-saving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe. We will not delay. I will never hesitate to take any necessary steps to protect the lives, health, and safety of the American people. I will always put the wellbeing of America first.

Trump argues here the handling of the US outbreak is a success story. That’s a very one-sided assessment, particularly since so many states are angry with the federal government to be slow to act and slow to lead. And Trump has not been kind to governors who have questioned the administration’s moves.

One thing Trump has not mentioned is the the lack of coronavirus tests in the US. That’s a major point of contention between states the federal government.

If we are vigilant – and we can reduce the chance of infection, which we will – we will significantly impede the transmission of the virus. The virus will not have a chance against us.

No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States. We have the best economy, the most advanced healthcare, and the most talented doctors, scientists, and researchers anywhere in the world.

We are all in this together. We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together as one nation and one family.

This is more good advice. The President, who has lashed out at political opponents, should take it.

As history has proven time and time again, Americans always rise to the challenge and overcome adversity.

Our future remains brighter than anyone can imagine. Acting with compassion and love, we will heal the sick, care for those in need, help our fellow citizens, and emerge from this challenge stronger and more unified than ever before.

God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you.