On Friday afternoon, Donald Trump announced in a Rose Garden press conference that he was declaring a national emergency, or in the president’s parlance, using “two very big words.” Invoking the Stafford Act, FEMA will now be able to help provide funding for state and local governments respond to the crisis. The move will allow $50 billion in federal funds to be spent on fighting the disease and its spread, he said.
But Trump was not alone on that stage. At the press conference, the president was flanked by, and ceded the microphone, to several
epidemiologists, doctors, pandemic and epidemic specialists, WHO representatives, career public health professionals, people who have managed the outbreak in other countries private sector CEOs, who have offered to open up their businesses’ parking lots for “consumers”—in the language of the press conference—to receive drive-thru coronavirus tests. (The CEO army and Trump were joined by public health officials and political leaders from the president’s coronavirus task force.) The people onstage with the president to reassure a worried public that the national government is doing all it can to ensure that as many people in this country survive the pandemic as possible, included the following:
• Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart, who before rising to the top of the superstore food chain, helped run the company’s fishing tackle purchases and led the charge for the store to start selling diamond necklaces.
• Brian Cornell, the CEO of Target, a company that once made all of the company’s new hires watch an anti-union video as part of required training and that the National Labor Relations Board alleged violated multiple labor laws.* Cornell is also on the board of directors of Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell.
• Richard Ashworth, the president of Walgreens, who is a trained pharmacist.
• Thomas Moriarty, the executive vice president at CVS Health.
• Steve Rusckowski, the CEO of Quest Diagnostics, the biggest provider of medical diagnostics tests in the world, which made $7.8 billion in net revenue off of testing in 2019. Think of the possibilities for 2020: Cha-ching!
• Adam H. Schechter, the CEO of LabCorp, a laboratory giant that made more than $11 billion in net revenue in 2018. Take that, Rusckowski!
• Matt Sause, the president and CEO of Roche Diagnostics, which gets its revenue from diagnostics and pharmaceuticals. According to Quartz, Roche’s company “marketed [Tamiflu] as a cure for the swine flu. It actually turned out to be ‘just as effective as aspirin’ against the swine flu, save for ‘renal and psychiatric’ [side effects].”
• Mark Stevenson, EVP and COO of Thermo Fisher Scientific, a massive lab equipment company that was once sued for selling a manufacturing plant in Mexico to OpenGate, a private equity company, without revealing that the plant was in fact operated by the Gulf drug cartel, which had ties to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. After the case was dismissed, OpenGate sold the same plant to Finsa, a real estate investment company, and Finsa sued OpenGate for fraudulently selling the plant without revealing it was operated by the same drug cartel.
• David Pierre, the COO of Signify Health, a private health care provider that mostly specializes in home care, which could become “signifycant,” as we’re all stuck at home and may or may not have the coronavirus.
• Bruce Greenstein, an executive at LHC Group, another home health services behemoth. Greenstein was the elbow-bump guy at the presser. He previously worked in the Department of Health and Human Services and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. In 2011, LHC Group was sued by the Justice Department, and agreed to pay the federal government $65 million plus interest because it filed a ton of false medical claims to Medicare, TRICARE, and Federal Employees Health Benefits programs.
• Tom Polen, the CEO and president of Becton, Dickinson and Co., a medical device and equipment giant that also works in diagnostics and biosciences, commonly referred to as BD. He has been at the company since 1999 and worked at Baxter health care before that. BD was found guilty of a dozen OSHA violations in 2015, including in cases where two workers had their fingers partially amputated by the company’s machines. In 2018, the FDA warned the company that it was “significantly” violating the law “numerous” times by failing to get proper clearance before modifying its blood collection and testing equipment.
The government and nation are relying on the leadership of Trump—a person who reportedly doesn’t exercise because he believes that people are like batteries, in that they have finite energy—to stop the global biological plague from killing as many as 1 million Americans, as a former director of the CDC recently estimated it could. This president may not be exactly what the doctor ordered, but at least these corporations saw their stocks temporarily soar during a press conference in which Trump once again lied about the nation’s testing capabilities.
Correction, March 16, 2020: This article originally misstated that Target CEO Brian Cornell required the company’s new hires to watch an anti-union video. Target did take that measure, but Cornell was not CEO at the time.