Amid the unpredictable spread of the potentially fatal coronavirus, which has already been confirmed in three cases domestically, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer revealed today (Jan. 26) that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot access a special federal funding account known as the "Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund" until the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), led by Secretary Alex Azar, officially declares a “public health emergency” related to the coronavirus.
Schumer made the case to affirm this emergency declaration and further revealed that in the recent budget deal he just negotiated, he was able to increase the very account relevant to combatting the coronavirus from $50 million to $85 million.
“If we have learned anything from the risks that new viruses pose to public health it is that a ‘stitch in time saves nine,’ and the more we can do to be proactive, the better off the public will be,” Schumer said.
“The CDC has been doing a tremendous job so far at being proactive and working around the clock to protect public health, but if we are going to make sure they can sustain this pace and remain at-the-ready should the outbreak get worse, they will need immediate access to critical federal funds that at the present time they remain unable to access.
"That is why, today, I am urging HHS to follow the CDC’s proactive lead: declare a formal public health emergency for the coronavirus. In doing so, HHS will unlock tens of millions for the CDC to access.”
Schumer explained that in the recent budget deal he just negotiated, he and Representative Nita Lowey, the chairwoman of House Appropriations Committee, were able to increase the account needed to combat the coronavirus from $50 million to $85 million.
Schumer explained exactly what the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund dollars will help the CDC achieve.
“The critical thing about these specific dollars is that the CDC has full discretion," Schumer said. "The agency can use them for whatever activities it deems appropriate, so long as they inform Congress. This kind of flexible funding needs to be unlocked now should this outbreak worsen."
Schumer said the dollars could also be used by the CDC for, amongst other things:
- Epidemiological activities, such as contact tracing and monitoring of cases;
- Additional or enhanced screenings, like at airports;
- Support for state, local, and tribal health departments;
- Public awareness campaigns
- Increased staffing.
Schumer explained that the sole purpose of his push today is to ensure the feds have the dollars necessary to wage a proactive and ongoing war against this developing outbreak. Even though the current risk to the American public remains low, Schumer said the federal funds must be unlocked now so that the CDC has them at-the-ready.
He added that, thus far, the CDC’s work has been critically important and that the agency will need immediate access to more funds if coronavirus continues to infect more Americans. He made the case for the emergency declaration as he detailed what happens next at the federal level amid this developing outbreak.
Schumer also confirmed today that a SUNY Stony Brook professor, who was visiting family in Wuhan, China, has been unable to return to the United States as a result of China’s lockdown. Schumer said today that he has worked with the State Department and Embassy officials to ensure the SBU professor is in constant contact with U.S. officials. Schumer said the United States is working on arranging a flight home for the SBU professor.
The novel coronavirus (termed “2019-nCoV” by CDC) can cause a wide range of symptoms, from those similar to the common cold to more severe respiratory illness that can be fatal. There is currently no direct cure-all, but a vaccine is currently under development at the National Institutes of Health.
According to the Washington Post, Chinese officials first detected this new strain of the virus on Dec. 31 in Wuhan, China. They initially linked it to an unsanitary food market where seafood and mammals were sold for human consumption. Scientist said people who were sickened were likely to have eaten something infected with the virus.
To date, there are nearly 2,000 confirmed cases in China, more than 50 reported deaths, and confirmed cases across 10 countries. The first case in the United States, discovered in Washington State, was confirmed on Jan. 21st, and there have been reports of a second case in Illinois and a third in California.
In response to this outbreak, travelers from Wuhan, China are being screened for symptoms associated with the virus at five U.S. airports, including JFK. Additionally, China has placed travel restrictions on several cities and banned large public gatherings in an attempt to contain the virus.
To protect against infection, the CDC recommends basic hygiene techniques such as frequent hand washing, staying hydrated, and coughing into one’s arm or a tissue. If there’s a fear of animal transmission, CDC officials urge people to wash hands after contact with animals and thoroughly cook any meat before consumption.