Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday advised that it was only a matter of time before more cases of the novel coronavirus spread in the U.S. and that “we are asking the American public to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad.”
President Donald Trump took a much rosier tone this week as his administration asked Congress for more than a billion dollars in new funding to address the virus, which causes respiratory illnesses.
Democratic lawmakers immediately slammed the proposal as inadequate.
“CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, he blamed media outlets for exacerbating undue alarm about the virus’ spread, which led to fluctuating financial markets. That included a historic two-day drop in the Dow Jones industrial average.
“This is a time of peak uncertainty for coronavirus,” one investor told The Wall Street Journal. “We don’t yet know the size of how much it’s spread or the mortality rate. That’s what markets are reacting to, peak uncertainty, rather than facts.”
Trump tweeted that he plans a news conference on Wednesday night from the White House with the CDC.
So far, some 81,000 cases have been reported worldwide of the coronavirus. Of those cases, about 2,700 people have died.
The infection is thought to have originated in a Chinese animal market in December.
(By comparison, the Ebola epidemic that began in West Africa in 2014 infected about 28,600 people and killed about 11,300, according to the CDC.)
MSNBC and CNN “are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible,” the president tweeted on Wednesday, misspelling the name of the disease.
“USA in great shape!” he added, tagging the CDC.
A day earlier, however, the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier told reporters that health officials had become more concerned about the virus’ rapid rate of infection.
“The spread in other countries has raised our level of concern and raised our level of expectation that we are going to have community spread here,” said Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC. “We’re asking folks in every sector as well as people within their families to start planning for this, because as we’ve seen from the recent countries that have had community spread, when it’s hit in those countries it has moved quite rapidly so we want to make sure that the American public is prepared.”
“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” she said.
The American public “need[s] to prepare for a significant disruption” to their lives and plan for possible school closures, find out about teleworking options and if their health care providers offer telemedicine options, Messonnier said.
“We are asking the American public to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said.
The sudden urgency after weeks of emphasizing that the risk to the average American is “low” comes from the abrupt spread of the new coronavirus, officially termed COVID-19, in countries outside of China. Over the weekend, cases of coronavirus soared in Italy (283 cases and seven deaths), South Korea (977 cases and 10 deaths) and Iran (95 cases and 16 deaths). Austria and Croatia also said they’ve seen their first cases.
Currently, the U.S. has 57 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Forty of those were passengers aboard a cruise ship in Japan, and three others were repatriated from China.
Messonnier told reporters on Tuesday that the CDC is unsure if the U.S. will have as dramatic of a spread as China, Italy and South Korea.
“What we still don’t know is what that will look like. We can have community spread in the United States and have it be relatively mild and we can have community spread in the U.S. and have it be very severe, so that is what we don’t completely know yet, and we of course don’t completely know when it’s going to happen,” she said.
The hope, Messonnier said, is that the U.S. will be “overprepared.”
That same day, on Twitter, Trump groused about what he viewed as unfavorable coverage of his administration’s work.
“If the virus disappeared tomorrow, they would say we did a really poor, and even incompetent, job. Not fair, but it is what it is,” he wrote. “So far, by the way, we have not had one death. Let’s keep it that way!”
“CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus,’ Trump tweeted.
But critics have said that, so far, the approach has been “too little too late,” contrasting the approach with that of President Barack Obama during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 — which Trump heavily criticized at the time.
On Monday, the White House asked Congress for $1.25 billion in new funding and said it wants to move another $1.25 billion from existing funding, for a total of $2.5 billion to respond to the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.
Among the existing money the administration wants to re-allocate are funds to handle Ebola.
“Despite urgent warnings from Congress and the public health community, the Trump administration took weeks to request these emergency funds,” Rep. Nita Lowey, the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman, said in a statement, according to the AP. “Their answer now is to raid money Congress has designated for other critical public health priorities.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “too little too late,” according to The New York Times.
He instead proposed $8.5 billion for funding to address the virus, the AP reported.
On Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN, “I don’t think the president knows what he’s talking about — once again.”
But, the Times reported, “a senior administration official on Monday dismissed Democratic concerns that the White House was unprepared. Global health is still being monitored; responsibility has simply been moved to the National Security Council’s programs to counter the proliferation of nuclear weapons and defend against biological attacks, the official said.”
“We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
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